17 The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed. John 18:17, 25-27
I want you to imagine it is 1986. Some of you might remember it better than others. It is the summer and I, a 10 year-old Pastor Brad, is doing what most 10 year old boys are doing: causing trouble. My parents are not at home. They are not even in the state. They are in Maine, taking their very first vacation without kids since their honeymoon in 1968. My grandma is staying with us, watching over us, and unbeknownst to our parents, teaching us how to play poker. Grandma Schimka ruled.
Anyways, during the late afternoon 10-year old Pastor Brad is playing in the backyard with his neighbor Curt. They have played some baseball, battled it out in a light saber duel for the ages, and then got to the good stuff: attempting to blow old toys up. After some unsuccessful attempts, we take some fireworks and poppers and let them off on the edge of my backyard, right by a field that will turn into a subdivision three years later. Laughter is had. Bodily harm has mostly been avoided. Dinner time commences and we retreat to our respective homes.
Twenty minutes later, as I’m eating dinner, Curt comes to back door by our kitchen, wondering if I can come out and play. “I can’t,” I say, “I’m eating dinner.” Ok, he says. Five minutes later he comes back, with a glass of water in his hand. “I can’t come out yet,” I say. “Alright.” Curt leaves. Five more minutes go by and he comes back again. Before he says anything I say, “Curt, I’m not done yet. Sorry.” Curt then says, “Uh, I think you better come out. Your pine tree is on fire.”
We run out of the house and sure enough, our pine tree, right near where we had been playing around with fireworks, is on fire. Curt was holding the water glass trying to put it out. As my Grandma calls 911, I grabbed our hose and started to try to put it out. Eventually the fire department comes, gets it out, and everything is fine. Until they start asking questions about how this could have started. Curt and I clam up, claim we have no idea how it could have started. We denied having anything to do with it. We knew better, were taught to always tell the truth, but we were scared to death of what our parents might do to us. So we denied it. Completely.
Today we have a story of denial, one we might know well, Peter’s denial of Jesus after Jesus is arrested. It can be easy to be critical of Peter in this situation. Peter was Jesus’ number one disciple. Peter was the first one to confess that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus was going to build his church on Peter, his rock. Heck, Jesus even told Peter he was going to deny him, which Peter said would never happen.
But here he is: denying Jesus. Even though Jesus told him he would, Peter denies Jesus. Why? Because he is afraid. Peter is afraid of being arrested like Jesus, Peter is afraid of something happening much worse than that. So Peter hides the truth. Just as I did. Just as we all do.
We often deny Jesus is our Lord and Savior. There are times when we don’t let our faith show. Often we do it out of fear. What will someone think of me if I confess or show my faith? What if I get made fun of? What if I get rejected? What if they think, because I’m a Christian, that I won’t accept them for who they are? Will they generalize or pigeonhole me as being this or that because of my faith?
Frankly, many times it is easy to deny our Lord and Savior, to keep our faith hidden, maybe bring it out on Sundays for church or something like that. Sometimes we justify our denial for self-preservation, other times so that we might not “offend” someone else. We can make all kinds of excuses, but the end result is the same: we are denying Jesus. The Savior who dies for us. The Savior who forgives us. The Savior who brings us to everlasting life.
The thing is, of course, is that Jesus does not deny us. Jesus bleeds and gives his life so that we might have new life. Jesus does not deny us when we come to him in prayer, when we are in need of strength, when we look for hope. Jesus does not deny us when we need to be pulled out of the abyss of grief or the black hole of despair. Jesus does not deny us when we are in need of acceptance and belonging. Jesus keeps being there, no matter what we have done, when we call on him.
And thanks be to God for that! Thank goodness that our denials of Jesus don’t keep him away. Jesus loves us, and because of that, Christ will never deny us.
I was afraid, and so I denied that I had anything to do with our tree burning down. Even when my parents came home from vacation, I didn’t fess up. But it ate at me, and a while later I admitted that it was my fault. And in admitting that, I felt new freedom, and my parents gave me forgiveness.
Lucky for us, when we do find ourselves hiding and denying our faith, when we come to our Savior in repentance, we receive that forgiveness. May the Holy Spirit come into our hearts so that we would not deny our Savior but live boldly in faith, not ashamed of our faith but celebrating. After all, our Savior has given us everything we need in this life and will be with us always. For that we can say, “Thanks be to God!” Amen