Invocation

We worship the God of hope who has never given up on us.

The time was recess.  The year was kindergarten.  The place was the merry go round.  

What an idea...a merry go round.  The outer perimeter offers the possibilities of being sucked under, smacked with whirling steel bars, or boarding the moving craft by running alongside and stumbling on.  Once aboard, your eyes have a hard time deciding if the giant wheel is spinning or if its the only thing holding still.  Trees, buildings, and teachers blur into a repeating background.  More kids jump off to add RPMs.  G-forces are tugging your little body around as you try to stay upright.  Its an extreme sport for 5-year olds.  
I have vague memories of the event.  The bell rang and we ran from the the playground to line up just as we were taught.  Half way to the line I remember hearing a child screaming.  Someone was still on the merry-go-round.  My teacher ran to him.   After a long wait our friend came walking with our teacher.  He was crying hard and the inside of his jeans legs were flapping around with long rips.  He had sat cross legged around the hub of the merry go round and something from the merry go round had snagged his jeans.  I can just imagine the terror he must have felt as the playground began to eat his clothes off.  Our little friend was scared and embarrassed and we had left him.

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemene it was as if a bell went off inside the disciples.  They had followed him from town to town for three years.  Then, when threatened, they just left him.  O sure Peter the brave took a stand, but eventually they all were gone and Jesus was all alone with the unstoppable events, the string of shady trials and the murderous mob.  If Jesus was getting in trouble for threatening the power structure, surely his followers would also be seen as threats.  Matthew tells us, “then all the disciples deserted him and fled”  One young disciple was so scared when they tried to grab him that he slipped out of his linen garment and fled the scene naked!  They all left him.  But there was still hope for them.  
As Jesus was taken in for questioning, Peter’s impulsive nature got the better of him again.  He really fancied himself a brave one.  Proud disciple of Jesus he was!  Walked on water!  Saw Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration!  “Even If I have to die for you I will never disown you!”  Swinging his sword around to defend the master.  Peter infiltrated the courtyard of the high priest and kept an eye on Jesus.  He tried to blend in.  Everything was fine until a girl looked real closely at him and boldly exposed him.  Of course she was right.  She knew she was right.  But the truth would blow Peter’s cover and associating with Jesus would surely mean trouble for him as well.  Peter went into survival mode.  He would have to run again if he admitted his identity.  He was no chicken, he would face down this little girl and stand his ground.  “I don’t know him”, he said.  They weren’t convinced.  Someone else pointed out the obvious.  “You’re one of them”.  “Am not.”
Peter had the guts to hang around the warm, but, inconveniently, bright fire for an hour in enemy territory.  Someone pointed out Peter’s Galilean accent and Peter cracked under the pressure.  He sent out a distracting display of curses and passionate denial.  Leave me alone!  “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately the sound of the rooster in his ears took his mind back to supper.  He had said  “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”  Ever wonder what its like to be the subject of a specific prophecy?  Peter, against his pride, proved Jesus right in a prophecy that only took a few hours to fulfill.  
Brave Peter’s cover was blown.  Everyone around him knew who he was.  Worse, far worse, he failed his master.  Jesus had given him everything.  The key to heaven in the forgiveness of sins.  He hid his connection to Jesus and did so firmly.  He went from spitting mad to sincere sorrow.  He left and wept bitterly.  But there was still hope for him.
Have you ever hurt someone?  Slandered someone who you used to be close to?  Ditched a sibling?  Lied to a parent?  A teacher?  Well your cover is blown.  Despite all your efforts to hide your sins, God sees who you really are.  You have failed your master.  But there is still hope for you and for me.  We have failed, but there is hope.
Peter was forgiven and reinstated.  After Jesus resurrection Peter painfully faced his sin when Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?”  He went on to feed Jesus lambs, serve as a strong leader in the rocky years of the early church, and write two letters of encouragement that we still read 2000 years later.  There was still hope for him.
My kindergarten friends and I deserted our friend to the pants eating merry go round.  But that was long ago and we have grown up to serve the Lord in our own ways.  My friend who escaped the hungry playground had a really bad day, but he got over it.  He still serves in many ways around that same school.  There was hope for him, even on that bad day, even as he wept bitterly.  
This world is a mess.  People act for their own benefit and hurt others in the process.  Because of sin there is constant decay.  It seems like the hearts of mankind are growing cold and everyone is denying Jesus.  It can be easy to get distracted by everything that is going wrong in our lives.   It seems like it won’t get better.  Remember that God sees not only your failings, but your need as well.  Remember that you already have all that you need in the Sacrifice of Jesus.  God knows you.  He hears your soul’s longing for heaven.  Be still.  There is still hope for us and he won’t give up on you, me, or anyone else.  Amen.

Hymn 127 (Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted)

Prayer
Lord.  When we are alone and honest...when we let down our mask, we can see so clearly our failings.  You know all and our cover is blown.  Yet you forgive.  Your forgiveness doesn’t make sense to us, but we love it dearly.  Thank you for refusing to give up on us.  Thank you for seeing our need.  Keep hope alive in our hearts that we look forward to your coming with eagerness.  Give us lives to live and hope to give.  Amen.  

Benediction

May the God of hope grant you hearts for joyful service.  Go in God’s tender truth.  Amen.

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