My preacher said on Sunday that people tend to focus on the negative. They are drawn to it, he said.
I’m surely more cynical than I used to be and something of a know-it-all anyway, but every now and then a preacher will still deliver an idea that I’m willing to take home and think about.
Our interim pastor there at the First Baptist Church — Pastor Chuck Hampton, a Shannon native — continued his message with a rhetorical question that he believed accentuated his point. He asked us — his congregation — what was the first thing we thought of when we thought of the Apostle Peter. The rhetorical answer Pastor Chuck thought would be a “given” was that Peter denied Jesus Christ three times outside the Sanhedrin Council, before the cock crowed. And I think he was about 90% correct with his expectation. Most of us did think of just that moment. We went straight to the negative, without passing GO, just as our preacher predicted we would.
In fact, I thought very specifically of James Farentino‘s portrayal of Peter in “Jesus of Nazareth,” the 1977 television miniseries, which was a pretty good depiction of the gospel story. Being an impressionable 12 year old when I originally saw that classic made-for-TV extravaganza, it’s still Farentino’s image that illustrates Peter’s denial moment in my mind.
But Pastor Chuck pivoted in his message saying that Peter, despite our knee-jerk thoughts about him, was “the most courageous disciple.” He pointed out that it was Peter who drew his sword in the Garden of Gesthemene against the Roman soldiers who were there to arrest Jesus. Peter was clearly willing to die for Jesus. He continued along that line for the balance of the sermon. I think the larger message Pastor Chuck was trying to bring home was that we need to be on our guard so as not to always focus on the negative.
That’s certainly a good message to take from a church service any Sunday. But it’s not exactly the one I left with.
Pastor Chuck got me thinking about Peter, the man. The disciple that Jesus himself nicknamed “The Rock” did fail, and he did so over and over. But he succeeded far more, and he did that over and over, too.
Peter denied Christ, without question. But he had the opportunity to do so because he was there. Other “disciples” weren’t there.
I remembered that Peter and John ran to the tomb on that first Easter morning. That’s always stuck out to me. A grown man. He took off and ran when he heard the women’s tale of the empty tomb — in excitement, in crazy hope, probably in dread of what he might find, too. John, in his gospel, says he beat Peter there, out-raced him. They were real human beings, like us. Peter, in particular, was a man of action. I like that a lot.
Peter walked on the water one stormy night, before he sank. We all remember that he sank. But just think, he stepped out of the boat and did something miraculous. Peter was bold and courageous and faithful. Yep, he got scared and sank. But Peter walked on the water. He actually did that. Just let that sink in. No pun intended.
“That’s the real deal right there,” Pastor Chuck might say.
Believe. Try. Keep going. Keep doing. Like ol’ Peter did.
That’s a message worth taking home.