I am slightly at a loss for words. As we celebrate our patron saint, Peter in this location but a few block from the Atlantic, and as I admire Bev Clark’s sea faring motif for this morning’s altar decorations, I feel somehow this homily should somehow wax on about the virtues of fishing, sailing and/or life on the sea. All are subjects I know little to nothing about.
Or, that I should focus on Saint Peter himself. But sadly, but all that comes to mind is a sermon preached the late Jim Annand who thirty years ago praised the great bumbling saint we celebrate today.
It is true, our patron saint is not portrayed as the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor as the most loyal after denying Jesus three times on the night of the crucifixion. What Peter really was, was impetuous.
Who can forget the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water. Now any rational human being knows walking on water is impossible, unless you are God of course. Jesus, of course, was God and therefore could and did walk on water. Peter, after getting over his initial shock of seeing Jesus walking towards the boat on the Sea of Galilee without thinking decides that he too must give this walking on water thing a try. So over the side he climbs as he begins his walk towards Jesus. To his and everyone else’s surprise, the first steps are a success. And then, as his brain catches up with his heart, he takes his eyes off Christ and realizes he is doing the impossible, so down he went.
Oh, Peter, “ye of little faith.” Like so many of us, when we allow the heart to get ahead of the mind, anything and everything is possible, as every risk we take somehow seems less risky. Perhaps it was because Peter was so impetuous, so willing to take risks with Jesus, so willing to make a fool of himself that Jesus chose Peter to lead the way in building his church.
“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus. While the other Disciples stand by like deer in the head lights, Peter wastes no time in blurting out, “you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Peter only knew this because his heart told him so.
This is what makes Peter so wonderful and worthy of our veneration. He innately understood what so few of us ever get. Faith isn’t governed by the head but by the heart. To be exact, as my spiritual director has reminded me on occasion, “faith is found where the heart and the head meet.” Peter lived this, as he so often led with his heart and not his head. He understood who Jesus was and is, but he could not comprehend the crucifixion. He understood the role and the position Jesus held in his life as his Rabbi and could not allow him to wash his feet, but when he finally understood the lesson at hand, he didn’t want just his feet washed but his hands and head as well.
I think one of the greatest challenges facing modern day Christianity is that we are afraid to be led by the heart. In a world that is governed by science and rational thought, it is hard for us to let go of being rational like Peter did, and allow the the Holy Spirit to guide us through the heart instead. How different our spiritual lives would be if we could just allow ourselves to let go of the rational and let the Holy Spirt fully guide us. Maybe, if even for an instant, we could see that all things really are possible with God, even the ability to walk on water as Peter discovered so many years ago.
With God all things really are possible as Peter’s life with Christ often proved. But they are only possible if we are willing to be like Peter and take risks with God. It doesn’t matter if they pay off or if they are, quote, unquote, successful however we may define success. Peter wasn’t always successful either nor did he get it quite right on the first try. Yes, he managed to take a few steps on water, but he quickly lost confidence and sunk. Jesus embraced him anyway. Peter willingly followed Jesus to the outer Temple court on the night of the trial. He took the risk of being present. . . despite the danger. Yes, Peter did deny him three times that night. But the fact was, he was there, the Gospels don’t make mention of any the other disciples being there. Despite his denials, Jesus redeems Peter by asking him if he loves him three times while sending him out to feed Christ’s sheep.
Saint Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus chose to build his church is also St. Peter the impetuous and Saint Peter the risk taker. That’s probably who we, St Peter’s by-the-Sea should become known as, Saint Peters by-the-Sea the risk taking church. The church that is not afraid to fail or to sink into the depths of the sea. On some level, this is what this weekend has been all about, being impetuous by stepping out of our comfort zone by trying something big which we have never tried before. I would like to give Kelli, Bj, Betty, Diane and the many others who have worked tirelessly behind the scenes these past seven months for all their hard work, their dreaming and most of all for all the sleepless nights that were put into this weekend. Were we financially successful in a big way, that is yet to be known. Just the fact we were willing to step out of the boat and onto the sea is a success. Just having pulled off all the events of this weekend, makes it a success.
This is not to say we did everything to perfection, because nothing ever is and Peter never was. What this weekend has offered to the community is a taste of who we are as a people God, a taste of how we live into being an inviting and welcoming community and a taste of how we directly serve Christ each week through the Community Market and our pre- school.
We are truly blessed to have Peter as our patron saint. He is a role model in whose path we can easily follow, relieved of the need to be perfect. Instead, we are called to be impetuous, to be led by the heart. With St. Peter as our patron saint we have been called to risk it all for Christ.