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peter_resued.jpg (3671 bytes)Needing God's Help
A Holy Thursday sermonette on Peter’s Betrayal
by Rev. Frank Schaefer

Just this past Sunday we celebrated Palm Sunday on which the crowds at Jerusalem cheered Jesus as the new King. "Hosanna," they shouted. "Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord." Here is what always boggles my mind about this scene: five days--only five days--later that same crowd shouts "Crucify him." Hard to understand, or is it?

If you look around today you notice that such fickleness seems to be part of human nature. We all know how quickly public opinion can turn around. Today, you may be celebrated as a superstar one day and your reputation may be down the drain the next day.

What must have really hurt Jesus, more so than the turnabout in his public opinion poll, is the fact that even his closest friends and followers, especially his disciples, left him in his hour of despair.

On this Holy Thursday, I would like to invite you to look at one person in particular, Simon Peter, of whom Jesus once said he was the rock on which God was going to build the church. In many respects, Simon Peter reflects all Christians with regard to the weakness and sinfulness that can still get the better of us.

Peter did have a lot of good qualities and leadership potential. He was a God-fearing, loyal person. He was zealous for the kingdom of God. Now, he wasn't one of those submarine Christians that emerge on Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve in church. No, Peter was a fighter, one to change the world in the name of God, one to speak up and even willing to lay down his life for the good fight. Once Peter swore an oath to Jesus, never to fail him. He said: "Lord I am ready to go with you to prison--and even to die for you."

Reminds me of the question our Sunday school teacher once asked us. When we talked about the end times, about the day of tribulation, when the followers of Jesus once again will be thrown in prison and put to death on account of their faith. She asked "will you say you're a Christian even if they will throw you in prison for it?" "Would you die for Jesus?" No doubt, Peter's answer to that question was "yes."

But then we read about Peter's failure. He wasn't able to live up to his promise. He turns around and denounces Jesus. "Jesus who?  I don't know that . . . Jesus." And then he remembers Jesus’ words, "Before the cock will crow three times you will have disowned me." And what had Peter answered the Lord: "Never. Never in a million years."

I can imagine tears running down this burly man's face. "Jesus was right. I've betrayed my Lord." Peter learned something that day: through the grace of God I stand. If I am going to stand as a Christian I need the help of God. I need help!

God' Word tells that "he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." That puts us into a relationship of dependence to God. But we don't like to think that we have to rely on somebody else's strength, do we?

If the story of Peter teaches us anything it is that we are to live our Christian life knowing and admitting that we are weak. That's a tough thing to do!!

We need to know our weakness! We need to live in a constant state of self-evalution, watchfulness, and prayer if we want to avoid letting our Lord down.

What can we learn from Peter's experience to benefit our spirtual walk and help us grow in the Lord?

1) Temptation comes in degrees (watch the little foxes). No one wakes up in the morning saying: "today I'm going to fall from grace--I just feel like that." Knowing and acknowledging that we do harbor weakness will help us be watchful. Only if we live in this acknowledgment may we learn how to rely on God to help us.

2) Know and identify your weakness. Just as alcoholics need to remind themselves every day that they are alcoholics (the first thing you say at an AA meeting: My name is _______ and I am an alcoholic), we Christians need to remind ourselves that we are sinners. Pardoned sinners, but nonetheless sinners. We need to ask God to forgive us when we do sin, to help us to avoid temptations, and to strengthen us when temptation does hit us.

3) Besides relying on God, we also need to learn how to accept and seek help from others.

Illustration: the metaphor of the red hot coal, which will stay hot if bunched together with others. If separated from the bunch it will loose its heat quickly. Much as the hot coals, we as Christians need to huddle together in order to keep the fire of the faith alive.

Brothers and sisters, let us walk confidently, but not in the confidence of the self-made Christian, but in the confidence of the grace and the power of God in our lives. Let us learn from Peter, who learned to stand and walk in the awareness of his weakness, and in this way he was able to tap into the power of God. Let us learn the same during this Holy Week and let us stand together in unity asking God for help to remain faithful. Amen.