Yesterday I was given a gift so rich and enriching, that I’m left desperate to tell you about it, and horribly aware that I can’t do it justice. I wish the whole evening had been recorded, filmed, and I could pore over it again and send you a link so that you could wend your own way through all the depths of it. But I can’t.
It was an example of great teaching that makes you sit forward and stop breathing (then start again, hopefully!). Great teaching, like great writing, brings revelation and confirmation, and a longing for more. There’s no way I can do justice to that evening – be like trying to write a drama taking place on three continents over three time frames, encompassing all human history, but with the central dramatic drive unfailingly compelling, integral, building purposefully towards the final glorious act.
How can I ever hope to do that?
Oh, hang on, Luce, hang on a cotton picking’ minute….. it’s already been done. Look….
It’s called the Bible.
Phew. That’s a relief. God got there before me, so instead of telling you about everything we talked about yesterday, I’ll just hone in on a working man who lived two thousand years ago, a bloke called Peter. Or Simon. Or Cephas. Three names, one geezer. Last night we were studying a passage from a letter he wrote. You’d have liked him.
Peter was a fisherman but when Jesus called him to be a disciple he “left his nets and followed him”, although he must have returned to them occasionally because in the Gospels there are several references to him fishing from his boat. I think of our local fisherman, Len, living just down the road from me, who’s governed by the weather, the seasons, and – here in Wales – the tides, and I imagine Peter as someone very like Len, practical, no-nonsense, gruff and hard working. We know he was married, so he had a family to support, and so maybe he also had family members who could keep the business going when he was away. The Sea of Galilee isn’t a sea at all, but a huge lake, and back then (before man-made dams and sluices) although the water was deep enough for fishing all year round, the catch would have been affected not just by storms but also by the rainfall and heat, altering the water’s salinity. Sometimes there was a harvest to be had in the waters and sometimes there was nothing. Life must have been just a bit hand to mouth for Peter.
That was his life. Simple. Simple enough to leave his nets and follow this new and intriguing rabbi. Peter was with Jesus for about three years, one of his closest friends and followers, loving him extravagantly, but eventually denying and abandoning him. Demonstrably imperfect, wrong footed and all too human, that’s Peter. I get him. I had to smile earlier today, when I was talking to a friend about this blog, and saying how excited I was and how difficult it was to know where to start, and my friend said in his measured way “Well, maybe think about it awhile, let it settle.” Hah! That ain’t Peter and it sure as owt ain’t me. I know I should follow that good advice but it’s a bit like telling a penguin to be a swan. Can’t do it, however hard I try. Anyway, what’s the point of being excited if you can’t share the excitement?
What’s so fascinating about this man, Peter? Well, we’re told that he was ‘unschooled and ordinary’ (Acts 4:13) and obviously not a wealthy chap, so how come a gang of 21st Century people, with all our technology and science, are still hungrily studying his words on Zoom? How is it that we are still learning from this horny-handed son of toil? (so tempting to write ‘horny handed ton of soil’)
As I sat at my desk last evening, listening on Zoom, I was overwhelmed by the realisation that the passage we were studying (1 Peter 2:1-10) enveloped the whole of human history – from the creation of the world to the death and resurrection of Christ, to the work of his Holy Spirit in us. I was overwhelmed by the the realisation that Peter’s teaching chimed perfectly with Paul’s writing, with Isaiah, with every word in the Bible, with Christ’s life, with everything that God brought about before and after, all melding seamlessly, as drops of mercury rush towards each other, marrying into one perfect shining pearl. Perfect. Perfect enough to make the eyes prickle, tears rise.
How is it that less than 200 words, written in a papyrus scroll in ancient times, composed by an uneducated bloke in an occupied region of an arid land, still has so much power? Has so much to teach me, a 21st Century woman? Not just enough to enthral me for one evening but to keep me awake for half the night (alright, slight exaggeration) with my mind racing, making me wake early, to hurry back to his words, and now to this screen. How did he manage that, this dusty old ancient old fisherman?
The simple answer is that he didn’t. God did. God spoke through him.
When I wake in the night to wonder (as I do occasionally) if God is real, questioning if maybe the atheists have got it right after all, then I bring to mind a few big solid facts… and one of them is that when I came to know Jesus, my life was changed. Overnight. I didn’t change it, God did. Outside of me. I was too stunned to do anything but surrender to a greater power. And I remember that when my atheist scientific engineer husband surrendered his life to Christ, his life changed. Overnight. He didn’t change it, God did. Outside of him. And I remember that when I read the Word, my life is guided and held, my soul nourished, and this too comes from outside of me, a gift. And when I pray I know a presence beside me and in me and around me. And then I think of my friends who shine with the love of Christ, and I know that he is in them, Jesus alive and well and living here in Wales or Africa or wherever….
And now, in the future, if I wake unsettled like that, startled by a bad dream or the echo of the past, yes… I’ll think of Peter too, and recognise that God, the real and transforming God, spoke through him. That no man could ever write the words that he wrote without being inspired and empowered by Jesus. That the very existence of the Bible is proof of God. Nothing else in this world is perfect, no other written word is alive, no other word has the power to change lives and eternity.
Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.
I had a fabulous supper last night…. I ate God’s words until I could eat no more, and it was so very very good that here I am again….. opening the Bible, holding out my hands…..