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Lessons from a Fisherman




The congregation at St. Andrew Lutheran in Phoenix has been reading about Simon Peter during Lent. Normally, throughout the year, we see him in vignettes: called to fish for men, urged to walk on water, declared a rock. Stringing these vignettes together into a narrative gives us a picture of the man whom we call Saint Peter.


I was asked to share a faith experience based on the life of Peter. I introduced it this way:

Is there any personality trait of Peter’s that we cannot identify with? Lack of faith, doubt, fear, pride, impulsiveness, fawning, and confusion are all revealed. The best news: Jesus really liked this guy. In fact, he loved him. And maybe that is the best lesson: Jesus really likes us despite our humanness. God really loves us. We probably judge ourselves more harshly than does God.
As I was researching for this lesson, I came across a never-before-seen letter that Peter wrote to a cousin Rachel not long before his own crucifixion and death. I think it is revealing.   

Here is the letter:


14 Maius 63 AD

Dear Rach

Thank you for your most recent letter. Although it took eight months to reach me, it was good to hear about you and many other dear cousins. We were all so close as children. I regret that we have had so little time for each other in the past few years.

My life has been a roller coaster since our friend Jesus died. Can you believe he has been gone 30 years? The time he spent in our home, talking, sharing food, even healing, are my most precious memories. Remember the chaos after he healed my mother-in-law? I don’t think the house was ever the same. I know the family was never the same.

I have been thinking of the psalms we used to sing. Occasionally at the end of a phrase, we would hold a note for an indefinite time. Or perhaps we extended a silence, waiting for the cantor to direct us on. I hated those fermatas. “Just get on with it,” I wanted to cry. Over the years, challenged by Jesus to face my weaknesses, I have learned to love the fermatas. The stretching of the musical tone or silence allows time for the sound vibrations to fill our bodies and souls. Anticipation builds for what is to come. The resolution of the song brings peace and joy. Now when I sense an ungodly attitude impinging on my heart, I remember those fermatas. I stop, bring up the image of Jesus, and wait for God to lead me to the peace and joy of God.

An incident with Jesus sparked a memory of you and me playing together as children. After some time together, you would get angry with me, yelling, “You are so stubborn!” While you ran home to pout, I walked around grousing. Not much later, we met again to do it all over. Interestingly, Jesus called me stubborn.

OK, Jesus didn’t actually say stubborn. He called me a “stumbling block.” I felt proud when he began using my middle name, Peter, declaring me the rock on which he would build his kingdom. My hubris was shattered when, soon after, he tagged me a stumbling block to God. Was “Peter the rock” a double entendre? It seems that for everything I got right with him, I got two or more wrong. Jesus offered insights in such a way, though, that I was never angry with him. Impatient, frustrated maybe. But his love was apparent even when admonishing me.

Rach, it pains me but I must share this before I am gone. My biggest heartache came the night before Jesus died. You recall the time. It was terrifying. Roman soldiers and Jewish high priests and officials calling for crucifixions amidst the festivities of Passover. In the chaos of Jesus’s arrest, people identified me as his friend. Three times! And every time, panic set in and, I regret to say, I denied his friendship. Eventually, while hiding, too exhausted to stay awake, I dozed off. The crowing of the rooster woke me to the realization of what I had done. I was horrified and heartbroken. Jesus had told me explicitly that I would do that. I broke down in tears. Tears of regret and fear and intense sorrow.

Why did I refuse to acknowledge this kind, generous, and innocent man as a friend? I know that I did not have a clear vision of what Jesus was. When Andrew and I left our fishing boats to follow Jesus, we had already heard his words promising a kingdom for the Jewish people. He was certainly not the first, but he seemed the most honest and was certainly the most charismatic. Frankly, I was tired of being poor and hungry, of being ruled by the Romans and treated like dirt by the Jewish blue bloods. This was the revolution that we had been waiting for. But as Jesus went around preaching, praying (which he did a lot!), healing, conversing freely with women, and playing with children, I was impatient that there wasn’t more action. “Just get on with it,” I thought, just like when the cantor held the note too long. When I voiced my concerns, Jesus would point out that I was being selfish, power-hungry, wanting God to do things my way, not I doing things God’s way. So when Jesus was condemned to death, I felt as if the mission to free the Jewish people had once again failed. I really did not understand that Jesus meant not to overthrow the government but to show us how God wanted us to live, individually, rich and poor, weak and strong. To lead everyone to God in their hearts.

You called me stubborn. Yes, because I wanted to control the play and refused to play with you on your terms, which, I now realize, may have actually been much fun. Too many times I have been a stumbling block to those who would follow Jesus or seek God because I want to dictate the rules. It is really hard to let God be God. To let God work in peoples’s lives on God’s time. I wonder, will the name Peter be a blessing or a curse in years to come? A rock or a stumbling block?

As you are aware of the political tensions ruling our lives, you will not be surprised that I do not anticipate living much longer. I have had 65 good years, 33 of them spent growing in the knowledge of Jesus, inviting others to seek him, and learning to let God be God. Will we see each other after death? Jesus talked about it. I am not sure. I saw his empty tomb. And I could have sworn that he appeared to us. Did we imagine his resurrection in our excitement? I want to believe, but my mind cannot grasp what that means. So today, for this day, I choose to believe. I die knowing that I lived life in his love.

Love to you and to all the family. I pray for your health and happiness, until we meet again. . . sometime.

Your cousin

Si

AKA Peter, the rock or the stumbling block

 

 

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