An unlikely choice?
For our church family, this weekend is a time of celebration. On Sunday, we celebrate our Patronal Festival - St Peter’s tide. Our church building was consecrated on 29th June 1897, St Peter’s Day, hence our building is dedicated to the glory of God and in memory of St Peter. As we celebrate, it is very easy for us to re-write history. We celebrate success and greatness, but such things are often only arrived at following long and difficult journeys…
I suspect Peter would have been slightly surprised that the Christian Church would, in time, dedicate a specific day (the day he was martyred) to his memory and in celebration of his ministry. After all, Peter’s ministry and general behaviour (for large parts of his life) was erratic to say the least.
Jesus called Simon Peter ‘the Rock’, but a less rock-like personality it’s hard to imagine. He was completely unreliable, doing and saying the wrong thing, unable to keep his rash promises. On the mountain of the transfiguration, when he should have been talking about spiritual things, he babbled about building shelters. When he saw Jesus walking on water, Peter thought he could do the same. He succeeded for a few steps, and then his faith began to fail and he began to sink, until he called out to Jesus to save him. He recognised that Jesus was the Messiah, but then tried to stop him going to Jerusalem to be crucified. Jesus called him ‘You Satan!’, meaning ‘You tempter!’ Peter promised to follow Jesus, even to death, and when the soldiers appeared in the Garden of Gethsemane, he hit out with his sword at one of them and then scarpered as quickly as his feet would carry him.
If Jesus was looking for a rock to build his Church upon, he could hardly have found a less likely candidate than unreliable Peter. Yet Peter’s intentions were good, but he messed up in carrying them out. In Peter’s heart there was genuine love and a genuine trust in his friend Jesus. In the end, it was that love and that trust that Jesus knew his Church needed, to provide it with firm foundations. Jesus probably chose the word that the Old Testament uses for ‘the congregation of Israel’ to describe the Church. In this way he showed that he expected his followers to form themselves into a community , to carry out his work after he had died. Amazingly, he chose Simon Peter, the failure, the walking disaster area, to be one of its leaders!
A man applied for a job recently, and was turned down. He demanded to know why, since he was clearly the most qualified candidate. He was told it was because he had been too successful in his life, so far. A leader needs to be someone who’s known what it is to fail. A good, solid leader is someone who has learnt from their failures. That’s why Jesus chose Peter and also St Paul! They’d both failed spectacularly in their early days and been broken by shame and disappointment until they were on their knees. But then they did the only thing you can succeed at when you’re on your knees, they prayed. They’d learnt from their failures to sympathise with the failures of those they were leading. We’re all failures in one way or another, if only we’d admit it.
In a Church which serves a crucified Saviour, the only suitable candidates for leadership are those who’ve known what it is to be broken. Thank God for Peter, who learnt from his failures.
In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, the challenge that lies before us all (Government, Church and individuals) is whether we are willing and able to acknowledge our failures and act, over and above our personal need to celebrate our successes.
Enjoy our Patronal celebrations, but never forget how our Church community will truly prosper and grow and what we all need to do to successfully lead our local communities out of the wilderness and uncertainties of the current situation.