A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by Guest Preacher, The Rev’d Canon Stephen Daughtry, on the 25th June 2023.

We’re not in Kansas Anymore!

Good morning – and thank you for the invitation to be part of your Patronal Festival celebrations.

My name is Stephen, and I’m a Canon of this Cathedral and Parish Priest of the glorious Church of the Holy Innocents in Belair.

One of the great temptations for guest preachers, when asked to speak at significant events or places – and this is both – is to try and set the world to rights within the space of 10-15 minutes. Or to be so thrilled to be here – and so wary of causing offense – that we say nothing of any significance at all.

I will try to avoid both pitfalls – but I make no promises.

I imagine many of you have heard numerous sermons about St Peter. He’s a hero of the church, and, as Christ’s appointed leader, someone we probably need to try and understand better.

I love St Peter. Or what we know of him. He probably has the most fleshed out personality of all the disciples described in the Gospels. We are able to get a decent picture of the man and the way he behaved.

Which, to be completely honest, is reasonably confronting. And sometimes quite disturbing.

To say that Peter leads with his mouth is probably an understatement. He appears to act and speak before considering all the options. Or – in many cases – any of the options!

He’s called from his fishing boat into a life of itinerant ministry, and he follows. Immediately. Despite having a family.

He is the first to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah – but then he tells him how to do it properly.

He steps onto the lake and walks on water – for a very short while.

He sees Jesus glorified in the presence of the patriarchs and his response is that they might all engage in a little tent-making session.

He swears he’ll never betray Jesus – and then…well, you know that story. I mean we all hate being woken by roosters, but Peter REALLY hated it.

He goes fishing naked and then gets dressed in order to jump into the water and swim back to shore.

He’s basically a bit of a nutcase. He’s impulsive. Opinionated. Over-confident. Unreliable.

Exactly the sort of person we would not want to lead the church in dangerous and difficult times.

Or so we might have thought.

But Jesus saw something in him.

Something truly good. Something brave. Something special.

When he was called, he followed. Immediately. And he never stopped. Until he was crucified. Upside down, the tradition tells us. Quite probably another of his excellent ideas!

When he is rebuked by Jesus for telling him not to go towards the cross – when Jesus equates him with the great deceiver – the Satan – he sucks it up – he takes it on board, and he keeps going. He keeps following.

When he steps off the edge of the boat and begins to walk on water, then sinks, Jesus doesn’t let him go – even though it was great opportunity. Jesus lifts him back up.

When Peter’s kind – and silly – offer to make tents for Moses and his mates is refused, he simply shrugs it off and follows Jesus back down the mountain. Right into the heart of the messy world Jesus has come to heal.

When he betrays Jesus, it’s at a point and a place where he has followed him into the lion’s den. He’s terrified. He’s failing. He’s betraying Jesus. But…. he’s still there. He refuses to let go. He won’t go away.

There’s a great, old song by a English band called Chumbawamba, that contains the lyrics, “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down”. Now, we might criticise the grammar but the sentiment it exactly what makes Peter stand out.

He has foot in mouth disease.

He is continually making mistakes.

He is a disappointment to himself and his friends and to Jesus.

But hang on, there’s more. He bounces back. He gets back up. He learns. He hangs in.

And he believes. He truly, truly believes.

When Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is, Peter replies, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’

And, in all truth, it appears that Jesus – despite Peter’s obvious flaws – is not disappointed with him.

Which brings us to the beach scene in today’s Gospel.

We don’t know why some of the disciples have chosen to go fishing again. Maybe they were hungry. More likely, they were so upset, so confused, so remorseful about the way they had deserted Jesus, that they just wanted to do something they were familiar with. Something they thought they would succeed at.

Even that fails. They’re fishermen. They’re fishing. But there are no fish. Again.

Then there’s that voice, calling from the shore. “Cast your nets on the other side”. Again.

It’s a Wizard of Oz moment. If you remember the classic film, there comes a point, early on when Dorothy is holding Toto and looking around Oz, and she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore”.

