Reverend Stacy Swain
The girl had known nothing but frustration and isolation and confusion. She was trapped inside herself. She was blind and mute, unable to hear, unable to see. She was alone in deep darkness. Cut off from the world around her.
Her parent loved her very, very much, and they had never given up on her, even though she could be terribly difficult to be with. One day her parents hired a teacher. They hired Anne Sullivan, who moved into the house, to try teach the girl, to try to find a way into her darkness and to free her from it. And so day after day, week after week, month after long month, Anne tried and tried, she tried to break in, tried to break in into that darkness, tried to bring understanding, meaning, and connection to the child who was so desperately lost.
And then one day it happened. Out by the water pump, it happened. Anne had placed one of girl’s hands under the flowing water and in the other hand she had signed the letters W-A-T-E-R. And by the grace of God, it happened. There was a crack in the darkness and the light of understanding rushed in. Revelation as the girl made the connections of communication. Things have names. Words are signs, that point to what they represent. The world that had once been so frightening, that had trapped and confused her was suddenly brilliantly full of meaning and wonder, possibility and beauty. With her face shinning with understanding, Helen Keller in that moment was changed. That which had been, passed away as she stepped into new life. And all of it emerged from the touch of a hand.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, Jesus had been teaching them. He had been touching their broken bodies with healing, touching their confused minds with words of truth and clarity, touching the world around them pointing out injustice and showing them the path of righteousness and the way of peace. Day after day, week after week, month after month, Jesus taught them, hoping and praying that his teachings would find a way to break into the darkness that surrounded them and to draw them into new life, into meaning, wonder and possibility and beauty – into the life God intended for them.
And Jesus knows, his time is running out. He can see the road to Jerusalem stretched out before him. He knows that soon he will walk that road. He knows he will walk into the confrontation with what the Gospel calls the powers and principalities, into that deep, deep darkness. He sees the cross that is coming and so it is with urgency and intensity that he asks his disciples in the passage just before the one read for us today, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” He wants to know if the people understand all what has been revealed through him? Has a crack broken into the darkness? Has the light of understanding dawned? Do the people understand that he is the word made flesh, a sign among them pointing to the truth that God is at work in the world urging all of us emerge from darkness so that we can become God’s instruments of grace helping all of creation be what God intends? Do they understand? And so he asks them “Who do the people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples reply well “some say John the Baptist, but others say Elijah and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
I imagine that for a split second, Jesus is crestfallen. For the people still do not get it. And then, turning back to the disciples with eyes full of hope and love, he gently asks them, “But, who do you say that I am?” Who do you say I am, my disciples?
Who do you say that Jesus is? Can you answer out of the truth of your life? Have you felt him reaching into your life touching your body with healing, touching your mind with words of truth and clarity, touching the world around you pointing out the injustice and showing you the path of righteousness and the way of peace? Are you able to perceive and receive the touch of the divine in your life? Has the light of understanding dawned for you?
“But, who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks them, and without hesitation Simon Peter steps into epiphany. He says “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” And Jesus smiles, and says on you, Peter. On you, the rock, I will build my church.
Now, what I find amazing and tremendously comforting, is that having made this connection – That Jesus the man before him who Peter calls teacher and friend is at the same time the revelation of God, the flesh and blood manifestation of the divine – having fully caught a glimpse of this truth – Peter is not changed. He is not changed. There he is looking deep into the eyes of the divine and believe it or not, he is not, not yet at least, a changed man.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. He is more entrenched than ever. For Jesus then goes on to tell the disciples that as the Messiah, the son of the living God, he is going to be undergo great suffering, and be killed and on the third day raised, and what does Peter do? He rebukes Jesus! Peter has the nerve to tell Jesus that he is wrong and that this must not happen. Epiphany does not equate with understanding, not for Peter, not yet.
That is why I love Peter. For Peter is the living testimony of how difficult it is to break out of that which confines us and to enter into new life with God. There may have been times in our lives when we have been startled by the sudden truth that God has been present to us. We may have had epiphany moments when it becomes quite clear to us in the quiet of prayer, or in gazing upon the beauty of a butterfly that has settled down beside us, or when looking out over a lake that suddenly becomes as still as glass, that God is here. Right now, among us. That the hand of God is upon us. Epiphany may be ours for a fleeting moment, but in the next our lives close back into sameness. We think nothing has really changed and so we trudge on.
But Jesus persists. He will not leave Peter as he is. He will not leave him in deep darkness. This is why Jesus takes Peter up the mountain. Why God calls Moses up out of the valley, up onto the mountain. And there on the mountain, the place where the earth and heaven meet, a thin place known in the ancient world as being a place of theophany, of God encounters, God calls Moses up to receive the tablets of stone with the law and the commandments which God has written for the instruction of the people.” For God has freed these people from bondage and is delivering them into new life. But like Peter, they still don’t get it. They need God’s help and instruction. And so God calls Moses up into a God encounter and when Moses comes back down the mountain forty days later, do you remember what has happened to him. Moses comes down the mountain and his face is shinning. Shinning, radiant for he has seen the glory of the lord and has been changed by it. He is a changed man, bringing down that mountain the law and the commandments that will change the lives of those who follow God’s teachings.
For Peter, it takes time. For you and I, it may take time. It takes going up the mountain with Jesus and witnessing the full truth behind the words that he spoke. It takes seeing Jesus’ face shine like the son and his clothes become dazzling white. It takes hearing a voice speaks out of the bright cloud saying this is my son the beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” It takes the tragedy of Holy Week — of Peter denying Jesus three times “I do not know that man.” It takes falling away into the shadows. It takes Jesus seeking Peter out with forgiveness on the far side of the empty tomb but in the end, after all this, Peter emerges into new life. He is changed. The truth breaks into the deep darkness inside him and in an explosion of understanding he is changed. He sees the wonder, the beauty, the possibility and is absolutely on fire with the Gospel truth of it all. And we in part are here today because of Peter, because Peter did become what Jesus saw, the rock on which the church was founded. The bedrock on which we today stand.
Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth writes that when we allow our lives to be touched by the power of the Holy things happen. He says “Listen, I will tell you a mystery, we will be changed. (1Cor. 15:51)” Everything old, everything that enshrouds us, that which keeps in darkness, cut off from each other and the world, and God will pass away. (2Cor 5:17). It may come slowly, it may take a lifetime of quiet epiphanies, of subtle stirrings of understanding, but it will come. Ash Wednesday is upon us, Lent is here. We are on the road to Jerusalem. There will be times of trial and of suffering but the day is coming when we will meet the Christ face to face and when we do to borrow the words of Paul “the light of the knowledge of the of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 cor.4:6) will shine forth from our faces and we too will be changed. And all of it emerges from the touch of God’s hand up on us. A touch as light as the feel of bread in our palms, as sweet as the touch of wine on our lips. It has begun. We will be changed. Thanks be to God. AMEN