All Bible passages today speak in some measure about “mountain-top experiences”; it is common currency amongst many spiritual paths to long for such an experience. On the mountain-top we hope to see with perspective and clarity; and maybe most important, to review ourselves with such perspective and clarity. Once again Peter, the common man and approachable saint, plays a prominent part.
The sermon text is below the sermon audio.
Sermon Preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI, Sunday February 28 2017
The Reverend Alan Neale, “Did I just say that aloud?”
So again this morning we meet our beloved Peter with whom everyone identifies and for whom everyone seems to have a special place in their heart but, all things considered, I think… maybe… Peter suffered a little from a form of palilalia. I assume you agree, yes?
In one of its forms palilalia is the tendency to speak aloud one’s thoughts. We assume that what we thinking is privy only to ourselves and then, with horror or embarrassment or amusement, we realize that we have actually said aloud what we were thinking.
Just imagine the ensuing chaos if the person next to you started to articulate what she/he was thinking; even more just imagine the chaos if you started to articulate what you are thinking! And it applies even to the preacher, yes it does!
Often in the Gospel records, Peter seems to suffer a little from palilalia, and afterwards, doubtless, he felt some regret.
In Matthew 16 Jesus is expounding his profound mission, Peter blurts out “Oh, that will never happen to you Master” and earns the memorable riposte from Jesus, “Get behind me, Satan.”
In Matthew 26 Jesus describes his imminent loneliness deserted by all, Peter blurts out “Oh, though I may die I will never deny you” and after his three-fold denial… Peter weeps.
And now, in Matthew 17:4, we read “Peter broke in, ‘Master, this is a great moment. Let me build three booths, three dwellings, for you three.’” A monumental conversation is taking place between Moses, Elijah and Jesus and Peter interrupts… babbling on as the Message translation reads.
Professor FF Bruce comments, “Peter to the front again, but not greatly to his credit.”
Clearly something very deep, touching, significant was going on in Peter’s soul and from that place erupts the babbling, inchoate, incoherent interruption.
Now I sympathize with Peter, don’t you? At the end of a day I tend to regret more than things I have said than the things I have not said. At the end of the day, especially in the past, I often wished I had taken heed of that wise admonition, “Alan, engage brain before speaking.”
But here, in this Gospel story, it’s not too much of a problem. Peter is known and accepted thoroughly by his comrades James and John; and we can be assured that Jesus as always smiled at Peter “just being Peter.” By the way, why is that often we can imagine Jesus being far more accepting, loving, embracing of others than of ourselves…? Did I just say that aloud?!
I believe that deep in Peter’s soul, his psyche, there was a confluence of ideas and hopes and concerns that came together and caused this “perfect storm” that resulted in the “babbling.”
In Peter’s willful though understandable building project we see hopes for comparison, containment and control.
There was something beautiful in the opportunity to follow this teacher from Nazareth and yet at times he could be so stark, resolute, consuming, unpredictable in his words and deeds and expectations. Not so with the figures of Moses and Elijah long removed from the stage, though one has to say somewhat mysteriously removed.
Perhaps in Peter there was an innate, though unspoken, thought that Jesus would be a little… somewhat.. more circumspect in company with the great institutional figures of Moses and Elijah; institutions can be so death-dealing sometimes in response to spontaneous, intimate and lively faith – would you believe it? Did I just say that aloud?
But it is not to be… v.8 “When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.” Peter, James, John, the disciples, the early church all must come to realize that Jesus was all-sufficient and was not to diluted by institutional inertia.
In all my many readings of this story, and its parallels in Mark and Luke, I have never noticed the blindingly obvious – Peter’s construction project is very limited, only three booths. It’s almost as if Peter wants them to stay put, he wants to implement a policy of containment. “It’s good that we are here; let’s build three booths for you and we’ll be back from time to time.”
And with these great figures contained, Peter and friends can return down the mountain and get on with their business – sweet! Did I just say that aloud? Peter knows where they are if he feels in particular need, Peter can take what he has heard from the Master and make it relate, make it reasonable.
But it is not to be… v.9 Jesus is coming down the mountain with them and, I won’t spoil the surprise, given what they are about to encounter… it’s just as well.
Maybe it was not only Judas that entertained ideas of somehow precipitating the Kingdom, of manipulating and coercing Jesus into action as the expected Messiah. Maybe here we see Peter, mindful of a prophecy in Zechariah, wanting to accelerate the process towards the Kingdom. Zechariah prophesied that at one annual Festival of Booths there would be the apocalyptic ushering in of the Kingdom and all nations, all nations, would come to worship.
Is there something deep in Peter’s psyche that wants to get things moving, to be rid of patient endurance, if so I think I can sympathize with that dynamic. Oh, did I just say that aloud?
Friends, today on the very cusp of Lent we shout our alleluias and prepare for Lent, Ash Wednesday this coming Wednesday – ushering in an alleluia-free zone for many weeks.
I want my Lent to be holy. I want my Lent to be one in which I see Jesus more clearly unencumbered by my expectations, unrestricted by my containment policy and definitely more and more in control of my life.
Pray for me, as I will for you. AMEN