Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Sermon: Sts. Peter and Paul

30 June 2004 at Holy Trinity L. C., Columbia, SC (Vicarage)
Texts: Ezek 34:11-16, 1 Cor 3:16-23, Mark 8:27-35

First Lesson: Ezek 34:11-16

This wonderful message of Good News was delivered by the prophet Ezekiel at the height of bad news. Jerusalem had just fallen. And even worse, the Lord has spoken to Ezekiel a frightening and explicit prophecy that Israel would be laid waste, utterly destroyed, and that this was due to the Lord’s anger against them. The people are crushed, mourning their fallen city and those who defended her.

But in the midst of this suffering, the Lord also gives Ezekiel good news. Though the people will be scattered like sheep, the Lord himself will gather them, shepherd them, feed them, and rescue them. The destruction of the Lord’s judgment will be undone, and they will once again feed on lush grazing land.

Again and again the Lord declares in this passage that he will do the job himself. He will seek the lost. He will bring back the strayed. He will bind up the injured. He will strengthen the weak.

Of course, our Lord Jesus Christ himself fulfills this promise of the Shepherd-God, the divine do-it-yourselfer who himself takes up the pastor’s crook and chases away the wolves of sin, death, and the devil.

It is no accident that this image of the Good Shepherd is of such comfort to the bereaving. For even in death, the Lord himself, the Author of Life, gathers his own sheep to himself - those branded his own by Holy Baptism, those who hear his voice and know him as their Master. For as the Shepherd-king David, the ancestor of our Lord Jesus proclaims: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” And, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” For the Good Shepherd’s rod and staff comfort us, as he fills our cups to overflowing with blessings and eternal life, so that we may “dwell in the House of the Lord forever.”

Second Lesson: 1 Cor 3:16-23

In this lesson, our Lord uses the apostle and martyr St. Paul to remind us of the holiness of our bodies. While the Greeks taught that the body was evil, Christians hold the radical view that the body is holy. It is part of creation that our Lord declared “good” in the beginning, and though corrupted by sin, the Christian’s body has been reclaimed and sanctified by baptismal water, and nourished with the holy Body and Blood of our Lord. The body of the Christian is a vessel of holy things. Our bodies are indeed temples of the Holy Spirit, and these same bodies will be resurrected, just as our Lord’s body – still bearing the holy scars of his passion – was raised from the dead.

The sainted apostle Paul further warns us not to put too much stock in human reason. “For wisdom of this world is folly with God.” What the world calls clever, God calls foolishness. And the Lord uses what appears to be weakness and foolishness to accomplish his task of saving the world. As Paul tells us elsewhere, to those who are perishing, the cross is folly. But to those who are being saved, it is wisdom.

We do well to be mindful of this distinction between the nearsighted ways of the world versus the glorious ways of God Almighty. For it’s an easy thing to be trapped into pettiness, or to be wrapped up in the things that are esteemed by this world, but Paul points us to the big picture: “whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”

Gospel: Mark 8:27-35

On this holy feast day of the apostles and martyrs Sts. Peter and Paul, we have this passage that shows Peter in two different contexts. In the first part of the passage, Simon Peter makes his bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The other Gospels tell us that at this point, Jesus gives Simon an “attaboy,” giving him the nickname “Peter” – which means “rock man” – and prophesying that upon the rock of his confession, upon the rock of the ministry entrusted to Peter, our Lord would build the Church. For this reason, Peter is considered the chief apostle, and would later be considered the first Bishop of Rome.

However, only a couple verses later, we have our Lord calling Peter “Satan.” This is not a very flattering passage the lectionary committee has selected to honor St. Peter on this day – he, who according to tradition, would be crucified upside down as the penalty for his faithful service to our Lord.

The Lord’s harshness with Peter came as a result of Peter’s refusal to accept the passion and death of our Lord as a necessary part of the divine plan. Peter was relying on his own sense of logic, the wisdom of the world – and criticizing the seemingly “foolish” divine plan of sending Jesus to his cross. Peter was indeed being manipulated by the devil, and Jesus loves him too much to allow it to go unspoken.

For the lives of both Peter and Paul bear witness to our Lord’s words which conclude this Gospel reading: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

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