Peter and the others set their nets on the other side of the boat. They come up full. And they realise, they’re part of something new and alive and amazing and real and ongoing. The kingdom of God is the new reality.

So, Peter does his ‘first man in history to get dressed before going swimming’ act and presents himself wet and dripping to Jesus, who has decided to cook them all breakfast. I love the fact that God has time for breakfast!

For once, Peter keeps his mouth shut. No doubt wracked with guilt and shame and completely unable to find the words to apologise for failing in every conceivable way. Failing his friend. Failing his God. Failing himself.

It is into this chasm of Peter’s self-loathing, that Jesus speaks words of redemption and healing. Simple words. Words of life and restoration.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

Once more, Jesus gives Peter the chance to pick himself up. Notice though, it’s an invitation, not a demand. It’s gentle, not accusatory. But it still packs a punch. It reaches right into Peter’s well of darkness and offers to fill it with light. At a cost.

In this moment, Peter has the chance to refuse, to get offended, to walk away. To save himself the pain of the ongoing struggle to preach the Gospel.

But what we hear, in his response, is a man who knows how to fail and knows how to follow – and most importantly, knows how to love.

‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you”.

Three times he’s asked. Three times he answers. All the obstacles are removed. The failure and the betrayal are absolved. All through this simple, Trinitarian confession, this generous transaction of love and forgiveness.

And that’s why I love Peter. Because he loves Jesus. And that’s what I want to do. And that’s the sort of person I want to see – to be – in leadership of the church.

I want leaders in the church who love Jesus and who know what it’s like to fail. Who know what it’s like to be forgiven. Who know what it’s like to try things and watch them crash to earth. Leaders who really understand what it means to stuff things up and yet still have the courage to get back on their feet and follow Jesus.

Leaders who don’t judge harshly but extend grace to those who try and fail and get back up and try again.

Who better for Jesus to chose as the leader of the nascent church than the one who always leapt in with both feet, started to drown – and then took the hand of the man he loved?

This building – and this congregation – and this service – honour a man who refused to let the small problem of getting things wrong become an obstacle to the real business of following in the footsteps of the Son of God.

So, let’s go easy on ourselves and others when we see mistakes being made in the life of the church – or in our own lives and relationships. We’re in good company. And let’s honour and celebrate every time we see someone pick themselves up again and profess a love of Jesus and have another go.

The church could be seen as a bit of a mess at this point in history in Australia. If we’re honest, it likely always has been. And not just here. But I can guarantee, that this building will once again, be regularly full of new people seeking to meet and hear from Jesus. I don’t know when, but it will be.

If we take risks and make mistakes and pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and follow that young Rabbi who rose from the dead. Because what we believe is true.

We’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re smack bang in the centre of God’s plan to heal and restore the creation. Exciting, eh?

I hope so.

To conclude, I often hear this place being called the ‘mother’ church of the diocese.

Well, ‘mother’ is a loaded word, isn’t it. It means different things to different people, depending on their experience.

My mother, at 40, found herself divorced and caring for three kids in North Queensland. She made Batik shirts, bred and sold tropical fish and worked in hotels to keep us going. Then she went to Uni and got a PhD in French history.

She got knocked down, but she got up again. I’m so proud of her.

So, Mother Church, can I encourage you, encourage us, to be the sort of mother who dances in supermarket aisles with her kids. Who brings home strays from the street and gives them a meal and a good conversation. Who throws her arms around prodigal and wayward children, who probably deserve much less. Who throws open the doors of her house to those who need to know they are loved.

Because this place is at it’s best when it looks a lot like the man it’s named for.

St Peter. Imperfect. Enthusiastic. Faithful. Brave. Repentant. And loving.

Most of all loving.

Let’s follow Peter, as Peter follows Jesus. Let’s refuse to succumb to the darkness of shame and guilt. Let’s hear, once again, the question God asks of us all.

“Do you love me?”

And let’s reply, ‘Yes Lord, you know that I love you”.