Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Guilt and Grace

We have been developing a series of sermons at church that are looking at Witnesses to Jesus' final week before his execution in preparation for Easter. Sunday night, our witness was Simon Peter.

Simon Peter is probably a pastor's favorite character, because he is most identical to himself. Speaking before understanding, making bold claims and being rebuked, ascending to leadership and shrinking from conflict-- these are pastoral traits, generally and personally speaking. Simon Peter is a character in scripture whose humanity we can resonate with because he also screws up more often than he succeeds. If there is a champion for the journey of discipleship, it is Simon Peter.

In the Passion Week, there are two scenes where Simon Peter gets center stage: coming to the defense of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene in cutting off someone's ear (and Jesus' healing of the worst aim in combat history) and THE DENIAL.

If you are familiar with the Passion Week, you surely know about Peter's denial. It is so dramatic the way in which the gospel authors tell their story, and contemporary storytellers love to embellish the details. Following Jesus after his arrest, Simon Peter is secretly in the courtyard of the house of the high priest. Among the people, he denies association with Jesus' ministry three times, signal rooster as predicted by Jesus during his final supper.

What a wretched scene for Simon Peter.

What venom he deserves, earning silver medal in the disciple disappointment category between Judas Iscariot and Thomas the Twin.

The pastoral question to follow: In what ways do you deny Christ?

Enter, guilt-based discipleship.

The question about denial stops half-way through Simon Peter's witness because the most integral part of his story is yet to come. Following the resurrection of Jesus, Peter is restored and no mention is made of his denial. At Pentecost, Simon Peter is transformed by the presence of the Spirit of God and becomes a pillar of the early church and the bishop of Rome. This renewal was not borne out of the regret of his denial, but the introduction of a power that decimates guilt--


I appreciate a place for guilt, it can be an impetus toward repentance, reparation, and restoration. But the journey of discipleship is not guilt management, but a deliberate life to encompass the grace of God in Christ.

Guilt is the rear-view mirror of discipleship, but grace is the windshield.

To have guilt as the basis for discipleship, we live in fear that our problems will always taint us and that the only remedy is to develop enough of what we think God likes to offset. If we think that God would like us to go to church, read our Bible, use euphemism swear words, and vote "values", we can substitute those cultural taboos as shortcuts to experiencing the fullness of grace in our lives.

Our faith degenerates into sin-management and guilt reduction rather than embracing a freedom that would frame all of creation in God's perspective. We could see the manner in which all of our order falls short and continue to yearn for the kingdom of Christ. We would reject developing a hierarchy of activities according to their moral effect and labeling others within their caste. We would see humanity not in their level of sin, but in their deficiency of understanding of grace and respond in the manner of Christ-- compassionate, free, kind.

What does this grace-based discipleship look like in your life?

For further reading on grace and discipleship, I recommend the following books:
The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning
The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (for the essence of grace-based obedience)
The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus, Peter Gomes

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