Saints Peter and Paul

Saints Peter and Paul

[This sermon was preached at St. Paul’s Church, Bantam, Connecticut, on June 27, 2010, by the Vicar, Christopher L. Webber.  Because the church is dedicated to Saint Paul, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul was transferred from June 29 to the nearest Sunday.]

Our ancestors, many of them,  came here to escape too much uniformity and we certainly have escaped.  I’ve been thinking about this because  we celebrate today Sts. Peter and Paul and I have been wondering what Jesus had in mind in selecting that unlikely pair  to carry on his mission. Can you imagine two people more different?  Peter, we all know, was a fisherman and Paul was a scholar. Peter was impulsive and headstrong  Paul may have been converted suddenly but I don’t see him as impulsive. After his conversion  he took three whole years to work out what his new faith meant.

We could I suppose, exaggerate the differences between them.  Peter may not have been a scholar but he would certainly have studied the Scriptures.  Paul may not have been a fisherman but he also worked with his hands in his trade as a tent maker. But it is true that the only time we hear of Peter and Paul together they had a fierce argument that had to be resolved by someone else.

It’s the differences that are striking and perhaps what we need to notice is that the Christian church begins its history with a ministry composed of radically different people. Not just Peter and Paul:  Matthew was a tax collector working for the Romans but the other Judas was a zealot rebelling against Roman rule. When Jesus began calling people  for the ministry of his church he didn’t confine himself  to a single personality type or one political position. That’s our lesson for today.

Peter was headstrong.  Well, you want leaders who don’t sit around  weighing the possibilities of acting one way or another until it’s too late to act at all. That’s no way to get things done. On the other hand, you don’t want leaders who never stop to think. That’s no way to get things done properly.  Paul was a scholar.  He knew the Scriptures, and you certainly need that kind of wisdom. But scholars may not know how to inspire;  they may not know how  to reconcile different viewpoints; they may take so long studying their texts  that they never get anything done.

So if I were starting a church,  I’d be worried about choosing Peter and I’d be equally worried about choosing Paul and I might not get anything done either.  Jesus chose them both, and if I had guessed how it would go, I might have guessed that Paul would stay in Jerusalem writing books about Christianity and Peter would have been the one taking ships from one place to another impulsively starting new churches here and there, and I would have been wrong. Jesus chose them both.  He founded the church on diversity.

Does the Episcopal Church in Connecticut have diversity of leadership?  Well, we have three bishops, not two –  two men and a woman – but I don’t think they are all that different in character and viewpoint and leadership.  Or look at the history of St. Paul’s Bantam.  I’ve never met most of the clergy who served here  – in fact I’ve only met one – but I don’t think he and I are that different either. When you were looking last year, did you go around thinking, “We’ve had Paul; we need to find Peter?” Actually, parishes often do exactly that. If they’ve had an eloquent preacher who had no administrative skills, they often search next for a gifted administrator and then find out he can’t preach,  and so they look next for a preacher and get someone with no pastoral instincts. There aren’t many who can do it all.  Maybe each church needs twelve pastors.

Jesus, on the record,  seems to have been more adventurous: he chose not Peter or Paul but both.

Now I want to apply all this  not so much to ordained ministry as to your ministry.  The catechism in the Prayer Book  says the ministry of this church is composed of  “lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons.”  It lists four orders of ministry, and it puts lay people first. Ministry begins with you:  not me, and not the Bishop. It begins with you. Ministry, after all, has to do with ministering,  in other words with serving; not with preaching or with praying  but with serving. Ministry has to do  with seeing the needs of the world and responding. Ordained ministry has to do with seeing the needs of the church and responding. But if the needs of the world are not met the needs of the church are irrelevant.

The church is here to serve the world, to make a difference in the world around us and the tragedy of the church in this country is that so often we get preoccupied with our own needs and never get around to the world. We get preoccupied with our own needs  because we are so divided and we get concerned about self-preservation  and making converts instead of making ministers. Even when we do get around to involving lay people  it often has to do with our own inner life – lay readers and altar guild and vestry and so on –  and we get so busy with these inside jobs that it doesn’t leave us much time for the needs of others. Jesus always had time for others.

Peter and Paul, so far as I can see, spent a lot of time also on organization but they did know how to delegate. Peter and the other apostles  quickly replaced Judas and, when the church began to grow,  they quickly selected assistants.  “We’re called to preach,” they said;  “Let’s get some deacons to keep the records.” Paul would spend months in one place,  but he trained new leadership and moved on.

Paul spends a great deal of time in his letters  in talking about the variety of ministries that God has provided in the church.  There are apostles and prophets and teachers and  miracle workers, he tells us, and healers and evangelists and pastors and teachers, and all these various ministries should be working together in unity as the members of one body.
I said that the Prayer Book defines the ministers of the Church as “lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons”  listing lay persons first. Then it defines the ministry of the laity  as “representing Christ, bearing witness to him where ever you may be,  and according to the gifts given you carrying on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world.”

“In the world.”
“Reconciliation in the world.”
That’s so big a job it’s impossible to get a handle on it  except by taking it piece by piece, day by day, where we are  at home or at work. Reconciliation:  being healers, uniters, people who see a way to bring others together, people who know how to listen  and find a way to heal.

I said that our ancestors, many of them, came here to escape too much uniformity.  This is a cantankerous country as a result.  It always has been; maybe always will be; but we do need to find ways to work together and if the church can’t help us find those ways what are we here for? Of course we have different opinions;  we were brought up to think for ourselves, and that’s fine but we also need to listen and look for ways to work together.

I’ve always liked the description in the Bible of that conference in Jerusalem where Peter and Paul confronted each other on the whole issue of the Jewish law: did it still matter or not? They had what the Bible calls “much debate,” but they worked it out  and said in effect, “We need to work with God,  and if God wants Gentiles in the church, it’s up to us to work with God, not just keep on doing it the old way however much we might prefer to.”  If God wants black and white in the church, if God wants Hispanics, if God wants gay and straight,  rich and poor, old timers and new comers –  well, its God’s church not ours,  and we are called to be uniters, not dividers. We are called, to use fancy language,  to a “ministry of reconciliation.” If Peter and Paul could work it out,  so can we. If God could use both of them in the church,  God can probably also use us.

I guess it’s not surprising  that Peter and Paul each have their own separate days as well as day they share.  But today we celebrate what they had in common that provides the example and witness we need in this church and this country at this time.

There are diversities of gifts,  but the same spirit; differences of outlook, but one church. You and I, all of us together, have our various ministries to contribute to the healing of God’s broken world.

1 Comment

Gary WiseJune 25th, 2013 at 10:24 am

My thanks to God for using you to give this to us.

Thank you for being one of His “hired” hands.

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