Friday, July 01, 2005

Precedents' Day ( A sermon for the Feast of Ss. Peter & Paul)

O Lord be present in my speaking in our hearing to your glory. Amen.

Today we celebrate the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. These two apostles each have their own feasts earlier in the year, one celebrating Paul’s conversion, the other celebrating Peter’s confession. But early tradition holds that they were martyred at nearly the same time, under Emperor Nero’s persecution, around 64 AD. So we celebrate these two martyrdoms together.

I strikes me that it is a bit like Presidents’ Day in that regard. On Presidents’ Day we celebrate the birth of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Or maybe it would be better to say that we ‘mark’ their birthdays, as there is generally very little actual celebration that takes place, beyond the mandatory white sales in department stores.

And like George and Abe with America, Peter and Paul made their own unique and distinct contributions to the church: perhaps we risk missing those if we simply combine the two feasts.

But unlike George and Abe, Peter and Paul were contemporaries. They worked alongside one another, Peter the apostle to the Jews, Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. And more than that, they also clashed fiercely at times over whether Christians should follow the Law or not, and over just what it looked like for Gentiles to enter this new covenant with God. It might be easy to overstate these differences and make these two seem irreconcilably opposed.

Of course the truth is that, as with most really hot disputes, they agreed on far, far more than what they disagreed on. Sometimes I think it takes a compatriot or co-religionist to get into a real shouting match. If you have nothing in common with someone else, they aren’t an opponent or a sparring partner, but a stranger. Anyone with an ounce of good taste would refrain from arguing with a stranger. But these two held much more in common than what divided them. In today’s readings, we hear Paul anticipating the end of his life of service, and we hear Jesus telling Peter about the end of his life of service. Both Paul and Peter, so at odds with one another, gave their lives in witness to the gospel of Christ. They each spent their productive days feeding Jesus’ sheep.

This gives me hope. As we in the Episcopal Church, and more broadly in the Anglican Communion, wrestle with each other over such issues as Scriptural authority and human sexuality and the meaning of the communion, perhaps we can remember that there is more, much, much more that holds us together than divides us. Maybe then, after the example of Peter and Paul, we can make up our minds to pour ourselves out in service to the church and witness to the world, and so glorify the true God, blessed Trinity on high. Amen.


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