Friday, April 12, 2013

Peter and Paul (Easter 3, April 14 2013)

Homily:  Yr C Easter 3, April 14 2013, St. Albans
Readings: Acts 9:1-20; Ps 30; Rev 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

Peter and Paul
(an interactive homily)

There’s lots of material for us in today’s readings and there are many different directions that we could go in.  We could, for example, try to answer one of the questions that has stumped theologians for centuries:  why is it that Peter, totally naked, decided to get dressed before he jumped into the water?

But I’m going to leave that for you to figure out on your own.  Instead, I want to turn to the two great commissioning stories that we just read, one after the other today.  The first is often referred to as the conversion of Paul and the second as the reconciliation of Peter.

Peter and Paul were the two great leaders of the early church.  The best known of the apostles, the greatest of the saints of the church, the ones that get most of the press in the New Testament.  In a way it’s surprising that we find them together in our lectionary readings today because Peter and Paul were very different people.

Peter was the uneducated fisherman, called by Jesus as a disciple, who was with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry.  He spent three years with Jesus and was one of his closest friends.  Peter was an impulsive leader, quick to speak up and take initiative, but often getting it wrong, saying and doing the wrong things.  You remember some of those moments.  When Jesus asked the disciples, “Who Am I?”, it was Peter who responded “You are the Messiah”.  Peter was the first to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the chosen one sent by God.   But he refused to believe that the Messiah would have to suffer, and Jesus had to rebuke him in no uncertain terms, saying “Get behind me Satan.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus is arrested, Peter is the one who pulls out a sword cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave, and Jesus has to tell him to put his sword away.
And when Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to his death, Peter claims that he is ready to follow him and lay down his life for Jesus.  Yet, when confronted after Jesus’ arrest, it is Peter who denies Jesus three times.

Then, after Jesus’ resurrection, it is Peter who becomes the acknowledged leader of the early community of Christians and the rock on whom the church is built, who defies the authorities, preaches passionately and performs great works of healing.

Paul on the other hand was a very different person.  Paul was an educated theologian and a Roman Citizen.  He never met Jesus during his lifetime – his encounter was with the risen Christ as we heard in our reading today.  Paul was the one who had the great conversion experience that we read about today.  He went from being someone who rounded up Christians and put them in jail to the greatest of the Christian missionaries, who traveled the Roman Empire building up Christian communities and preaching the gospel.

Whereas Peter was impulsive, Paul was a thinker.  After his encounter with Christ, he went away for three years to Arabia and Damascus to consider and think about what had just happened to him, what it meant and how he was to respond.  But when he did get it figured out, he was passionate and had a tremendous sense of urgency.

Whereas Peter’s ministry was at the centre of the Christian community, Paul’s ministry was on the edges.  His mission was to the Gentiles.  He pushed the limits of Christian practice and understanding.  He raised the difficult questions, such as whether Gentiles needed to follow the Jewish law?

Whereas Peter was the acknowledged leader and apostle, Paul was always fighting to establish his credentials.  Paul was often embroiled in conflict, and he wasn’t shy about explaining why he was right.  He even came into conflict with Peter.  One of the first great decisions of the early church was how to deal with non-Jews.  Though Peter and Paul worked out an agreement on this, at one point, Paul was so upset with Peter that in his letter to the Galatians he tells them that he “opposed Peter to his face”.   I imagine that Paul probably wasn’t an easy person to get along with.

A number of years ago, around the time when the Lord of the Rings movies had just come out, I used to do youth group retreats using the Lord of the Rings as a theme.  And one of the things I used to do on these retreats was to ask the youth which character in the Fellowship of the Ring they identify with?

So I thought I’d ask you the same thing this morning.  Who do you identify with, Peter or Paul?  Are you more like Peter or Paul?

And why?     

I tend to identify more with Paul.  I’m not sure why, it’s a bit of a gut instinct thing.  Perhaps because I’m not as impulsive as Peter.  I like to think things through like Paul, but once I’ve done that I can be quite passionate about my point of view, sometimes even a bit abrasive like Paul.  I also like the way Paul works at the edges and pushes the limits, in terms of mission and in terms of his theology.

How about you?  How many “Peter’s” have we got here?  How many “Paul’s”?

It’s good that we have both “Peters” and “Pauls” in our community, because we need both in the church.  We need the Peters that are the acknowledged leaders, the ones that have learned from their mistakes, and we need the Pauls who are passionate thinkers who push the boundaries of our faith.

Jesus knows that we need both Peters and Pauls.  In today’s readings he commissions both Peter and Paul, he gives both of them jobs to do.  But did you notice that he does it in two very different ways, and that he gives them two very different missions?

To Peter he says, “Feed my sheep”.  In fact he says it three times.

To Paul he says, “Proclaim the gospel.  Bring my name before peoples and kings.”  And immediately after his sight is restored, Paul goes into the synagogues and proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God.

The church has been commissioned by Jesus to both “feed my sheep” and to “proclaim the gospel”.  That’s why we need both our Peters and our Pauls.

We have those who in the tradition of Peter are good at “feeding the sheep”.  They provide leadership, care and nurture for the community.  They are the good shepherds who seek the lost, bind up the injured, strengthen the weak, and rescue and gather the sheep.  They look after the needs of the community.

We have those who in the tradition of Paul, “proclaim the message”.  They are persistent, like fighters and goal-oriented like athletes.  They convince, rebuke, encourage and teach.  The message they proclaim is the good news of Jesus Christ, and they proclaim that message by words and by actions.  I always remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi, another of our great saints, who said “proclaim the gospel; and if necessary, use words.”

And so again I turn to you.  How do you see your ministry in the church?  Do you put more emphasis on “feeding the sheep” or on “proclaiming the gospel”?

It is important for us as a congregation that we are able to take up both of these commissions, the commission of Peter to “feed my sheep” and the commission given to Paul to “proclaim the gospel”.  We need to figure out how to do both of these things here in our time and place.   How do you think we’re doing?

In my experience we in our churches are pretty good at the “feed my sheep” part of things.  We’ve been blessed with caring, compassionate people who look after each other.  I know that I’ve certainly been the recipient of such caring and compassion from my church community, particularly in times of need.

How are we doing at proclaiming the gospel?

Some of us find that to be a bit more of a challenge.  Maybe we’re not used to proclaiming the gospel, we’ve gotten out of practice.  Well since it’s the Easter season, the season of resurrection, maybe we should practice a bit.  In fact, maybe you could just take a minute to turn to the person next to you and in the spirit of this Easter season, share with them one area, one time or place, that you experience God as alive and present in your life.

As we hear and reflect on the stories of Peter and Paul, of their encounters with the risen Lord, it is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we’re doing and where we’re going as a community in response to the two great commissions that have been passed on to us.

Proclaim the gospel.

Feed my sheep.


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