A rooster crows in the distance, and Peter remembers it like it was yesterday:
Years ago, Peter’s brother Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptizer. And one day, he came running to Peter and said, “We have found the Messiah! We have seen the lamb who takes away the sins of the world! We have found the one who will restore Israel, who brings the powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly!”
That was a big claim. But it was Andrew—it was his brother—and he sounded so sure. So Peter went with him to meet this messiah. Peter went with him to meet this Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth of all places.
And as Peter approached Jesus, Jesus said, “You are Simon, son of John. We will call you… Peter.”
And ever since then…
Peter has seen things. He has seen water turned into wine and a little bread and a few fish turned into a feast for thousands. He has seen a paralyzed man walk and a blind man see. He has seen a child brought back from the precipice of the grave and a man called out of a tomb.
And Peter has believed. Jesus is the messiah. Jesus is the bread of life and the light of the world, the gate and the good shepherd, the resurrection and the true vine. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Peter has believed.
Last night, there was a very strange dinner. Afterwards, they all went to a garden. And soldiers showed up. And they arrested Jesus. And Jesus didn’t do anything to stop them; Jesus didn’t let anyone do anything to stop them. He just told the soldiers to leave his disciples alone.
And Peter could have walked away. But you don’t let the police take the messiah off by himself. You don’t let the police take your teacher and your friend—the one who gave you your name—off by himself. So Peter and one of the other disciples went with him.
Peter is standing in the high priest’s courtyard. And he’s warming himself by a fire when someone asks, “Hey. You came in with that guy… that Jesus. Are you one of his disciples.”
And Peter says, “No.” And time passes.
And then someone else asks, “Hey. What are you doing here? Did you come in with that Jesus guy? Are you one of his disciples?”
And Peter says, “No.” And time passes.
And then a third person asks, “Y’know, I was in the garden when they arrested that Jesus guy and your face looks kind of familiar. You’re one of his disciples, aren’t you?”
And Peter says, “No!” And a rooster crows in the distance.
There’s a trick that pastors pick up somewhere along the way.
Sometimes, we’re talking to some strangers at a party, or making small talk at the airport, or in some other situation where people ask, “So, what do you do for a living?”
And if we say, “I’m a pastor.” Well…
Sometimes, the conversation shuts down completely, because people don’t know what to say to pastors. And sometimes, people apologize because they just swore, and they think that pastors care deeply about that kind of thing and are easily offended. And sometimes…
Oh, you’re a pastor? I remember when my parents used to take me to church. I guess it was okay. I’m really more spiritual than religious, myself. I mean, I like Jesus. And I absolutely believe in something. It’s just… organized religion, y’know? Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure your church is great. But… did you see that thing about that pastor in… I think it was Tennessee… that had a book burning (not the first time a church has done that) and threatened to expose some people—some women, such a history of misogyny—as witches (definitely not the first time a church has done that)?
And so on.
And everyone gets really uncomfortable, and starts walking on eggshells, and starts acting like we’re Ned Flanders. So, sometimes, it’s just easier to be vague and say, “I work in the nonprofit sector.” Or to answer a different question, “Oh, I really like to cook. What are your hobbies?” Or to politely excuse ourselves from the conversation altogether.
Because we don’t have the energy for every conversation. And we have to pick our battles. And this is a lovely hill, but I’m not going to die on it.
And it’s not just pastors. And it’s not just when we’re talking to some strangers at a party, or making small talk at the airport, or in some other situation where people ask, “So, what do you do for a living?” Is it?
It may seem hard to believe, but there are times when I overhear something, or when I’m in a conversation, or when I’m standing at this pulpit… and I know that I should say something… but I don’t say something.
Because I don’t have the energy for every conversation. And I have to pick my battles. And this is a lovely hill, but I’m not going to die on it.
So I understand. Peter is standing in the high priest’s courtyard. And the authorities have Jesus somewhere inside. And he’s trying to understand what is going on. And he’s weighing his options. And someone asks, “You came in with that prisoner, didn’t you? Are you one of his students? Have you been hanging out with him? Have you been listening to his words. Have you seen things? Are you… dangerous?”
So I understand when Peter says, “No.”
I understand what it means to not say something. I understand what it means to leave something unsaid. I understand that when I stay out of the conversation, or choose not to fight this battle, or refuse to die on this hill…
I understand that silence is a privilege. I understand that someone else is going to have to deal with the fallout from each moment of casual cruelty. And sooner or later, that someone else is going to be someone who can’t be silent… who can’t keep their mouth closed… who has to cry out… because their very life is at stake.
And if I stay out of things when the cat has the mouse by the tail, the mouse just gets eaten. My neutrality in the face of injustice… of oppression… of evil… is no different from siding with injustice… and oppression… and evil.
And I will tell you: that is a terrible thing to know.
Because someday, I’m going to hear a rooster crow in the distance. And it’s bad enough that I am going to face all of the ways that I have broken the world because of the things that I have done and said and thought. It’s bad enough that I am going to face all of the people who I have hurt and all of the ways that I have crucified Christ. It’s bad enough that I am going to face all of the ways that I have added suffering to the world.
But I am also going to face all of the ways that I have let the world break by leaving things left undone and unsaid and unthought. I am going to face all of the people who I watched others hurt—all of the ways that I have let Christ be crucified—and done nothing. All of the ways that I have failed to subtract suffering from the world.
I am going to face the results of my neutrality… the consequences of my silence… the aftermath of my staying out of things.
And I’ll be honest. I don’t know if I will be able to stand it. Because it is hard to be cruel; but it is so easy to be quiet.
A rooster crows in the distance, and Peter remembers it like it was a few hours ago… because it was a few hours ago.
At that very strange dinner, Jesus said something about leaving, and about how the disciples couldn’t follow him where he was going right now, but that they would follow him later.
And Peter was incredulous, “Why can’t I follow you now? I would go anywhere with you; I would die for you!”
And Jesus looked at him, and loved him, and said, “Will you die for me? I’m telling you, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”
Peter is standing in the high priest’s courtyard. And the authorities have Jesus somewhere inside. And he’s warming himself by a fire. And he’s counting.
No. No. No. One. Two. Three.
And he hangs his head, and lets out a heavy sigh, and wonders. He has to. Because what if he said, “Yeah. I am his disciple. Because he is the messiah, the bread of life and the light of the world, the gate and the good shepherd, the resurrection and the true vine. He is the way, and the truth, and the life. And I would follow him anywhere.”
And it probably wouldn’t have changed anything. But maybe it would have turned the world just a little. Because these people would have heard the good news. Because these people would have heard that they were loved and worthy of love. Because these people would have heard about the kingdom that was coming.
And Peter would be who he claimed to be: someone who believed in Jesus; someone who followed Jesus; maybe even someone who would lay down his life for Jesus.
Because it is easy to be quiet. But it is holy to speak up on behalf of Christ.
It is holy to speak up for the Christ who came into the world as one of us, among a dispossessed people in an occupied land.
It is holy to speak up for the Christ who we encounter in every pleading face and outstretched hand.
It is holy to speak up for the Christ whose cries for justice cannot pierce the veils of ignorance and indifference and oppression. It is holy to amplify the voices of the downtrodden. It is holy to hand the microphone to the forgotten.
It is holy to imitate the Christ who has always spoken openly and honestly… the Christ who brings the powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly… the Christ who is, even now, is on his way to die on a hill for all of creation.