SAINT . . . . SINNER . . . . . OR SOMEWHERE IN-BETWEEN
So then … I wonder …. . .what are you? Sinner or a saint?
What do you think a ʻsaintʼ is? You know what is coming don’t you . . . here is one of many dictionary meanings:
ʻA person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after deathʼ and ʻa person who is admired or venerated because of their virtueʼ
Do you have someone in your life whom you would describe as a saint? With no disrespect to anyone at all, it is a term that has become ordinary everyday language – but in a positive way, used when someone has done a good deed, shown great kindness, or just ʻbeen thereʼ.
In the good old days, when families gathered in each others homes, when grandparents could meet and hug their grandchildren without breaking any rules, when weddings were conducted and bells were rung . . . if life were that which we were used to . . . we would be meeting in churches today, and in the village of Henley, we would be celebrating our Patron Saint.
So – was our saint virtuous, holy, admired and venerated? Was he so revered that he could only be looked up to in awe? Well . . . er . . . no. The saint to whose name our church is dedicated, was actually none of those things . . . to begin with. Our saint .. . . . the coward . . . the imperfect, the impetuous and yet the ʻrockʼ on which the church was built . . . Saint Peter.
We first meet him as an ordinary fisherman going about his daily business, it was a small fishing business which he shared with his brother Andrew. The life of a fisherman was hard, a life of constantly being wet, cold and tired, and always accustomed to the dangers of water. Peter was a married man and a hard worker. Then one day a man was walking by the sea and shouted to Peter and his brother ʻcome, follow me!ʼ And so they did.
In reality Peter did not act like much of a rock for much of the time. He often misunderstood the ministry of the man whom he followed for three years, he spoke inappropriately, he promised undying devotion to Jesus, and then stood in a courtyard denying that he knew Jesus at the start of the most critical time in his friend’s life . . . . .St Peter’s faith was sorely tried and tested.
But maybe that is the point. An ordinary human being, so very fallible – challenged and found wanting – and yet he was chosen by Jesus to take on a mantle greater than you and I could ever imagine. But Peter was changed – he had been forgiven, and forgiven and forgiven again, his misdemeanors were behind him, he was not going to dwell on past mistakes but having learned from them, he focussed on the way ahead and moved forward.
Today we honour a man who didnʼt always ʻget itʼ, who made rash promises which he couldnʼt keep – a man who looked like he was going to be left wanting – and yet over 2000 years on, we are looking forward to worshipping, once again, in a church dedicated to his name.
If you have ever completely misunderstood something that was said to you and responded inappropriately, if you have said things that you come to truly regret later, if you have made mistakes that, when you look back, you shudder with shame or embarrassment, then St Peter is the man for you. He is a tremendous role model for those of us who agonise over our short comings and failings. St Peter gives us, mere mortals, hope. Hope that when we get it wrong, when we break our promises, when we forget to walk in Godʼs ways, when our words or actions deny him, if we recognise the error of our ways, God will turn and look upon us, and we will be forgiven and restored.
Peter, humble, but a born leader did not look back. The mantle that was laid around his shoulders was large and it was heavy. He took it, he wore it. He was given ʻmetaphoricallyʼ the keys to the kingdom. He ʻtookʼ them and led out a small group of people that grew in number – and the Christian Church was born. Peter did not look back, but laid his faith in God. It was by Godʼs grace that Peter rose from failure to success. He became “strong at the broken places”, and because he refused to live in the shadow of his past, we have the momentous story of the growth and spread of the Christian faith in the Acts of the Apostles. In spite of suffering every kind of destructive force, including the worst of all – humanityʼs indifference – the Church lives. And it lives, according to Ronald Blythe, because of parishes such as ours – mere pebbles in comparison to Peterʼs rock – being part of its life.
May God bless you all – and remember: “This is what is good and is what the Lord requires of you: “to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”.
With my love to you and your families
Lord, I remember how you changed the life of St Peter, turning fear into courage, uncertainty into confidence and denial into affirmation. I pray now that you will take what I have been, what I am now and by your renewing and redeeming touch, shape me into the person you would have me be. Amen