A Sermon for
the feast of
by the Rev. Dr. Robert Crouse
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have
that he may sift you as wheat.
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not."
Christian Year is punctuated by the festivals of saints: Apostles
and Evangelists, Martyrs and Confessors; holy men and women, and
children, too, of all times and places, of all sorts and conditions.
These festivals set before us, in a splendid panorama, all the
Spiritís gifts, the virtues and the graces of Godís Kingdom, in
their marvelous diversity. They remind us, by their different
emphases, that though there is "one Spirit and one hope, one Lord,
one Faith and one Baptism, one God and Father of us all," yet our
holy calling is expressed in so many different ways. "As the body is
one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body,
being different, are one body; so also is Christ."
"There are diversities of operations,
but it is the same God that worketh all in all." We have our unity
in and through diversity. That is the pattern of the Churchís life,
and that is the pattern of all true social order: a gracious
reciprocity of gifts and talents; unity in diversity.
Both sides of that are crucially
important: both diversity and unity. All our diverse gifts have a
common source, and must serve a common end; all express and serve a
common faith. Thus this great festival of St. Peter comes in the
midst of the Christian Year, as a festival of faith - that virtue
upon which all the rest, all the gifts and graces of the saints must
hinge. All the rest must hinge upon that faith, that Petrine
affirmation, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." That
is the foundation of all the divers Christian virtues, the ground of
Christian unity, the "rock" upon which the Church of Christ is
built; all Christian life begins with that, and hinges upon that.
And we who keep St. Peterís festival must celebrate and share St.
But is such clear and confident
assertion really possible for us? Amid all the complications of our
lives, amid all the conflicting voices that assail us, from outside
us and from within our own souls, can we be so definite as that?
Surely, we think, surely it was easier for those first followers of
Jesus. If we had heard Jesus teaching, if we had witnessed his
miracles ourselves, surely faith would be an easy matter. So we tell
But, you know, practically every page of
the Gospel contradicts that sentiment. Faith did not come easily.
The lame walked, the lepers were cleaned, the blind received their
sight, the dead were raised, and the poor had the Gospel preached to
them. The signs of divine presence were all there. But the people
heard and saw as though they had neither eyes nor ears. They were
disturbed, and cast about for explanation: "He casteth out the
devils through Beelzebul," they said, "the prince of devils". There
was great popular excitement, to be sure, but the excitement served
only towards Christís rejection.
Even his closest friends hesitated when
he asked them what they thought. "Some say that thou are John the
Baptist; some say Elijah, or Jeremiah" - some great prophet, risen
from the dead. Yes, "but whom do you say that I am?" It fell to
Simon Peter - Peter the impetuous - to rise to the great
affirmation: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." "And
Jesus answered, saying, ĎBlessed art thou, Simon, son of Jonas: for
flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, which
is in heaven.í"
It wasnít easy and I donít think it
became much easier. There at Caesarea Philippi, we see one side of
Peterís faith: the moment of faithís clear affirmation: "Thou art
the Christ, the Son of the living God." A little later, in
Jerusalem, on the night of Christís betrayal, we see another side.
Still, there is the confident assertion: "Lord, I am ready to go
with thee, both to prison and to death." But that very night, at the
hour of cockcrow, there came the moment of denial: "I know him not",
said Peter, as he warmed himself by the fire. And the Lord turned,
and look on Peter, and Peter remembered how the Lord had said to
him, "before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice." And Peter
went out, and wept bitterly.
All this, you see, belongs to Peterís
fatih: the warm, clear light of affirmation, the dark cold night of
doubt and hopelessness, and then the tears of penitence. St. Peterís
faith is sorely tried and tested. "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath
desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed
for thee, that thy faith fail not." And, in the end, the faith of
Peter does not fail; in the end, it is affirmed again, in tears of
We who share St. Peterís faith must also
know and understand the trial of our faith. We walk by faith, you
know, and not by sight. We see darkly, through a glass, as in a
clouded mirror; we know in part. There is, indeed, the moment of
confident assertion: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living
God", but there is also the moment of doubt, and manifold
temptation, the moment of denial and betrayal, when we say, "I know
him not." And then our Saviour turns and looks upon us, and faith
returns, in tears of penitence.
I think it is vitally important that
Christians nowadays should have some understanding of the meaning of
the trials of our faith. Around us, not only in the world, but
within the Church itself, and within our very souls, there are the
pressures of insistent worldliness. The hosts of compromise and
shallowness besiege the very rock of faith. 'Adjust, revise,
conform', they cry. "Surely thou are one of them", they cry, "for
thy speech betrayeth thee." And how often, sorely tempted, do we
reply, "No, I know him not". Then may we find the grace of Peter to
shed the bitter tears of penitence.
St. Peters shows us that there is no
easy Christian faith. Trials and temptations, the dark night of
doubt, confusion and uncertainty, are not just unfortunate
accidents. In Godís good providence, they belong to the very life of
faith; for faith must be tried, like precious metal, "which from the
earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire". Do not
suppose for one moment that we can avoid the testing. Indeed, as St.
James says in his Epistle, we must "count is all joy...knowing that
the trying of our faith worketh patience." "Let patience have her
perfect work", he says, "that ye may be perfect and entire."
Christian times are always times of
trial. Perhaps those trials take different forms in one age or
another, and different forms for each of us; but always they are,
and must be there. Doubt and confusion - even the moments of
betrayal - do not destroy the soul which is ready to return in
penitence. What alone destroys the soul, is the cold, hard cynicism,
which blasphemes against the Spirit; which simply doesnít care.
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may
sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail
Cling to the rock of St. Peterís faith,
and "count it all joy"; "Let patience have her perfect work." That
rock will not fail us; we have our Saviourís promise that "the gates
of hell shall not prevail against it."
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