Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold ~ Acts 1.16 Today in our reading from Acts we hear St. Peter’s first big speech. In fact, it’s his first speech period as the leader of Jesus’ followers. Easter happened more than a month ago but after the Resurrection Jesus spends 40 days teaching the disciples about God’s Kingdom (Acts 1.3). He’s almost like one of those college graduates who completes their exams early and then just hangs around campus with their friends. After the Resurrection, Jesus hangs around with the disciples. He’s still there as some kind of a teacher or coach. And at the beginning of Acts it sounds like he’s giving a series of lessons or tutorials helping these guys get ready to be his witnesses; witnesses to the Resurrection. Then after 40 days the teaching was done - and Jesus left.
So Peter is on his own. The training wheels are off. He’s graduated from the academy. He’s head honcho, top dog, king of the land... the first Pope, right? And his first big speech is important. Like any leader he needs to rally the group. He needs to strike the right tone and inspire at least some kind of confidence. And the best we can tell from this story, Peter’s actually been pretty quiet since the Resurrection. In fact the last we heard from Peter in this story, this one long story of Luke & Acts (they go together as one big book); the last we heard St. Peter was literally dumbstruck. On Easter morning Peter runs to the empty tomb, “and looking inside, he saw the grave clothes by themselves; and then he went home, amazed at what had happened,” (Lk. 24.12). In this story since the Resurrection Peter has been utterly speechless - until today.
And given his track record that’s probably a good thing. It’s probably good that Peter has been quiet. Because up to this point in the story he’s been kind of a mess. His first words in the Gospel of Luke are “Get away from me, Lord, because I’m sinful!” (Luke 5.8). He’s like the guy on his first date who says, “Look, I’ll be completely honest with you: I’m trouble.” It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence about any future relationship. And for the most part with Peter it’s been all downhill, because on the night of Jesus’ arrest Peter denies him 3 times (Luke 22.54-61). Those are Peter’s last words in this story (Luke/Acts). His journey begins with “get away from me” and it ends with “I don’t even know who you’re talking about.” That’s the story of Peter - until today.
Today for the first time since his betrayal of Jesus we finally hear Peter speak. We finally hear from this hand-picked, if incredibly unreliable, first Pope. “In those days Peter stood up” and he began to speak… (Acts. 1.15). It’s a big moment not just for Peter but for everyone who follows Jesus. Because in some way this fledgling group of 120 is supposed to continue what Jesus began. And Peter is the first one who stands to speak. It’s a big moment.
In fact, it’s a lot like a Hollywood moment. Just last year you may recall the Oscar for Best Picture went to a movie called The King’s Speech. Great movie. The story of King George VI of Britain, the story of his sudden rise to the throne and the speech therapist who helped this unsteady man become worthy of the crown.
Much like St. Peter, King George (or Bertie, as he was known by his family), didn’t have a very good track record. For Bertie it wasn’t failed loyalty or a troubled personality, it was his speech. He stuttered. Horribly. It was cringe-worthy. Nobody liked to listen. And it was a huge obstacle for the whole realm. His father George V summarized it nicely when he said: “In the past all a King had to do was look respectable and not fall off his horse. Now [a King] must invade people's homes [we must] ingratiate ourselves [on the radio]. This [royal] family [he continued] is reduced to those lowest, basest of all creatures, we've become actors!” Stuttering Bertie just couldn’t play the part. So it was best for him to keep silent; that is, until he couldn’t escape it anymore.
The story of Bertie’s transformation is a story of healing. It’s a story that probes the roots of his stammer: the pressures of a strict father, the suppression his left-handedness, painful childhood treatments for his knees, and his brother’s favoritism by everyone else. All of that is part of Bertie’s healing and transformation. It’s a story about learning that he has a voice.
Luke doesn’t tell us what happens in those 40 days between the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus. The only Gospel that really does is John. And in John’s Gospel - just like Bertie - the story of Peter’s transformation is a story of healing. Jesus & Peter didn’t live in a therapeutic culture so we don’t hear a conversation that probes Peter’s childhood traumas. We don’t know whether Peter suffered from a strict father or natural left-handedness. But even so, Jesus goes to the heart of Peter’s suffering.
Three times Peter denied Jesus and betrayed him. So after the Resurrection, three times Jesus confronts Peter. Three times he says, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Three times Jesus’ answer is the same: “Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21.15-19). In the past all Peter had to do was look respectable and not fall off his boat. Now he’s being asked to do so much more. The story of St. Peter, like King George, seems to be a story of his sudden rise to leadership and the healing that helped Peter find his voice.
The climax of The King’s Speech happens at the beginning of WWII when the UK has declared war on Germany and King George, the stutterer, prepares his big speech for the people. It doesn’t get any bigger than that. Like any leader he needs to rally the Kingdom. He needs to strike the right tone and inspire at least some kind of confidence.
So what does he do? He brings his speech therapist to Buckingham Palace and when King George delivers that speech to the entire realm - thousands of people - he’s actually sitting in a tiny studio with a microphone talking directly to his therapist in the room. He’s delivering this speech like an intimate conversation even more than he’s thinking about anyone else.
And I wonder… I wonder if St. Peter isn’t doing exactly the same thing at the beginning of Acts. Peter, the fisherman. Peter, the unreliable. Peter the train wreck of a personality. The man whose first words are “Get away from me, I’m trouble”. And then today, “Peter stood up among the believers - about 120 people - and said, ‘Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold,’” (Acts 1.16).
And I wonder if Peter delivers this speech more like his own intimate conversation with Jesus. Because the first words of Peter after the Resurrection aren’t so different from the first words of Jesus himself after the Resurrection. On the Road to Emmaus on Easter morning Jesus sneaks up on a couple of travelers leaving Jerusalem and what does he say? “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer and then enter his glory?” (Lk. 24.25f).
Peter and Jesus are basically saying the same thing: this is how it had to happen, because of everything God promised. Peter is learning to read the scriptures, he’s learning to see the events of his life just like Jesus taught him. So I wonder if Peter is delivering his first big speech almost as an intimate conversation with Jesus - his speech therapist, so to speak - even more than he’s thinking about anyone else.
And for us, this way of reading scripture and seeing the events of our own lives is really just a way of saying that God can work with anything. Nobody else was reading those prophesies the way that Jesus and Peter were reading those prophesies. Nobody else was seeing events like betrayal and suffering the way that Jesus and then Peter were seeing them. What Jesus and then Peter were saying is that God is bigger than any trouble we throw His way.
Peter couldn’t have been a worse candidate for the first Pope. And yet, Jesus said, “You look pretty good to me.” If that’s what Jesus can do with Peter, well then surely there’s room for me & you. It doesn’t matter how much trouble we cause or how much trouble have. The God and Father of Jesus can work with anything: betrayal or uncertainty, even suffering and death. Our God can take anything and bring new life.
Today we’re invited to see all our troubles, to see our worst pain and to find our voice like Peter: “Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled…” this is the way it had to be. Not because God wants us to suffer, but because our suffering can never be the last word. With Jesus the last word is always resurrection and new life - no matter what trouble comes our way. And if we can learn to see our troubles as the soil for new life, well then just like Peter, they become part of our own healing to feed God’s sheep. Amen.