Peter’s Lesson in the Midst of Messiness

April 11, 2021

Don’t know about you, but of all Jesus’ disciples, I think Peter is my favorite.  

As one of the three disciples Jesus chose as His apparent inner circle (the other two being James and John), Peter was always present with the Lord in His most profound and intimate moments.  At one point, depending on which Gospel you read, Jesus renamed Simon, Peter,  the ‘rock,’ the one on whom Jesus would build His church!

But good as these descriptors are, none of them explain why Peter is my favorite. This all makes Peter seem extraordinary and above we regular folks. If this was all I knew of Peter I couldn’t identify with him at all. But, thankfully, Peter was so much more!

Peter was a human mess with his screw-ups, his impulsivity, his temper, and, yes, even his overwhelming desire to please Christ through actions which were often poorly thought out, ill-timed, and just downright off the mark!  

I can see myself in this Peter.

I can learn from his messiness as I struggle with my own; I also find comfort in how the Lord responded to the mess! The Lord tirelessly and lovingly corrected, refocused, and and forgave Peter and helped him begin again…and again.  Since God loves all the world, I know that Christ does the same for me – and you – as well; to bring home the point, examples of this Christ/Peter relationship are located throughout the gospels.

However, for now, I just want to focus on John 21 and the lesson the resurrected Christ taught Peter on the beach that first Easter Monday.

Normally, when we preach and teach from this passage, the focus is on Christ’s three love questions intended to reinstate Peter. We remark on the implied forgiveness Christ offered to counter that messy man’s words of betrayal uttered on the night of Christ’s arrest. And we claim that forgiving love for ourselves.

But, as important as that teaching is, I think there is even more to unpack. 

I believe there is a teaching about living for God in the present.

Again, Peter’s lesson is ours.

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In John 21, Christ didn’t take Peter on a miserable trip down the man’s memory lane of past failures with words such as: “Do you realize what you did Peter? Where were you when I needed you? Aren’t you a miserable excuse for a disciple?!” Such guilt trips down memory lane aren’t the nature of Christ.

Instead, of dwelling on the past, the Lord gently and lovingly sat in the present with Peter, asking basically, ‘Do you love me in the NOW?’  

Christ brings Peter’s focus to the present. Jesus’ doesn’t ask ‘what about THEN?’ – but rather ‘what about NOW?’ 

“Focus on the NOW, Peter.  Be present in My love NOW.  Only when you are lovingly present for Me in the NOW can I use you as I have always planned!”

And Peter stopped beating himself up and became present for Christ.

Only then did the Lord give Peter a job which would be consistent with his name as the rock of faith.

Christ intended for Peter to lead the way NOW in caring for, sustaining, and nurturing the sheep – the people of God (which, by the way, means ALL the people, not just some – for all humanity belongs to God and is loved by God whether they know it or not. BUT, I digress…….)

The point is, Christ didn’t intend for Peter to wallow in his messy past.  

The risen Christ offered forgiveness for the mess; indeed words of forgiveness were among the last words He uttered from the cross.  Yet, the Lord’s expectation is not that His people stay at the cross in regret – nor stay at the tomb mourning for what could have been – nor allow the tomb’s emptiness to immbolize him in fear for the unknown future.  

At Easter, the risen Christ led Peter from the past into the present as a child of God, empowered by God, to be used by God in the future God had planned .  

Okay, got it!!!  Really? Not so much…..Not Peter.  Not us.

Following Peter’s powerful conversation with Christ, the Lord gave him a synopsis of what lay ahead.  Peter wouldn’t have an easy time of it nor would his life end easily, but rather Peter would face arrest and crucifixion.  And, Peter, still as impulsive as ever, panicked and looked around for someone to share his fate and blurts out, “what about HIM?!?” (meaning John)

Strike a note of familiarity with you?  Does for me, for sure!  There’s truth in that adage ‘misery loves company! We can stand anything as long as we are in the company of fellow sufferers…….but Christ again refocused Peter on the NOW of life in His presence.

Follow Me.  Don’t worry about anyone else and My plans for them. YOU follow Me.  

Learn from the past, for sure.  Prepare for the future, absolutely.  But never allow what was or what might be, not even the distractions of the lives of others to stymie the effectiveness of life in God’s present. 

Living in regret over past behaviors could keep Peter from feeling useful as an instrument of God’s work in the world; the work of bringing God’s love and hope to a world overwhelmed by past guilts and mired in hopeless messiness.

Such a hard lesson, but so necessary! 

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I have experienced the truth of this lesson in my own life time and time and time again! When I mess up, Christ through the Spirit refocuses my life in the present and I receive God’s grace to begin again in the NOW of His presence and love.  

Funny thing is, at such times, my life – and your life – can become a humble lesson of hope and new beginnings for others stuck in the past or angsting over the future – just like Peter’s life has been for us! After all, if God can use me – messy and screwed up as I am – then God can surely use anyone – anyone willing to live in God’s ever unfolding present and follow Christ’s lead. 

It’s just as simple – and just as hard – as that!  Thanks for the lesson, Peter!

And to God be the glory!  AMEN.

Should you choose check out the “In the Stillness” section and consider a prayer I found and have begun praying every day as I try to live in God’s presence and follow God’s lead. You might like it

Published by Pastor Catharine

Retired ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I have a Master's of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (with an emphasis on Spiritual Transformation of Community) from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.

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