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The Feast of St Peter and St Paul

Choral Eucharist

St. George’s Round Church Halifax AD 2009

1 Peter 1:1-9     St. Matthew 22:16f

 

St. Augustine writes (Sermon 295):

Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; And even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles' blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.

 

Who could say enough about these great preachers of our faith?

 

I cannot, though I am heartened knowing that some who heard Paul said (and it is Paul who tells us this) “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” [II Cor 10:10]

 

And I am heartened knowing that while Paul had the very best education in the finest Jewish schools, Peter had no formal training that we are aware of – he was a fisherman, called from the minding the nets, to become among the greatest fishers of men.

 

Both these men were called to be missionaries:  Peter – first to be called by Jesus to be an apostles, who began his mission to the Jews; Paul – last to be called by Jesus to be an apostle, who knew his mission was to the Gentiles

 

Both gifted with boldness and zeal to bring the Gospel to the ends of the world.

 

They have left to us their teaching:  Peter – tradition holds that St. Mark’s Gospel is based upon Peter’s teaching and we have letters from Peter and record of his sermons in Acts; Paul – is the writer of most of the letters of the New Testament and we have his sermons recorded also in Acts

 

Peter and Paul were united in their teaching. 

They both speak of the highest gifts of faith, hope and charity.  These gifts are spoken of together in today’s Epistle by St. Peter and perhaps reminding us of that wonderful passage on faith, hope and charity by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13.  Later in Peter’s first epistle he says, like St. Paul – above all, hold unfailing your love for one another.

 

Their letters share a pattern that begins by reminding us of the new life that we have been born into in Christ, then calling us to humility and, with strong appeals, to holiness of life – leaving behind living according to the flesh and entering into the new life in the Spirit.

 

Peter and Paul came to share a common understanding of the relation of the Law to the Gospel:

 

Paul worked it all out in his mind by a careful reasoning and deep reading of the Old Testament; Peter needed to be knocked over the head – having it spelled out for him by God in signs – the three-fold vision in a dream of clean and unclean animals let down by a curtain, with the command to kill and eat; the seeing with his own eyes the Holy Spirit falling upon the Gentiles and Jews alike who prophesied before him as he preached the Gospel to them.

 

Peter and Paul agreed in the Council of Jerusalem about the universal implications of Christ’s death and resurrection – and yet, there was also temporarily a dispute between them about the implications of the teaching.  Paul is in a fury in one of his letters about Peter’s actions when Peter visited a Gentile Church which suggested he was backing away.  And we can imagine that in that encounter both of them deepened their understanding of the faith that they shared.

           

Peter and Paul have left to us the powerful witness of their lives.  

In the Gospels and in Acts and in the letters the personalities of Peter and Paul shine forth – their boldness to preach the Gospel in dangerous situations again and again – their bearing with sufferings, being beaten and being imprisoned often.  When Peter and Paul speak in similar ways about the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire – we know that both are most trustworthy teachers – they know how their own faith and especially how their love grew through years and years of persecution – it is all worth it they tell us again and again!

 

And yet we also get a clear sense in the writings of their exuberance and joy and gratitude.

Listen to St. Peter in today’s Epistle.  Speaking of believers he says, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.  Or listen to St. Paul when he is led into the heights of contemplation, O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! And elsewhere, Paul’s joy at being persuaded that, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus!

 

Let us recall tonight one incident from each of their lives for which we can give thanks:

 

In the life of St. Peter, that loveable boldness but combined with an oh-so-human failure to see one’s limitations, made plain to the whole world on the night our Lord was betrayed:

 

Peter said unto [Jesus], Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.   And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.  But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise.

How many of us here tonight who were raised in the Church but then spent time outside have not been strengthened more than once, how many Christians through the ages have not been strengthened more than once, when they recall the weakness of Peter who denied his Lord, the love that he had of his Lord that made him weep bitter tears of shame to know that Jesus knew his weakness, and yet, who also did not despair, but repented, trusting in Jesus’ greater mercy and love.   This is the Rock that our Lord chose.  It is upon this kind of faith in Jesus that the Church is founded and built up – and against which the gates of hell cannot prevail.

 

And in the life of St. Paul let us remember his conversion.  Here was a man whose great zeal would cleanse the whole world of any heresy so as to see the Church a spotless Bride – but who began by getting the whole thing upside down.  He discovered on the road to Damascus he was fighting against God.  In deep humility, he submitted himself to our Lord and counted everything – his previous understanding of his faith, his reputation, his position among the leading Pharisees, even his family and his nation – he counted it all as nothing lost in comparison with being found by Christ.  Because of Paul’s example we have a special hope for even the most ardent opponents of the Church.  Because of Paul’s example, we have a special hope that Christ will overcome every opposition we still feel in our own hearts to giving ourselves wholly to Jesus.

 

Tradition holds that, under the persecutions of Nero, St. Peter and St. Paul were both martyred:

      Peter, not being a Roman citizen, was to be crucified – he is said to have asked the authorities, who complied, that he be crucified upside down – claiming he was not worthy to die in the manner of his Lord.

      Paul, being a Roman citizen, was executed by having his head cut off with the sword.

 

They did not race to their deaths, they avoided it many times, but neither did they shrink from it when they discerned that it was the kind of witness they were being called to next.

 

There is also a very ancient tradition dating back to apostolic times which claims that St. Peter and St. Paul met one another near the end of their lives just outside of Rome – the two are supposed to have embraced and blessed each other. [from a sermon by Pope Benedict XVI] 

 

Two men, from such different backgrounds made brothers in Christ and apostles to the whole world.  It is hard for us to imagine the love that they had and now have for one another, the depth of their friendship brought about through their shared faith in Jesus Christ. 

 

Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.

Amen.

 

 

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