Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 30, 2014
Peter, Paul, and You
Did you know the real name of the National Cathedral in Washington? Its official name is the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, and since today is the observance of the feast of these two boys, I thought I’d reflect on why they matter this Monday. That cathedral looming over the Washington skyline is a place of beauty and grace. Above the west façade are two towers, one named for Peter, one for Paul. On the façade, over the north portal, you find a depiction of St. Peter, with fishing net, at the moment he was called to be a disciple. At the other end of that same façade, over the south portal, you find a depiction of St. Paul at the moment of conversion. Those two depictions are there, but not right up against each other, actually with some distance from each other.
The distance makes sense. As I read the New Testament, I get the impression that Peter and Paul were not best buddies. Each was endowed with considerable ego strength. We read about a variety of run-ins they have with each other. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul called out Peter about issues in that church. In the letter attributed to Peter, Paul’s letters are described as confusing. All of which says to me that God puts us in community of imperfect people to learn from each other, even if we don’t like each other, or understand each other, or see eye to eye on every issue. We are each and all works in progress. The community of faith is not a community of agreement. It’s not a social club. It’s a community gathered in common worship, or as Episcopalians call it, common prayer, and then sent into the world to do God’s work. God uses us with our gifts and experience and past, including our failures and mistakes. Peter and Paul teach us that.
If the early church was a start up, these two entrepreneurs got it going. Called to this work, they left other work to fulfill a mission. God used who they were, their skills and personalities. Peter, ever-impulsive fisherman, clearly a leader, often speaking first and thinking later, brought brave, brash energy to the beginning of the church, as Jesus tells him he will fish for people. Paul, compulsive persecutor of first Christians, running from city to city to lock up any Christians he could find for the sake of his faith tradition, has that energy transformed so that after his conversion he runs from city to city for the sake of his newfound faith. God took who they were, used their experience, those gifts for the sake of his kingdom.
Both Peter and Paul could have imagined that their histories disqualified them from service, from ministry. Peter denied Jesus at the moment when Jesus really could have used a hand. Was that all that different from what Judas did? Paul gave his life to the persecution of Christ’s community. Did that qualify him to be the leader of the church? On their feast day, we are called to consider the ways that God acts in our lives, using our gifts and histories, transforming our shortcomings, idiosyncracies and sins for good work in the world. As Philips Brooks, the great Episcopalian preacher (Note: that’s not an oxymoron) put it: God will waste nothing.
Peter and Paul remind us that God works in and through our diversity, in and through (and often in spite of) our history. But we all share this one thing. The reading from the gospel for the feast of Peter and Paul describes Jesus’ final encounter with Peter, in which he commissions Peter to feed the flock and tend the sheep. The passage concludes with Peter asking about another disciple, the beloved disciple, and what will happen to that disciple. Jesus says, don’t worry about that. None of your business. Instead, Jesus leaves Peter with two simple words: Follow me. That was the call to Peter and Paul. It is the call to us this Monday. To look at our own journey, checking the rear view mirror to see where we’ve been, to remember what God has done, to honor our gifts, to honor each other (even if we occasionally irritate each other), to recognize our limits, to trust that as the road unfolds before us, we can and will be used by God, forgiven and empowered people on the receiving end of amazing grace. Peter and Paul heard that call. Each in his way found a way to follow. You and I are being called to do the same, this very day. What will it mean to live into those two words: Follow me? How will you follow Jesus this day?
– Jay Sidebotham
Continuity and economy; these are the laws of Him who is leading us, the Captain of our salvation. He always binds the future to the past, and He wastes nothing. O, there are some here who want to get away from all their past; who, if they could, would fain begin all over again. Their life with Christ seems one long failure. But you must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to get a future out of it. God will waste nothing. There is something in your past, something even if it only be the sin of which you have repented, which, if you can put it into the Saviour’s hands, will be a new life for you.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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