‘Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you,
Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’
But he replied, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.’
Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows today,
you will deny three times that you know me.’ (Luke 22, vs 31-34, NIVUK)
Those of us who enjoy cooking/baking (and I include myself!) will be familiar with the importance of sifting flour, to ensure what we are making is the correct consistency. Yet, this process is not as necessary today as it was in the past.
Today, the flour we use is already well refined: for all practical purposes, the impurities have been removed. In years gone by, this would not have been the case: especially when we go back into ancient times when flour was made using great, grinding stones. It was far more common for impurities, like small stones, to make it through, so sifting became a necessity when the flour was used.
Sifting was an involved process. We might even call it a violent process! If the baker/cook wanted their final product to the best it could be, then they had to work hard to remove as many of the impurities as they could through the sifting process.
Jesus predicted such a process for Peter. It was not pleasant: when put under the pressure of sifting, Peter failed Jesus by denying Him. Jesus is, however, gracious and forgiving, and “reinstated” Peter in John 21. After this sifting and reinstatement, Peter went on to become the man Jesus predicted he would be: the rock on whom the Church was built; the first of the Apostles to preach the Gospel on the day of Pentecost; the one who began the spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I believe we are facing a time of sifting in Clincarthill Church. Our theme for 2019 is the question “why?”, and I believe this has allowed the freedom to ask questions about our faith and our church. I am aware that as we ask questions and test the way we do things; it can create a sense of discomfort. It is uncomfortable for some because we are perceived to be moving away from that which is familiar; it is uncomfortable for others because we have not arrived at a destination which seems apparent.
I believe that 2020 will be a very significant year for us, and not just because it is the 10th anniversary of the formation of Clincarthill Church. I believe God is continuing to prepare us for something remarkable. For that reason, I want to encourage you not to resent His sifting us, because it is part of that preparation. Yes, it may be uncomfortable; but when He is complete, we trust that the impurities will have been removed, and we will be as God needs us for the next part of His mission – just as Peter suffered sifting to make him ready to be the rock of the Church.
A final word of encouragement: sifting is not easy for anyone. Let us, therefore, redouble our efforts, in our dealings with one another, to “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 2, vs 2-3, NIVUK).