You know those jokes about Saint Peter standing at the Pearly Gates, admitting people to heaven?
That’s the way most of us think of him.
Jesus said Peter was the rock upon which he would build his church.
Peter was the apostle who was the head of the church after Jesus died,
he followed Jesus to his death, and was martyred for the faith in Rome.
Historically he is the first pope.
All in all, it is a pretty exalted resume—he deserves the title of saint.
This weekend on the confirmation retreat, however, we saw a different side of Peter.
We looked at the stories that aren’t so flattering:
the brown nosing Peter who always was the first to answer Jesus’ questions,
whether he knew the answer or not
the hot head who cut off the ear of the slave in the garden of Gethsemane
We read about how Jesus reprimanded Peter sharply
for objecting to Jesus’ impending death and resurrection, saying, Get behind me Satan!
And worst of all, we remembered Peter’s shame in denying that he knew Jesus when Jesus had been arrested.
We might think saint when we think of Peter, but the reality was that he was a flawed human being
who made a lot of mistakes.
That’s what I want you to think about today—Peter as a regular guy.
I want to invite you to read today’s gospel lesson with those eyes,
to see Peter as he was at the beginning of his journey with Jesus, not at the end.
We see him today at the seashore with his brother Andrew, practicing the family trade, fishing.
The narration is simple— Jesus merely calls to Simon Peter and Andrew;
and without any explanation, the brothers leave their nets and boat and follow Jesus.
Many times in my preaching I have made a big deal about Peter’s willingness to lay everything aside
and follow Jesus.
They seem to turn their back on their former life cold turkey-- their occupation , their families—
in favor of travelling with Jesus.
In the past, it’s seemed to me like an instantaneous transformation—
from fishers of fish to fishers of people, from ordinary guy to apostle and saint, all in that moment.
But the reality of Peter’s transformation seems to be a lot more gradual.
First of all, in his travels with Jesus, he was generally within a day’s walk from his family.
We know he was married, because we read about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law.
And given that the family still needed an income, it’s likely that Peter came back home regularly to work.
The gospels often portray Jesus and his disciples as making short journeys and then returning home.
All of this points not to a dramatic cutting off of family and livelihood,
but rather a gradual realignment of priorities.
It’s not that this didn’t represent a big change; it surely did:
work and family gradually took a backseat to Jesus.
It is something that appears to have happened over time.
Peter also matures throughout the story.
You see him in the gospels learning from Jesus over time, starting to understand who Jesus was.
But then there are some bigger steps.
The confirmation class compared Peter’s denial of Jesus and Peter’s preaching after Jesus’ resurrection
on the day of Pentecost.
In the first story, Peter was so scared that he would be the next one arrested,
that he turned his back on Jesus rather than risk admitting he knew him.
In the second, Peter had somehow gained enough courage not only to risk claiming Jesus as his friend,
but to preach the that Jesus was the Messiah, a king more important than Caesar.
This put him in direct conflict with both Jews and Romans—
Jews, because claiming that Jesus was God was heresy,
and the Romans because anyone who claimed to be king was a traitor against the empire.
He went from fearing arrest to risking arrest and death courageously.
Between Jesus’ crucifixion and the day of Pentecost, Peter’s faith grew by leaps and bounds.
I think Peter is a good example for us today as we celebrate Mason and Ariel’s baptisms.
On the day of baptism, we are claimed by God—God promises to love us always.
But in baptism we are also called to be disciples --
the promises we make, or which are made on our behalf, include
living among God’s faithful people, growing in our faith, living out justice and mercy like Jesus did.
It’s a tall order for parents to take on for their children;
it’s a big commitment when we take it on for ourselves in the affirmation of baptism,
as our confirmation students will do in two weeks’ time.
But the truth is that like Peter, this baptism thing is not an instantaneous conversion.
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew to become fishers for people,
it wasn’t that God flicked the light switch and turned off ‘fisherman’ and turned on ‘apostle’.
It was the beginning of a journey with Jesus, one in which Jesus would instruct them and guide them.
It was an apprenticeship where Jesus allow them to try things out and fail;
where Jesus applied forgiveness and second chances liberally.
It was a group effort, where the community support each other, sharing joys and trials.
It’s the same with us.
Today marks the official beginning of Ariel and Mason’s life as disciples of Jesus
Today they embark on a journey along with us
to learn, to grow, to be challenged, and ultimately to be transformed.
God works on us gradually, over time, and God will work with these two little ones
gradually transforming us and them from the work of life to the life of God.
In our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John to be his first disciples.
They are fishermen, but Jesus tells them, “I will make you fish for people.”
What do you suppose the disciples are going to catch people with?
I have a few possibilities. (gummy worms, gummy fish, a net).
Will these work? Why not?
What would work?
Jesus showed God’s love- in our communion prayer, I say,
“On the cross, Jesus opened his arms to all.”
It is a big hug for everyone, a welcome home.