The Rev. Dr. Thomas A. Thoeni
Feb. 10, 2019
Quite frequently when preaching I find myself recapping what was read the week before. It is almost as if I need a voice over that says, “Previously in the Gospel of Luke...” But this week I want to fast forward a bit. This week we are reading from the 5th chapter of Luke. But I want to call your attention to an event that occurs in the ninth chapter of Luke.
I am sure you know the story of the confession of Peter. Jesus asks his disciples who the crowds perceive him to be. Jesus gets a variety of responses from his followers. He then goes on to ask one of the central questions of the spiritual life: But who do you say that I am?
Peter answers very quickly, “The Messiah of God.” The way chapter nine reads, and the traditional way it is interpreted, is that Peter answered quickly and without thought; as if Peter spoke the truth without even knowing its meaning.
But this morning we have a hint in our readings that Peter may have been mulling over this question on his own for quite a while. The hint, like many hints, is very easy to miss. It is buried in our Gospel reading in the way Simon, whose name would be changed to Peter after his confession of Jesus, responds.
After a long night of fishing with no results, Peter and his crew are cleaning their nets. They were likely exhausted and probably not in the best of moods since they had worked many hours with nothing to show for it. Along comes Jesus who interrupts their work by helping himself to the use of one of their boats and asking them to take him into the water a short ways so he can preach.
We hear this story and, in light of what we already know and believe of Jesus, we may not think much of it. But consider Peter and his colleagues did not have much knowledge of Jesus and probably little interest in him. Now he had commandeered one of their boats and, though they were ready for a good nap after being up all night, they were forced to stick around to make sure their boat was not abused or stolen.
After Jesus’ sermon he did not meekly thank them and move along so they could go home. Instead he told them to get back in the boat and put out for some fish.
Here is the first part of the hint that Peter was coming to understand that Jesus was more than just an itinerant preacher or faith healer. He calls Jesus Master.
The title Master is used for Jesus only in the Gospel of Luke. It is only used as a title for one who has authority over a certain group. It basically refers to a boss or a supervisor, of sorts.
It is possible that Peter may have even been using this term sarcastically. I can see Peter, in his exhausted frustration, saying, “Yeah, whatever, Boss!” and reluctantly humoring Jesus. But once the great catch is made, Peter’s response changes. He is overwhelmed with amazement, he is supremely humbled by the the contrast of his baseness and God’s power and he now calls Jesus Lord.
In the Gospel of Luke, the title Lord is used to denote messianic dignity. Master can refer to anyone in the Gospel of Luke, but Lord refers to Jesus the Messiah of God. With this change in titles Luke paints for us a picture of Peter’s conversion and the beginning of his awareness that Jesus is the Messiah of God. It would be four more chapters, as Luke tells the story of Jesus, before Peter would make that confession, but the seeds are sown here, in the story we read this morning.
Peter’s confession was not spontaneous. His response to follow Jesus appears to be, but as he followed him, as he served him, as he listened to his words and witnessed his works, he came to understand and to know that Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah. This is an important part of Peter’s story for us to hear because it is also an important story about each of us.
The life of faith is rarely about stunning revelations or moments of pure enlightenment. More often than not it is quietly and faithfully making sense of God moving in our lives. The poet TS Eliot, an Episcopalian, by the way, wrote “We had the experience but missed the meaning.” That is one of the best statements I have ever read about the struggle of the life of faith.
To live faithfully is not to always know how to make sense of life or what decision is the wisest or most godly. To live faithfully is not always to have all the answers but to be willing to ask the questions. I believe that Peter left behind his boats that morning knowing that he must follow Jesus but not fully understanding why. I believe that even after Peter had confessed Jesus as the Messiah of God, even after his named had been changed from Simon to Peter by Jesus himself, noting the solid rock of his faith, that Peter still struggled to make sense of that faith.
I believe this because that is how the life of faith is. We live a life of faith; not of certainty. We have had experiences that have led us to believe that God is moving, God is calling us to follow. We have had the experiences. The life of faith is seeking to not miss the meaning.
This is a life we share with Peter, with John and James, with each of the disciples and with every saint that has gone before us and every saint that sits beside us. Because this is a life that we share with every person of faith. We have had the experiences of God and we are faithfully seeking what they mean; what it means to follow Jesus, to serve Jesus, to love his children, our brothers and sisters, and to reach out to others in his name.
We may never fully understand what this all means but still we put one foot in front of the other and follow Jesus. That is the life of faith and that is enough.