A young, successful couple found their dream home. Shortly after purchasing it, the couple sat at their kitchen table to indulge in a delicious breakfast. The wife looked out the window, and to her surprise, she saw her neighbor hanging dirty laundry on the clothesline. ‘That laundry isn’t clean, it’s still dirty!’ she said to her husband. ‘Someone needs to teach her a thing or two when it comes to washing her clothes!’ A couple of days later, the couple sat down at their kitchen table for another meal. The wife saw her neighbor hanging clothes on the clothesline. But this time something was different. ‘Wow, look!’ the surprised wife said to her husband, ‘Her clothes are clean! Someone must have taught her how to wash her clothes!’ Without raising his head from his plate, the husband kindly responded, ‘Actually, honey, I got up early this morning and washed the window.’
A quick reading of today’s gospel might lead us to believe that Peter is some how a super disciple, that he must have had his act together and done everything right for Jesus to be willing to proclaim him the rock on which the church will be built; but Peter is just as much a hot mess as all of us. Literally three verses after this passage Jesus calls Peter Satan for setting his mind on human things instead of God and when Jesus is arrested it is Peter who denies ever knowing him; so why then does Jesus hand him the keys to heaven? The short answer is because Peter’s response to the question, “who do you say that I am?” focuses not on what comes from humans, but on what comes from God. When Peter says, “you are the messiah, the Son of the living God”, he is pointing to the things that God has done through Jesus, not to Jesus himself; not to his title; not to his ancestral pedigree; but to what he represents. He is pointing to the feeding of the five thousand; he is pointing to the time Jesus saved Peter from the water because his faith was not strong enough; he is pointing to all of the times people were healed because of their encounter with Jesus. Jesus does not choose Peter because of who he is or what he has done, Jesus chooses Peter because of Peter’s testimony; it is Peter’s understanding of who Jesus is and what he represents that is the rock. Peter understands that there is a relationship between God and Jesus that gives us a window into the kingdom of heaven. Peter had the benefit of experiencing that relationship firsthand, but for us that window is scripture. It is through scripture that we gain access to the life of Jesus and to his relationship with God. It is through scripture, which is the testimony of people who have encountered God, that we learn what it means to be in relationship with God. It is through our study of scripture and our lived experience with God that we should be able to answer the same question that Peter was asked. If you were asked to explain who Jesus is, how would you respond? Would your response be clouded by a dirty window? Would it rely on someone else’s testimony or would it truly be your own experience of God?
If we only rely on the testimony of others, on other people’s experience of the living God, then how can we call ourselves Christians? Christianity is about relationships. It is about having a relationship with God, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit; but that relationship is not meant to be limited to weekly bible study and Sunday morning, it is ongoing, it should be the driving force behind all that we do. I want to share an example of what I mean. I am the president of my school district’s Teachers’ Association and as president it fell to me and a few others, to work with the administrative team this summer to develop our school district’s reopening plans. This process has been and continues to be fraught with frustration and because of that I have, multiple times, felt angry, sad, anxious, disheartened, and I have just wanted to quit; but I have not quit. I have not quit because, upon reflection and a period of prayer and discernment, I can see God in the work that I am doing. As frustrating as it is for me, I experience God in the faces of the people who talk to me about their personal struggles; I see God in the words they type when they email me because they are scared to death about going back to work during the pandemic; I hear God in their voices when they call me to learn about their childcare options.
You see, when I get frustrated and want to quit, I am viewing the situation with a dirty window. I am allowing my own inhibitions and flaws, my humanity to control the situation, but when I step back and I calm down, I see God calling me to action. God calling me to minister to my friends and colleagues with the same compassion Jesus showed Peter. Peter was far from perfect, he was human after all, and despite everything he said and did that was inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, he was handed the keys to heaven and declared the rock of the church, not because he was the perfect model of humanity, but because despite his humanity he was able to see that there is a better way to live, not an easier way, not a perfect way, not a less scary or frustrating way, just a better way. A way rooted in love, rooted in kindness, rooted in relationship, rooted in God. The hard part is to remember to step back; take a deep breath; make sure that we are viewing the situation clearly; and then ask ourselves, where is God in this? And if we cannot see God, either we are allowing our ego to lead us or we have more work to do in order to discern why God is calling us to that situation. When I was ready to quit my position as association president, I was looking at the situation through the dirty window of my own emotions and not paying attention to what God was asking me to do. God does not expect us to be perfect, but if we are going to claim to have a relationship with God, then we do need to make sure that it is not a one-sided relationship. Amen.