Denying and Returning to God

On March 5, 2018, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Denying and Returning to God Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins John 18.12, 15-17 The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today. We are familiar with Jesus […]

Denying and Returning to God
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
John 18.12, 15-17

The Apostle Peter has been caught in an uncomfortable situation in the passage preceding today’s gospel reading. He barely escaped with his life, and now he is immediately in another kerfuffle and that’s what we heard read today.

We are familiar with Jesus telling Peter that he would deny him three times in one night before dawn (announced by the crow of a rooster). “Before the cock crows, you’ll deny me three times,” Jesus said. Peter said, “I don’t think so.”

He couldn’t imagine having a failure of nerve. He couldn’t imagine ever denying his relationship with Jesus, his commitment to the Jesus Way, his devotion to the healing and liberating message that Jesus shared. He was certain that he would never deny Jesus.

But then the authorities came one night with clubs and knives and torches…and they seized Jesus. And sure enough, Peter lept to Jesus’ defense. He unsheathed a sword (that apparently he was packing for just such an emergency) and he attacked one of the guards that had come for Jesus. He severely disfigures the guard, and Jesus says, “Peter, put away your sword.”

St. Paul tells us that the weapons of our warfare are not physical yet are mighty enough to pull down strongholds. We must resist injustice and oppression, we must take risks, we must speak truth to power, but violence isn’t the way…it’s not Jesus’ way. Jesus is revolutionary, but his revolution is not violent. Peter put away your sword.

That story is followed immediately by the one we heard today. Jesus is in custody. Jesus is having a hearing before being turned over to higher courts. And Peter is with him. Peter who is a disciple of an accused insurgent. Peter who an hour ago assaulted a guard sent to arrest Jesus.

So, when a woman asks Peter today, “aren’t you a disciple of that Galilean prophet?” He says, “Nope. Sure ain’t.” He’ll be asked twice more and twice more he’ll say, “Sorry, man; you’ve got the wrong guy.”

If Peter were to admit to being a sword wielding sidekick of the man currently under arrest for sedition, the next question would undoubtedly be, “Are you the one who stabbed a guard?” At which point just go ahead and schedule Peter’s execution.

It’s unfair to paint Peter as a coward…he’s already been in combat earlier tonight (for which Jesus chastised him), and he is standing in public where a whistle could bring down half a dozen armed soldiers in an instant. He was simply trying to develop a strategy for survival. But in so doing, he did deny Jesus.

He followed Jesus there so that he could help him escape if the opportunity arose, so he would have first hand info to share with the others. His sword fight has immediately been followed by an impromptu clandestine reconnaissance mission. He’s risked a lot twice tonight for Jesus. And he is heartbroken that in his desperate attempt to throw off suspicion he has actually denied the person he’s risked his life to protect.

Peter does return to his apostolic mission. He will speak boldly about the Jesus Way until he himself is executed some time later. Peter denied to survive, but he also returned.

I talk to people every single week who tell me they love what we stand for here at Sunshine Cathedral.
They love our arts programming.
They love that we feed people.
They love that we have support groups.
They love that we take a stand for justice.
They love that we celebrate diversity and affirm the dignity of all people, including and especially the LGBTQ children of God.
BUT, they invariably say to me, they can’t be church people because they are still so hurt by or so angry with religion, or because they find religion to be hateful and mean.

They hear the right wing evangelists preaching hate and horror, and they want none of it.

They’ve heard religion used as afterlife fire insurance; that’s not for them.

They’ve experienced religious dogma fanning the flames of monstrous cruelty instead of applying the salve of human compassion.

Many were told years ago that God rejected them because of an opinion they held or couldn’t hold.

Or they were told God would reject them because they were interested in another religion or because they had fallen in love with someone from another religion.

Or they were told that they would be damned for all eternity because they were same-gender loving…deal with that for 10 seconds…people still say that a loving God will condemn people for expressing their love and attraction for each other. Who wants that God?

In a world of nuclear capability, disease, hunger, mass shootings, fracking, corruption, and genocide…if what makes God twitch is my panting at Ryan Gosling then that God needs to go.

And if you have been blessed as I have to share your life with someone you love wholeheartedly, you know that is a blessing, and God rejoices at the love shared, not the number of Y chromosomes in the mix. God is love, and love loves love. Case closed.

People are exhausted by pettiness and pugnacity posing as piety.

They haven’t rejected God…they’ve rejected hate masquerading as God.

They haven’t rejected the healing, liberating, justice seeking, heart mending, oppression challenging, hope sharing Christ. What they’ve rejected is spiritual violence deplorably committed in Jesus’ name.

They’ve rejected the lie that it’s okay to put people through hell for heaven’s sake.
And so have many of us.
That’s why we covenant with God and with one another to be a DIFFERENT KIND OF CHURCH so that spiritual community and practice can be a healing force rather than a wounding weapon.

I’m not worried about the afterlife; I refuse to entertain for a moment that God will ever reject any soul for any reason. But I want us to build communities of love and hope and joy and justice.
I want us to celebrate life and diversity and intellect and feelings.
I want us to rejoice in our wholeness and I want us to encourage one another on life’s journey.
That’s what religion can be,
that’s what religion should be,
and at Sunshine Cathedral
that’s what we insist religion must be.

Finally, let me assure you, that while in our pain some of us may turn from God in order to feel safe, God will never turn from us. God is the love that will never let us go, and this is the good news. Amen.

Today & everyday
I will live in the power of my Truth
I affirm my sacred value
I declare & rejoice in God’s love for me
And so it is!

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