Peter, Paul and Michael
Today, the church calendar calls us to observe the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. If you’re not a church geek, all of this may be TMI, but Peter and Paul are described as apostles, literally someone sent to do something. They were entrepreneurs who got the church off the ground in the first century. Talk about a spiritual start-up. They get a fair amount of air time in the church year. Each have a feast day in January (The Confession of St. Peter, followed a week later by the Conversion of St. Paul). The week in between is called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in part because apparently Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. It’s not altogether clear that they liked each other that much. Let’s just say they didn’t vacation together.
The real name of our National Cathedral in D.C. is the Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul. While they are remembered together in that important institution, the architecture tells a lot about their story. On the façade of the Cathedral at one end you find a depiction of the story of St. Peter. At the other end, about as far as possible, you find the story of St. Paul. The church had to be a big tent to include these two larger than life characters: Peter the disciple who never had an unexpressed thought and Paul, almost obsessive in his frenetic race around the rim of the Mediterranean to share the gospel in the short time he knew he’d been given. I don’t imagine either of them was all that easy to get along with but here’s what I like about them:
They used what they had been given: Peter the fisherman accepts Jesus call to go fishing for people. His open mouth/insert foot approach led him to preach the early church into being. Paul the obsessive persecutor of the church channels that religious fervor, redirecting it to work tirelessly to establish communities of grace in one town after another. The faith affirmed and fulfilled who they were. It didn’t deny or diminish their identity.
They were learners, willing to grow and change: They were disciples in that particular sense of the word which sees disciple as learner. Thank God they were. Both Peter and Paul first approached the faith with a strong sense of boundaries for the community, a clear sense of who was in and who was out. Each in his own way, they came to realize the expansive power of God’s grace, including folks who had formerly been off limits. We are all the beneficiaries.
They grew in humility: Neither lacked ego strength, but through encounter with Jesus, they each came to see that he was the one to whom their lives were meant to point. I sense they both struggled with this issue. And they didn’t always agree with each other. The New Testament is clear that they had some run ins. But the disputes, which ultimately came to resolution, indicated that their priority, their mission was to follow Jesus.
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church continues this week. On Saturday, the group in Salt Lake City elected a Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who calls us all to be like Peter and Paul, to be crazy Christians, to follow Jesus with love and joy in our hearts. It’s going to be a great time to be an Episcopalian. Fasten your seat belts. As today we give thanks for Peter and Paul, pray also for our new Presiding Bishop, another amazing apostle. And join Peter, Paul and Michael in figuring out this day how you can share with joy the good news about Jesus.
– Jay Sidebotham
Words of St. Paul, from II Timothy:
As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
A story about St. Peter, from the Gospel of John
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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