Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sermon: Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

June 29, 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Matt 16:13-19 (Acts 15:1-21, Gal 2:1-10)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

On the one hand, you can’t find two more different men than Sts. Peter and Paul.

Peter was a fisherman, brash and blunt, likely not very educated, and sometimes even vulgar. Paul was a rabbi, an intellectual, a citizen of Rome who could come off pretty snobby at times.

But their lives and destinies would intertwine in a way that was to shake the world to its bedrock – as twin pillars in the apostolic foundation of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Peter was to become the leading spokesman of the twelve. And Paul was to become a sort-of thirteenth apostle, an evangelist to the Gentiles. And though they didn’t always get along with each other, (on one occasion, Paul rebuked Peter publicly and to his face), and at times their relationship was strained, God used them mightily for the sake of the Gospel and for the life of the world.

Both of them have some skeletons in the closet. Peter, in spite of his boasting to the contrary, fled like a coward when our Lord Jesus was under arrest. Paul, for his part, took an active role in persecuting Christians, even participating in the lynching of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Both Peter and Paul would repent of their siding with the enemies of Jesus. Both were personally called to repentance by our Lord. Both suffered terribly for their sinfulness. Both did repent, and both were called to be shepherds of the Lord’s flock, sent out as apostles and preachers. In their ministries, both apostles found themselves in Rome, proclaiming the Gospel in the center of the civilized world, right in the teeth of the devil. Both were martyred, according to tradition, on the same day, though it may have been in different years, under the terrible persecutions of Emperor Nero.

Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside down, dying the death of a slave, the same type of death the Master he served, while Paul, being a citizen of Rome, died by the steely blade of the sword, being beheaded.

The inverted cross of Christ and the Sword of the Word of God are certainly symbols of the preaching of Sts. Peter and Paul. And their work in bringing the Gospel to Rome was just the beginning. For within three centuries of their deaths, the Roman Empire would, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, be won over for Christianity. And the Gospel would be spread to far-flung places like England, France, Spain, and Portugal – countries that just so happened to colonize around the world centuries later, sowing the seeds of the Word of God wherever they went.

Nothing can be more clear to us today than the providence of God at work in the most incredible ways, bringing together this apostolic “odd couple,” using them in spite of their “baggage,” bringing both of them to the most powerful city in the Empire, and using that evil Empire that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Christians (including Peter and Paul) as a tool to foil the devil’s plans, using the blood of the martyrs to grow the Christian Church into becoming Rome’s conqueror.

For aside from a few history students and professors, who even remembers the name Nero today? When he is called to mind, he is remembered as a lunatic. All that is physically left of the mighty Empire is a pile of ruins. And yet, over the graves of Sts Peter and Paul are two cathedrals. All over the world, Christian congregations are named for these saints. Peter and Paul’s writings are inscripturated in the New Testament, having been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are read by billions.

And the only reason Rome is the “eternal city” is because we are eternal. Rome was conquered by the Church, through the blood of Peter and Paul, shed in the name of the One who shed His blood for them, and for all people.

Our Lord asks the disciples what may be the single most important question one could ever ponder: “Who do people say I am?” And it is Simon the son of Jonah, the one who by his own admission speaks with unclean lips, whose lips utter the Good Confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” For as our Lord tells him, he didn’t learn this from flesh and blood. All who confess Jesus as the Christ do so because of divine revelation. And this confession earns Simon a nickname: “Peter” – the “Rock Man. For Peter’s divine confession is the kind of thing that will indeed serve as a foundation. And that ministry Peter will be called into – the “keys of the kingdom” – the authority to forgive sins and to excommunicate – is promised to Peter and to all the apostles. It is this apostolic ministry, anchored in a right confession of the person of Jesus, that our Lord will use as a foundation for His Church. And His Church is no house of straw. It is no shanty built on sinking sand. Rather it is a glorious temple, fabricated of living stones of confessors of eternal Truth who repeat the Good Confession of St. Peter. And not even the gates of Hell will knock this holy house down.

And even when the House of the Lord seems like it is crumbling within, the Holy Spirit keeps the edifice intact. In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, the devil threatened the House at its very foundations, as the apostles themselves were at odds with each other in dealing with the Satanic return of legalism, attempting to supplant the Gospel and overthrow the Good Confession of St. Peter and the apostles.

For this Church is never to be destroyed – though the Temple would collapse and the “tabernacle of David” had “fallen down.” And the Lord used Peter and Paul to fulfill the prophecy repeated in our reading from Acts: “I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord who does all these things.”

The Lord God of Israel was building a greater House, an Ark of refuge for all of mankind, Jew and Gentile alike. The Lord Jesus appeared to St. Peter to declare all food clean (and to make Gentiles welcome in the Church) just as He appeared to St. Paul and called him to preach over the course of three extraordinary missionary journeys to reach Gentiles in Asia, Africa, and Europe.

And it would be St. Paul’s letters that have given the Church such a clear and glorious picture of the Gospel, which stood in stark contrast to “false brethren secretly brought in (who came in by stealth to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage), to whom we did not yield submission even for an hour, that the truth of the gospel might continue in with you.”

Indeed, Sts Peter and Paul shed their blood that we might partake of our Lord’s blood. These two pillars of the faith preached the Word of God, and Satan sought to take away their liberty for preaching the liberty we have in Christ, having been freed from the terror of the law, freed to look to Christ and not our own merits, freed to do good works out of love and not out of thoughts of earning God’s favor. These two martyrs and apostles, though so different in personality were united in purpose: the proclamation and the propagation of the Good News of our risen Lord Jesus Christ to the very ends of the earth, whether in the synagogues of the Jews, in the temples of the Greeks and Romans, or in the marketplaces of the farthest-flung ends of the world, a world atoned for by the death of Jesus, a world into which the Church has been sent to break the bonds of sin, of death, and of Satan’s stranglehold on mankind.

The Lord continues to work through a diversity of men today, men who preach the good news both to Jews and Gentiles, preachers who, whether safe and comfortable, or risking life and limb, continue to bring the Gospel to those whom the Lord has revealed himself, people who repeat Peter’s Good Confession. The Lord continues to work through a diversity lay people as well, men and women of every tribe and tongue, of every profession and vocation, as they live their lives centered in the Gospel. Whether rich or poor, whether blue collar or white collar, some carrying baggage from the past, others living out the faith under adverse and life-threatening conditions, forgiven sinners all.

May all Christians look to Sts. Peter and Paul as not only examples of the faith whom we emulate, but also as living stones to whom we cling, held together by the mortar of Christ’s blood, built on the foundation of the Good Confession, with Christ Himself as our cornerstone.

For just as Peter confessed, so do we: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Just as St. Paul preached, so do we live in the newness of life won for us by Christ’s death and resurrection, granted to us through holy baptism, and preached anew to us every time that Word of God is proclaimed. And if our lives should ever be recalled from us by cross or by sword, let them be offered humbly back to Him who gave us life, gives us life, and will give us life forever and ever. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Thursday's Child said...

Amen! I read it aloud to my son it was so good! :)

Father Hollywood said...

Thank you. You are too kind. I'm sure I also caught some typos from the pulpit - I hope they didn't trip you up too much. I'm always amazed at how many errors slip by no matter how many times you read it.

Thursday's Child said...

I don't think I noticed any. But then again we were interrupted periodically by a couple of 4 year-olds who weren't interested in the least. LOL