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Celebrations of Faith: St. Peter’s human foibles a comfort to Christians at Lent

April 10, 2011

NORTH KINGSTOWN – The Rev. W. David Dobbins Jr., interim rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, confessed that the planning group for last week’s Lenten luncheon seriously underestimated the number of participants.
“We heard about attendance at the other lunches and talked about setting up for 80 but we thought that must be an exaggeration. So we prepared for 60.”
As has been true at all of the luncheons – hosted so far at the Methodist church and two Baptist houses of worship – 100 people showed up. The place was packed, requiring volunteers to hastily pull out additional extra tables and chairs.
“I’m amazed. Fortunately, the soup stretched,” said Fr. Dave, to prolonged laughter.
For the fourth message in the “Soup and Spirit” events, a series of ecumenical meetings hosted by four denominations at six locations, he tackled the role of St. Peter as disciple and witness to the crucifixion and resurrection.
Peter, he said, is a rock of Christianity, his importance celebrated in the elegant basilica in Rome where the saint’s remains rest.
“Peter was a courageous and spirit-filled leader, a founder of the faith.”
Although he performed miracles later in life, at first Peter was something of a bumbler.
“He started as a fisherman who was drawn to Jesus and followed him,” said Fr. Dave. “He was a rough-handed person. He knew about nets, but he was not greatly educated or sensitive. He said the wrong things over and over. But sometimes when he talked enough, he said the right thing.”
Peter is praised and rebuked by Jesus in practically the same breath.
“Peter’s way of being so human and mixed up is comforting to us. He tells Jesus ‘I’ve got your back. I’m with you all the way. But when Jesus is carted away and Peter is recognized as someone who traveled with him, he says ‘Oh, no. It wasn’t me.’
“It’s just human stuff. Peter fails abysmally. That’s the beginning of the story. By the time the cock crows he denies Jesus three times. Just before the crucifixion Peter weeps bitterly.”
Fr. Dave noted that, without their leader, the disciples were ready to give up and return to fishing but Christ reveals himself to them and asks Peter to “tend his sheep” and say “follow me.”
“That’s his commission,” said Fr. Dave. “By meeting the Lord again, the relationship is reconciled and Peter is given the courage to go on.”
He interpreted this experience for modern times. “The message to us is there’s a second chance: Can I serve the one I worship? Peter stands for all of us. Whatever happens in your lifetime and mine, Peter says it can all be forgiven, healed. [Jesus] loves you fully and deeply. We can be available to serve in his name.”
That can be accomplished he said, by being a friend to your neighbors. “We are commissioned by Christ to love them.”
He explained the Lord’s question to Peter – Do you love me more than these? – as the biggest challenge of faith.
“Can you love him more than anything else? None of us can do it, yet it’s possible. Peter couldn’t do it till the end.”
Rita Doyle, of St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church, was attending her first Lenten lunch. “I thought it was good in a way I’ve never heard before,” she said. “It brought things to a human level.”
Bob Mason, who leads a Lenten study group at the North Kingstown United Methodist Church, agreed.
“It was very interesting, nicely illustrated and well put-together,” he said. “It was a good message.”
Lynn Johnson found the series “a great program” and noted she has attended all the events so far.
As the group dispersed, a Methodist and a Catholic embraced at the door. “I’m so glad you’re here,” said the Methodist who later noted that such a gathering “wouldn’t have been possible years ago” as the various denominations adhered strictly to their individual faiths.
Yesterday’s program was hosted by St. Francis de Sales Roman Catholic Church on School Street with Fr. Bertrand Theroux putting The Good Thief in perspective. That event will be covered in next week’s Standard.
The final luncheon will be held April 14 at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church on Tower Hill Road with the Rev. John Unsworth providing insights to the role of John.
Martha Smith is a freelance writer for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.

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