Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mud, mud glorious mud!

Figures from ANthony Gormley's "Field" sculpture
There’s a story of an Archbishop who visited Kampala. He went to the Cathedral and found a young boy playing with the mud near the Church. The boy was very involved in moulding and shaping the mud and the Archbishop was fascinated so he asked what he was doing. ‘I’m making a procession for the Cathedral’ the lad said – then pointed to the figures made of mud – ‘there’s the choir, there’s the dean. there’s the vergers, there’s the clergy’. ‘Oh,’ said the Archbishop ‘Where’s the Archbishop?’ ‘I haven’t got enough muck for an Archbishop’ replied the boy. This response kept him humble!

We all need reminders every now and then of what we are made! We are a collection of elements that – through some great process divinely inspired – has evolved into living, breathing, speaking people. As the words for the Ash Wednesday Liturgy say ‘remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’.

And yet, out of these unlikely elements God is able to do great things. We may not be perfect, we may not feel we are very special, but God thinks we are amazing! In many ways, its not believing in God that is important in the life of a Christian, but the knowledge that God believes in us!

Today we celebrate (slightly early) the Feast of St Peter - someone whom God took the elements of, the dustiness and brokenness of his life - and transformed his unlikeliness and ordinariness into extraordinariness by the grace of God.

Peter’s story is well known to us.  He and his brother Andrew are the first to be called to follow Jesus.  It seems like a very strange encounter - Jesus is just out for a walk by the lake, sees these fishermen and tells them to leave everything and to follow him and to catch people.  Peter was the one who puts his faith to the test and followed Christ onto the water.  Peter was the one who realised really who Jesus was and shouted it out loud.  Peter also regularly misunderstood Jesus; he denied Jesus; he hid after the crucifixion; and initially doubted the resurrection.

Peter when he first met Jesus would probably have been a young man.  A northerner, from Galilee, a part of the world where they call a spade a shovel.  There are 2 things that you notice about him immediately - working arms, the strong wrists, hands and forearms from years of casting out and hauling back in the nets from the lake, but also the equally strong piercing eyes, used to scouring the horizon for seabirds themselves fishing so as to locate the next catch.  His hair and beard unkempt and windswept only just framing the weather punished face - marked with the successes and failures of his job.  A face that does not suffer fools and sees through scams and silly ideas, after all, he cannot afford not to be too cautious.  It’s not a prosperous trade fishing.

Peter’s journey of faith in so many ways mirrors our own - trusting Jesus implicitly one minute and then either misunderstanding him or worse still denying him the next.  The man we hear about later this week in the upper room sees only Jesus’ lordship and divinity not the love of serving friend, or runs to the empty tomb to see what? is a contradiction as we each are, but somehow something happens, as between those places of intimate fellowship and supernatural disbelief we encounter a man continuing to be transformed, no transfigured through knowing Christ for himself.

Jesus loves Peter, whichever Gospel you read, of that fact there can be no doubt.  Despite faith, failure, denial, and disbelief, Jesus loves Peter enough to forgive him, and forgive him and forgive him.  Even having seen the empty tomb, Peter returns amazed, but not changed.  The man who had so easily denied Jesus in the half-light outside Ciaphas’ house now does not link what his eyes see with what he has heard Jesus himself teach about his resurrection - and that is so often Peter’s strength but also his failing - he does not connect head and heart.  ‘Let me come out on the water with you, you are the messiah of God, you must not wash only my feet but my hands and head also, I do not know the man’ - all come from the heart.  Peter the working man, Peter the uncomplicated man, Peter the passionate man - who spoke and acted from the heart was called by Christ because there was room in his passionate heart for the passionate God willing give up his son to death to perfect that which he began at the moment of creation - yes even in Peter and those of us like him.

The good news for us today is that Peter’s story is our story. For we, like Him, are loved and loved and loved by Christ.  We may not be perfect, we may not feel we are very special, but God thinks we are amazing! Like Peter, we are full to overflowing ordinariness, yet God, like His work in Peter, can fill us to overflowing with His Grace by the power of the Holy Spirit and look what happened when He did, and God God can do the same extraordinary things to and through even us. All we have to do, and it is really is pretty simple, is to be like Peter did which shouldn’t be too hard, and continue to accept Christ’s call to follow Him. Amen


I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Alastair McCollum for the opening story and initital ideas here. His take on it all can be read here

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