The ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ of Saint Peter
Patronal Festival – St Peter’s Day 2019
preached by Ven Andrew Mintern
Parish Priest and Archdeacon of Torrens
Peter the inspiration
The apostle Peter has always been a role model for me. When I was twenty, I wrote a series of three songs based on St Peter, and I came across the hand-written words the other day. One of them I performed at Woodville town hall with a Christian band I was in at the time for an International Year of Youth Christian music concert. The three songs were called “Days on the waves”, “Days on the road” and “I can’t believe I said ‘no’”.
In the first song I recalled how Jesus called Peter in the midst of his working life as a fisherman, to instead come and fish for people. Peter in his heart says ‘Yes’ and left his nets immediately. The next song was about the heady times of travelling with Jesus on the road, witnessing miracles and learning wonderful teachings. The third song, “I can’t believe I said ‘no’” then focused on the last supper and Jesus’ arrest and how Peter denied even knowing Jesus and how, when the rooster crowed, Peter was overcome with remorse and disbelief in what he had done.
Yes and No
Even back then in my youth the idea that Peter was this paradox of yes and no drew me in as a very real example of faith. There are other times where Peter gets it right followed by getting wrong. Today’s gospel reading [Matthew 16:13-23] is a good example, where Peter alone recognizes Jesus as the Messiah but a few verses later gets it wrong by misunderstanding Jesus’ mission.
I suspect all of us in our faith journey are a lot like Peter, a mixture of yes and no. We are all here today because of the yes part of us. We have all, to some degree, left our nets to follow Jesus. We have all been captured by the love that will not let us go. We have all felt the touch of the Gospel message that has left our heart strangely warmed. We have all felt that inspiration of the Spirit moving us towards peace, compassion and justice. There is a yes in each of us.
But, like Peter, we have the no in us as well. The times when we don’t want to admit we know Jesus, and that we go to church. The times when the church is splashed across the media for all the wrong reasons and we duck for cover. Or the times when we feel God calling us to respond to a certain situation and we just don’t have the courage or the time or the resources to respond. None of us, I suspect, point the finger too strongly at Peter’s failures because, in a way, we are glad they are there. They give us a very human example of a disciple that we can stand alongside of.
St Paul, who shares the same feast day with St Peter, seems more daunting to me. Always sure of his truth, always outspoken, prepared to go to jail for his faith, to be stoned and flogged for his faith. Admirable yes, but can the majority of people reach that level of zealousness? Peter seems to exemplify the common person on their journey of faith who, through his ups and downs, grows in his faith, grows in his understanding and grows in his leadership. Peter achieves faithfulness in spite of the times he says no, because he is prepared to repent, returning again and again to say yes to Jesus.
The film clip made by the older children in the parish about Peter walking on the water to Jesus, powerfully demonstrates both the yes and the no of Peter. He is prepared to say yes to getting out of the boat and coming to Jesus on the water, but also demonstrates the no of being overcome by fear and doubt. This episode is a parable for so many experiences of faith that we will face throughout our entire lives.
The yes and no of Peter captivates my imagination. It is wonderful to have such a human patron saint whose journey of faith is one that we ordinary Australian Anglican Christians can relate to some two thousand years later.
Brother Roger – Yes to God
Another person who has been a great inspiration to me in my spiritual journey is Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community in France. Saying ‘’yes’’ to God is a common theme in Brother Roger’s writings. One of his most famous quotes is ‘If a trusting heart were the beginning of everything, by it we would be made ready and willing to dare a yes for life.’
Each year Brother Roger used write a pastoral letter. It would be a substantial reflection on a theme, usually connected to the spiritual path of trust and reconciliation. These letters, with accompanying scripture references, notes and questions, would form the basis for discussion groups at Taize gatherings around the world each year.
I’d like to conclude this sermon on the yes and no of Peter, with some words about saying yes by Brother Roger, from his 1985 letter ‘’A heart that trusts’’.
A yes because of Christ makes us vulnerable. It makes it impossible to run away from ourselves and from essential solidarity with others.
This yes can be disturbing. It is never easy to be shaken up. The human condition has its fragilities that do not like shocks.
The yes keeps us awake. It keeps our eyes wide open. Could the yes of a vocation drift off or even slumber? Could it try to run away from Christ in the communion of his Body, the Church, so shaken on every side? Could it try to run away from a world that is ridden with suffering?
This yes for life is fire. It is a challenge. Let it burn, this fire that never goes out. And the yes blazes up within. The yes makes us vulnerable. It cannot be otherwise.
Let us pray
Thank you Lord for St Peter,
for his humanity and his faithfulness.
may we, like Peter,
continually turn to you again and again,
and say “yes”. Amen.