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May 21, 2019, 7:59 AM

Previously-Poor Peter - Sermon, 5/19/19

About 10 years ago, my parents had a dog named Maggie. She wasn’t the brightest of dogs, to say the least. She actually ran – head-first – into a tree stump as a puppy and was never quite the same after that. Maggie had the attention span of a gnat. She was loving. She was loyal. But Maggie was, well, a bit of a nincompoop.

Since Maggie’s death in 2010, many stories have circulated about her endearing but stupid ways. For example, when I left for college, Maggie would walk around the house for hours – every day – to look for me. She couldn’t quite figure out how the phone worked, either. When I would call my parents, Maggie may have been able to hear me on the phone and would start barking. Occasionally, my parents would hold the phone to Maggie’s ear so that she could hear me. It was both a little endearing and a little dumb at the same time.

In her death, Maggie has taken on a new name: Poor Maggie. It feels weird to tell stories about Maggie this morning without following each sentence with her new name: Poor Maggie. Maggie, Poor Maggie, was loving and loyal but Maggie, Poor Maggie, was dumb as a tree stump. Poor Maggie.

For those of you who have heard me preach before, you may have heard me refer to Peter as Poor Peter. Throughout the Gospels, Peter, Poor Peter, and the other followers of Christ are often portrayed as being, well, dumb as a tree stump. Peter, Poor Peter, never quite gets it. Peter, Poor Peter, who has been given the incredible responsibility of being the rock on which Christ’s church is built, is a nincompoop.

Instead of being the rock, Peter, Poor Peter, is portrayed as being dumb as a rock. He doesn’t understand it when Jesus tries to wash his feet during the Last Supper. He doesn’t get it when Jesus predicts his resurrection from the dead. Peter, Poor Peter, doesn’t even comprehend the impact of denying his faith in Jesus during Christ’s trial. Poor Peter.

We meet an entirely new Peter in this morning’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Peter, Poor Peter, has been transformed. In the Gospels, Peter, Poor Peter, was a bumbling fisherman. I can just imagine the other followers of Jesus making fun of him, telling stories of Peter, Poor Peter, around a campfire. “Remember that time when Peter jumped into the water fully clothed? Poor Peter.” “Remember that time when Peter fell into the water? Poor Peter.”

Now, after Peter’s transformation, he is no longer “Poor Peter.” Now, he is Strong Peter and Listener Peter. He is Leader Peter instead of Poor Peter. But what happened to bring about this incredible change in Peter? What is the cause of Peter’s change away from being Poor Peter? I would argue that Poor Peter’s transformation is rooted in his encounter with the risen Christ.

Last week, had I not been sick, we would have heard about Peter’s ability to raise Tabitha from the dead. This incredible power is only accessible to Peter because of the relationship he has with Jesus, specifically the risen Christ. Today, we hear about a revelation Peter receives from God.

It is important to know a little background about the conflict present in today’s story from Acts to truly understand its significance. Remember that the earliest Christians, called followers of The Way, were Jewish. There was a strong belief among the Jewish people who came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah that Jesus only came to change the lives of other Jewish people.

The problem is that God’s message in Jesus Christ is too big for one group of people to contain and Gentiles begin to accept the word of God. After all, Jesus came to save the world, not just one part of the world. This really ticked off some early Jewish Christians, particularly those who thought that Gentiles were essentially beyond the reach of God’s love. There were special concerns that the Gentiles were not circumcised and did not keep the Jewish dietary laws.

So this is the argument that Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, encounters when he goes up to Jerusalem: Is it possible that Jesus came to save both Jews and Gentiles? How in the world can Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, resolve this conflict? By his relationship with the risen Christ.

Because Peter believes in the power of Jesus, he is open to receiving a vision. Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, enters a trance and receives a vision from God. In this kind-of confusing vision, Peter comes to understand that God’s message is, in fact, meant for all people. God’s message of love and salvation is meant for Jews and Gentiles. God does not see a world of division – no matter what one eats – but God sees one world.

Peter knows that the vision he receives means that there is to be no separation and no “distinction between them and us” – no distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, sees past his prejudice and sees into the future of Christianity. Peter recognizes the limitations of his previous understanding.

The Christianity that Peter sees is marked by inclusion, not exclusion. More than that, Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, is able to convince those who wanted to restrict the message of the risen Christ. Those who had wanted Christianity limited to the Jewish community came to a new understanding. And more than just understanding, those who had wanted the message restricted now rejoice in its inclusivity.

According to Acts, “they praised God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.’” Peter has the strength of his conviction that Christ came for all and he is able to convince others as well. This Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, is now one of the greatest evangelists of the risen Christ.

So I am left to wonder: how have we changed from our encounter with the risen Christ? How has the risen Christ transformed our minds and hearts? How have we broadened our love of the people around us as the result of meeting the risen Christ?

Even though we probably haven’t encountered Jesus roasting fish by the seaside after the resurrection, we do encounter the risen Christ every time we gather in this place. We do encounter the risen Christ every time we approach the altar for the gifts of the Eucharist. We do encounter the risen Christ whenever we enter and leave this sacred space filled with these sacred people.

Let us be inspired, then, by Peter, Previously-Poor Peter, whose life and heart and mind and convictions are changed by the risen Christ. What in our lives needs to be transformed – whether in our individual lives or our life together as a church community? Do we believe that our very lives can be changed when we encounter the risen Christ?

Let us pray. Risen Christ, your presence transformed the life of Peter from Poor Peter to Saint Peter. We pray that you would transform our lives as well, from lives of exclusion to lives of inclusion, so that we may go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of your presence among us. We make this prayer and all others in your precious and powerful name. Amen.


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