Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.” Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Matt. 26:69-75).
“Your accent gives you away.” Who? You. Your accent gives you away. You are one of them, aren’t you?
“Your accent gives you away.” Perhaps not much else does—not your thoughts, not your words, not your deeds. But your accent gives you away. You must be one of them.
“I do not know the man.” Too often we’ve said it, perhaps without words, but sometimes with them, too. “I do not know the man.” Oh, if we were to watch our life on rewind, how clear that statement would seem. “I do not know the man.” If we did, would we live and think like we do, would we struggle just to keep up appearances, to maintain a veneer?
We hide in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the Lord is inside, suffering, enduring, submitting.
We sit outside. We look in. Isn’t that the story of our lives. We are spectators. We are bystanders. We saunter about the periphery. We hide in the courtyard. Meanwhile, the Lord is inside, suffering, enduring, submitting; a Sheep silent before its shearers; a Lamb going uncomplaining forth. He can leave the griping to us. We’re good at it.
How often couldn’t the rooster crow? Would we even hear it, though? We’re busy. Our ears are full of other things. Our attention darts about feverishly in a frantic search for we know not what.
God sends us servant girls. He’s sent them for years. Again and again they confront us. I suppose I am our servant girl today. What good has it done, though? Here we are. Here I am. Here you are. We do not know the man. We stand outside, while Jesus suffers, endures. All we have is our accent to give us away.
More than once in my ministry I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites.” More than once in my ministry I’ve thought it myself. My favorite professor, now in heaven, told us what to say to such an excuse, however. He told us, “When someone says, ‘I don’t go to church because it’s full of hypocrites,’ you tell them there’s always room for one more.”
We all have reason to be outside and stay there. That’s where sinners belong. We have reason to weep, and weep bitterly. We belong with Peter. If our guilt ever truly sank in, if we really learned how to blush, our tears could fill Lake Michigan. And yet God won’t have us outside. God won’t have us weeping forever. That’s why the Lord is inside. That’s why he suffers and endures.
I went to Rome over spring break. That’s what you do with theology professor money. I was struck by the Basilica of St. Sebastian and the catacombs beneath. Peter’s footprints are on display there, the words “Quo vadis?” beneath them. “Quo vadis?” means “Where are you going?” When persecution struck Rome, St. Peter fled. Jesus met him on the way and asked where he was going. St. Peter then went back into the city to suffer and endure with his fellow saints.
Let me share here what Luther purportedly said after scaling on his knees the Scala Sancta, the holy steps in Rome that Christ is said to have climbed to stand before Pilate. Luther looked down and mumbled to himself, “Who knows if it’s true?” What is undoubtedly true, however, is that St. Peter wasn’t left outside. He wasn’t left weeping. He was restored, as am I, as are you. He died in faith. He went to heaven. In fact, some of my favorite jokes have him standing at the gates.
I know you are his because of his grace, and that grace accents the words we sing, the sermons to which we listen, the prayers we pray, the confessions we make, and the absolutions we receive and give.
“Your accent gives you away.” Peter’s accent was regional. His dialect betrayed him. Not so for you. What gives you away isn’t some extra twang or emphasis on certain syllables. What gives you away is grace. I know you are his, not because of your works, not because of your stellar resume or impeccable track record. I know you are his because of his grace, and that grace accents the words we sing, the sermons to which we listen, the prayers we pray, the confessions we make, and the absolutions we receive and give.
Here we are, a lousy bunch of hypocrites, but we are here because Christ has brought us inside and taught us to speak. He has given us accents. And while we too often may seem like we do not know him, he knows us. He knows us and he loves us. That’s why he was inside, suffering, enduring.
Christ has no accent. He is the very Word of God. That we are not. We stand with Peter. We are saints, but we are also sinners. We will remain such on this side of the casket. And yet we are not what we were. We are something new, if very new. We are his. He has said so. That is the Word of God’s word to us. And so we are inside. Our tears are wiped away. We have an accent, and it only grows as we listen. “Your accent gives you away.” Amen.