Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Celebrating a Confession

Today is the feast of the Confession of Peter--the day when we remember that moment, captured in all three synoptic gospel accounts, when Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter replied, "You are the messiah, the Son of the living God." Without reading an entire gospel account in one sitting, it is hard to stress how remarkable this moment was. Up to this point, Jesus had been properly identified by the demons he had cast out, but no one else had recognized his full identity. No one had put the pieces all together. And, after this moment, which serves as a turning point for the gospel story, things happen with stunning speed. Although there are still plenty of chapters left in all of the gospel accounts, after this confession, Jesus' ministry is Jerusalem-bound.

But today I don't want to focus on the role that Peter's confession has in the arc of the gospel. Instead, I want to celebrate the act itself as distinct from the actor. You've heard the tragic, uncharitable-masking-as-loving saying, "Hate the sin, not the sinner?" Well, today, I want to focus on what it means to "celebrate the confession, not the confessor."

In our liturgical calendar, we remember lots of saints. These are the holy people of God who have been made holy by the saving, redeeming, transforming work of Jesus Christ. (We can debate a theology of sainthood later.) When we celebrate the feast of a saint, we typically remember her or his life, witness, and death all wrapped into one celebration. Many saints are commemorated on the anniversary of their death, but that remembrance usually expands beyond merely the moment of their martyrdom and touches on the witness of their entire life. Occasionally, however, we remember a particular event above and beyond the life of an individual. For example, in the Episcopal Church, we commemorate the consecration of Samuel Seabury, our first bishop. In that way, the church is specifically saying that it is not the life of Seabury that reminds us of God's saving work in Jesus Christ. Instead, it is the act of his consecration and, through it, our larger participation in the universal Church that we remember. Although Peter himself is a Saint that is remembered on the feast of Peter and Paul, today we step away from the person and celebrate the moment. And I think there are theological reasons to retain that focus.

After Peter's clear confession of Jesus' identity, Jesus responds, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven." Notice the content of that declaration. Peter is blessed--the mark of sainthood--but he is blessed because God the Father has revealed this truth to him. The action comes from the outside. The implication is that Peter could have spent all his energy focused on discerning this truth, but, without the inspiration of God himself, he could not have gotten to the realization. Sure, Peter is the vessel for this epiphany. His faithfulness--his openness to the working of the Spirit--plays a role in this, but, just as Jesus celebrates Peter as the vehicle for God's action, so, too, must we celebrate what God is doing in the lives of his saints and not what the saints are doing on their own. This is, after all, what it means to be a saint of God in the first place.

We are all saints. All of us who are reborn into the new, redeemed, transformed life that God has given us through his Son Jesus Christ and through the fellowship of the Holy Ghost are the holy ones of God. And what does that mean? Does it mean that each of us does incredible, miraculous things? Does it mean that we have supernatural, God-sent insights? Does it mean that all of us are willing and able to withstand torture or death for the sake of the gospel? Not necessarily. What it does mean, however, is that we, like Peter, are vessels for God's work. God has used, is using, and will continue to use us to bring his truth to the world. Like Peter, we have a confession to make--not merely a confession of our sin but also a confession of our confidence in God's forgiveness. We cannot make that confession on our own. God himself has revealed it to us. May we proclaim it boldly as his saints.

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