Summary: Calverton Baptist Church, Silver Spring, MD, 1983: Our denials, like Peter's, reflect our confusing loudness with loyalty and our seeing ourselves as victims rather than victors. But Christ is able to look at us, evoke repentance, and turn us around.
The fire crackled in the crisp air, casting shadows on the walls not five yards away. It looked inviting, this bonfire, for not only was the night air chilly, but also this whole episode had been so draining, so terrifying, that the body cried out for comfort, for something, anything, that would bring assurance and warmth. Strange how when the heart and the mind are disturbed, it is so often the body which wants to be held and stroked and cared for. And so, though he knew none of those who had gathered around the fire, he went among them and took his place at the edge of the circle, close enough to feel the heat but not so close he would have to take part in the raucous talk that was already boiling up. Not a time for rowdy stories or for boisterous laughter, not when you've seen your world come apart at the seams, not when you suspect that the next few hours will mean the end of the finest, most loving, most gracious friend you've ever known.
So quiet, calm, time to collect one’s self. But this girl who kept coming out, then running back into the house – who was she anyway? He thought perhaps he had seen her earlier today, but no, how could he? Who was she, anyway? They all look alike, these girls around the streets of the city. She ought not to be out here with these roughnecks anyway; who knows what they have on their minds. Here she comes again. Why does she keep walking back and forth from the courtyard walls, why does she keep glancing at him? She stops in her tracks; her face turns squarely to him. "Ah." " Ah," she says, to no one in particular. "This man also was with him."
What? What did she say? Was she looking at him? "This man also was with him." What could he say? She was looking squarely at him and her words were like arrows directed to his very eyes. What could he reply? "Woman, I do not know him."
But by now others had turned to look. Bored as they were, they sensed a diversion, something to make an issue of, someone to needle. And so one of them found his voice, "You also are one of them, yes, of them, you know who I mean. You also are one of them." This is getting out of hand, he might be discovered, and not only discovered, but he might be in trouble, real trouble. Can't back off now. "Man, I am not." No, no, you’ve got the wrong boy. "Man, I am not." Do you hear?
At that, all the voices grew still … not a sound. No laughter, no stories. No grumbles about the governor's taxes, no speculation about the weather. No sound but the log burning through and breaking and sending a shower of sparks for a brief moment. For an hour or so, not a sound. Suddenly one of them stood up, stood up and turned and pointed a long, bony finger, flinging his words out against the air where they seemed to freeze and hang there for all the world to see: "Certainly this man also was with him, for he is a Galilean. I heard it in his voice." He jumped to his feet and with heart pounding, with his pulse racing, he screamed out, "Man I do not know what you are saying. Get off my case, will you? Get off my back. I do not know what you are talking about. Man I do not know what you are saying."
I do not know … what’s that sound? Great God in heaven, that eerie sound! Cockcrow – what was it he had said? How could he have known? Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times. How could he have known? And there in the windows of the palace, he saw his master, standing, looking. Looking.
And Peter … Peter called the Rock … Peter who had proclaimed his faith so firmly … Peter who had said, "I am with you to the very end" …Peter went out and wept bitterly.
What had happened here? What is moving and surging within this man who, days before, hours before, had seemed so sure of himself? And, more important, what can we learn from Peter, can we see something of ourselves in him? Is it possible that in his denial of the Lord he mirrored something of our own denials? Is there something of each of us wrapped up in this one whom Jesus had called Petros, the rock? You might say, do we have a piece of the Rock? I think we do… I think we do. I suspect Peter's story is our story too. As he succumbed to the pressures of the moment, the pressures put on him by his peers around that fire, so we also find it easy, perilously easy, to say along with him, I am not one of Christ's. I am not with him. What is it? It’s the power of peer pressure.