“ A Brief Word” Occasional Sermons.

In my daily readings I have just begun the Book of Acts, and have been looking again at Peter’s speeches. They are really surprising. On Wednesday I discovered I wasn’t alone in being surprised. St Luke tells us that when Peter and John were dragged before the Sanhedrin, the Council, those assembled were “amazed” as they “realized they were uneducated and ordinary men”.

It is something that modern commentators have picked up in a negative way. “Surely”, they nod wisely, “these speeches can’t have been made by such “uneducated and ordinary men”. Perhaps you, too, wonder. So, do we wonder when Peter blurts out “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”? So let’s stand that upon its head.

You see, I think we generally have a problem viewing ‘the saints’ in general, and the apostles in particular. In response to the question “what is a saint?” Someone is quoted as have replied

A saint is someone who lived a long time ago, who has never been adequately researched!” Presumably, the implication behind that reply was that, if you researched a saint long enough, sooner or later you would find that he or she had – as we like to say – “feet of clay”.

We sometimes speak somewhat dangerously of the saints as being “the heroes of faith.” Yet, the communion of saints has nothing whatever to do with the cult of hero worship. We put heroes on pedestals or plinths, and then, after subsequent “adequate” research, we find that their human frailties and weaknesses are much the same as those of lesser mortals like ourselves. We become cynical and we feel let down. “We have seen through them,” we say. It is not long before we tear our heroes off their pedestals and bury them beneath the rubble of our disappointment, disillusionment, and even cynicism.

Saints are the very opposite of heroes. You are supposed to be able to see right through the saints. They are intended to be gloriously transparent, which is why the church delights to put them in stained glass windows! We do that precisely because we are intended to see through them, and what we see through them is the light that shines through them from beyond.

We are not asked to worship the saints, as though they were heroes, or try to copy them. What we are asked to do is celebrate them. Their lives are full of surprise. We often find ourselves like those members of the Jewish Council “amazed” at encountering the grace of God in such unlikely people.

Now, let’s get back to Peter. I hinted recently that he might not have been the brightest in the bunch. Impetuous, headstrong, yes, but could ‘Peter’, ‘Cephas’, the rock, have been Jesus’ tongue-in-cheek nick-name, like we might say ‘Rocky”, just as he termed James & John “the Sons of Thunder”?

I want to suggest that this Peter, this “uneducated and ordinary” man was a very wobbly foundation on which to build anything let alone ‘the Church’ as we perceive it. We only have to look at his denials during Jesus’ examination by the chief priests. But were we to dismiss him we would have denied the power of the grace of God to transform. I have also been reading the story of David (that is another story, that’s for sure), and read of the Lord saying to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance…; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on outward appearance; but the Lord looks on the heart.” When we read again of this “uneducated and ordinary man’s “amazing” testimony at the outset of Acts, and are seduced by “modern scholarship” into believing that it was all the work of his scriptwriter, St Luke, we should ask ourselves what then led all those people to turn to Christ.

There is a little more. Jesus, not long before today’s event, Matthew tells us, had this to say: “Do not worry about what you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” For Jesus, Peter’s ejaculation must have been a cause of joy, not because of what was said, but that it was said and Peter said it. It marked him out as one worthy of trust because the Father trusted him – against maybe the odds and the evidence.

Reading this, there’s hope for us all, wouldn’t you say?


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