I have been traveling a lot lately in the last couple of weeks. Some of you have been following my progress via Facebook, Twitter, or email because I went as an observer to General Conference. But, before I went there, I went to Big Bear for a little bit of rest in preparation. When I was in Big Bear, I was driving down Big Bear Blvd, minding my own business, when I look in my rearview mirror and see the flashing red and blue lights of a police cruiser.
I wasn’t speeding. I wasn’t swerving all over the road. I had chains on my wheels. I couldn’t imagine why I was being stopped. But as I pulled over, the police officer also pulled over. I turned off the car and looked in my rearview mirror. And waited. Minutes passed; nothing happened. The police officer was just sitting in his car, not even looking up. It was like he was texting. So I waited some more. Ten minutes; nothing happened. Five minutes more; nothing happened. Finally, after waiting so long that I was getting cold from not having the heater turned on in my car, I heard from his loudspeaker: “Nevermind.”
Nevermind. He said it and he pulled around the side of my car, onto the street, and out of my life. Nevermind.
Moments before Jesus speaks today, he’s asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And Simon Peter, always the blowhard, always the first one to speak, whether he knows the answer or not, is, like always, the first to speak up this time as well. He answers, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah or another prophet.’ But Jesus changes the question mid-answer and asks it like this: “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter says without hesitation, ‘You are the Christ.’ And Jesus couldn’t be happier with this answer. He starts praising Peter for his goodness and his ability to see who he is, to see that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who was promised. Jesus says that, because of this, he gives the keys to the kingdom to Peter. It’s like Jesus isn’t expecting him to get there and yet he does. We’re at chapter 16 in Matthew; only 12 chapters to go, but Peter is the first of the disciples to claim Jesus as the Christ. He’s the first to see who he ’s really following and what he means to the world.
Jesus is so happy with Peter and, after the conversation, he continues teaching them all, telling them the story of what will happen in the coming days. He begins to tell them of his ministry in Jerusalem and his death and resurrection. Peter can’t take hearing that last part, the part about death, and it’s like he shouts out, “hogwash!” in the middle of what Jesus was saying. He interrupts the one he says is God; he interrupts Jesus saying, “Never, Lord!” “This shall never happen to you!” And Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! … Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Ten minutes time from hero to villain. Ten minutes from teacher’s pet to dunce. Ten minutes from faithful to fallen.
Peter had said the right thing. He was on cloud 9. He had made Jesus so happy. Even across 2000 years and multiple translators, you can still hear the smile in Jesus’ voice when he says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah;” ‘you are the rock on which I will build my Church.’ Jesus’ joy was overflowing at that unexpected right answer, but, when push came to shove, when Peter was asked to prove that he understood what it meant for him to follow the Christ, Peter said, “Nevermind.”
This is so true for us as well. We focus so much on having the right words that we forget our actions and our hearts lining up with our minds. There is a term that we use for this right thinking: orthodoxy. Orthodoxia – right opinion – the right kinds of beliefs. It’s like we think that if we only say the right things; if we only believe the right things; if we can say and believe the Nicene Creed (“I believe in God, the Father, creator of heaven and earth”) then all is right in our lives. But then we find that our hearts haven’t followed our minds.
I’m bad at this too as a Christian teacher. I have been teaching confirmation classes for more than a decade and what I tend to teach is orthodoxy – right belief, right opinions. We do sixteen classes in which I teach them how to believe in the Trinity, in the hypostatic union – that is the Jesus Christ who is fully human and fully God, how the Holy Spirit works, and on and on.
I teach them too much of the right things to believe and not enough about forgiveness and redemption that is given from Christ that leads to Christian compassion. When Jesus returns from the grave in Mark chapter 16 he says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Jesus doesn’t say that we have to believe all the minutia of faith. Jesus says that we have to believe in him. It doesn’t feel like enough to atone for all that we have done and so we add to the list and we leave people out and we look for ways to feel better about our own situations.
We often don’t give God the chance to redeem us. We block the path to that part of our hearts. We heard the call from God to be loving and to be loved. We say the right things and then our hearts to do another. We say yes to God and then we say nevermind.
Peter says it with his mouth: You are the Christ. Seconds later he shouts down the Christ for telling him something that he didn’t believe.
May we always be the kind of people who say like John Wesley, “If we can’t be of one mind, can we be of one heart?”