In Madeline L’engles book, Penguins and Golden Calfs, Icons and Idols In Antarctica and other Spiritual Places, Ms. L’engle defines an icon as that through which we see God and an idol as that which blocks our view of God. As I have prepared for this morning’s celebration of our patronal saint, I have found myself pondering how St. Peter’s life serves as an icon, a window to a deeper understanding of God, or better yet,as a window into our relationship with God.
This morning I feel rather fortunate our patron is St. Peter and not Saints Mathias or Bartholomew of whom very little is written in the Gospels. Peter, unlike his fellow apostles holds a prominent role in the gospels, and next to St. Paul, is probably the one of the original twelve apostles of whom we know the most.
We know that Peter was a fisherman by trade, he was the first of the original twelve to commit his life to being a disciple of Jesus. We know based on the Gospels, Peter was for the most part steadfast and loyal. I am not sure he was the brightest of characters, and it is clear, as much as he loved Jesus, until he experienced the resurrection, he doesn’t seem to “get” the full implication of what it meant for Jesus to be the messiah.
I realize my description of Peter may sound harsh, but let’s be honest, even after witnessing the transformation on the top of Mount Tabor, after proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah the chosen one of God, he still bristled when Jesus spoke about being crucified. It was he who drew his sword when the Temple guards came to take Jesus to trial, and it was he, who, when Jesus was at his most vulnerable denies him three times then abandons Jesus when he is condemned to death.
This is who we celebrate today. An imperfect human being, who enthusiastically accepted the call to follow Jesus and bumbled his way to becoming the person who tradition tells us is the rock upon whom the church is built.
This is what makes St. Peter so lovable, unlike St. Paul, who we know though his letters and the latter part of the Book of Acts, only feels approachable and real in this morning’s passage from the letter of Timothy. Despite how much I truly appreciate St. Paul and all of his attempts to tell the world and his readers that he really is “one of us” he never overcomes being the cool, distant pharisee he was raised to be.
St. Peter on the other hand is real, he truly was one of us, he is not one who over thought his faith but simply responded to the love of God. And while he did not always “get it” intellectually, he was a genius of the heart who literally wore his emotions on his sleeve, who rarely got it right on the first try, but through it all was always open to experiencing the fullness of what divine grace had to offer.
This is what makes Peter an icon for humanity. His ability to be openly vulnerable to God. HIs willingness to take risks with Jesus and to find the confidence to accept divine forgiveness to overcome his many blunders.
In this morning’s Gospel, we heard the account of what I consider the redemption of St. Peter. After denying Jesus three times on Good Friday, the risen Christ offers Peter three opportunities to affirm his love for him. “Peter, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Then with each affirmation, Peter literally has been given the ability to wipe out each of his denials from the week before.
If God can forgive Peter for his betrayal, imagine how much God can forgive us for our sins? If God can use Peter as the cornerstone for his church, imagine how God can use us? All of this happened because Peter was open to following God’s ways and not our ways.
In recent years, St. Peter’s by-the-Sea has used the nets as part of our “branding,” for lack of a better word. It is symbolic of St. Peter’s life and is what ties us and him to our location just a block or two from the sea. Our use of the net as part of our “branding” also binds us with the call of St. Peter to discipleship.
How I wish the story of Peter, James and Andrew fishing in the Sea of Galilee was our Gospel this morning. For those who are unfamiliar with the story here is a quick synopsis. Early one morning as the men brought in their nets, Jesus appears to them, he inquires as to the catch, which was poor that morning and then encourages the men to go back out to sea and try again, which, to the readers surprise, they do. After casting their nets into the sea for a second time and on the opposite side of what is usual, the men bring in a great catch.
For those of us today not familiar with the finer points of ancient fishing practices, the story is rife with what people of their day would shake their heads at. First, to attempt fishing late in the morning is most often and exercise in futility. Second, no fishermen of their day would ever return to sea before fully tending to their nets and seeing to it they are properly folded so as to avoid the nets tearing or becoming tangled in the midst of casting.
But for some reason, despite Jesus’ request to defy the conventional wisdom of the day, the men willingly risked their nets, and their livelihood. And despite their reservations and concerns about this probable waste of time, they hauled in a catch greater than what they could handle.
The story is a parable of God’s words through Isaiah that God’s ways are not our ways, it is also a parable for how Peter lived his life. A life, open and willing to follow Jesus, despite never really being clear as to where this would lead. A life, open to taking risks when Jesus asked. A life, open to the gift of divine grace. A life which was led, not really sure of what would come next or how it all would work together, but somehow always trusting that in the end, he would be abundantly blessed through the love of God.
This is what makes Peter a worthy and venerable patron saint. A Saint whose life is rightfully an icon, a window through through whom to see and understand God. A Saint, whose life’s story says to each of us, if he could do it, so can we!