One of the valuable things about being part of the Anglican Church is that in our Sunday worship we are not subject too much to the whims of individual vicars. I do get to choose the hymns most weeks but they are chosen to fit with the readings which are set readings for the whole of the Anglican Church. An Anglican church in Belize, Nigeria or Luton will have the same readings that we do. And we also all share punctuations through the year when we remember different men and women who have been important in the unfolding story of God and the Church. Today is one such semi colon if you like, as we remember and celebrate the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, two great figures in the Christian Church.
Two quite different men:
a fisherman, a tradesman, not highly educated, indeed believed to be illiterate- scholarly wisdom has it that when Peter wanted to write his letters to the churches, the ones we label as 1 and 2 Peter, towards the end of the New Testament, he dictated them to another apostle – Mark who wrote them for him.
We often see Peter being slightly stupid but wholehearted: or perhaps wholehearted but slightly stupid:
- he is the one who says to Jesus ‘Oh yes, I’ll come out and walk on the water with you.’ And then in the next moment sinks.
- He is the one who says ‘You can’t wash my feet.’ And then in the next breath, ‘Oh OK I’ll have a bath’
- He is the one who says ‘Even if the others turn their back on you I will be faithful’ and then in the next moment, ‘Not me, I don’t know even Jesus.’
Peter is a huge encouragement to those of us who are often slightly stupid but wholehearted.
Whereas Paul in contrast is a highly educated man.
A Pharisee, a rabbi, someone who crossed all the t’s and dotted all the i’s.
Paul is also wholehearted and passionate but in a very different way to Peter.
Paul is focussed, once he has the bit between his teeth, he is almost unstoppable.
Before he encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul is determined to stamp out the troublesome sect of Jesus’ followers. He is there as those first Christians are stoned to death. He is convinced that he is in the right and these people must be eliminated.
God has to zap Paul on the road to Damascus (read more in Acts), literally to get him to stop and listen; Paul is that kind of person.
These two very different people were hugely important to the growth of the Christian church, in its infancy. Peter spread the news about Jesus to the Jews and Paul proclaimed what God had done in Jesus to all the other peoples, the Gentiles. They were very different people and they had very different roles but they were both very effective in spreading the good news about Jesus…. Because of who they were and what they said many people put their trust in God.
We might think that that was their calling and not ours but we read much in the Bible that encourages us to see that we are all called to tell people about Jesus.
Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Who do you say I am?’ and he expected them to respond. Similarly we are all called to respond to Jesus’ words ‘Who do you say I am?’
This is not just in response to God but as a message to others. Who do we say that Jesus is – by our actions and our values, by how we spend our money and our time, by the way we treat people, by who and what we pray for and by what we say? Do we communicate that Jesus is important to us? Do you speak to anyone of any difference that Jesus makes to your life? Does Jesus make a difference? Do you believe that Jesus is alive and active in you and in the world? Do you communicate that Jesus is of any relevance to the world?
I was leading a Bible study group at St Marys’ the other day and the group of people said that this was the thing they struggled with more than anything as Christians, they felt completely inadequate to pass on their faith.
If you too struggle to respond to Jesus’ words, to communicate your faith to other people then please don’t give up. Don’t think that you can’t and equally don’t think that it’s not your job. We are the church. If it’s not our job then whose is it? I believe that God wants to use each of us just as powerfully as Peter and Paul so what can we do?
PRAY! – it makes a big difference. By praying we can tune into God. We can get on the same wavelength. I know it might sound a bit unlikely if you have never experienced it, but it’s true, prayer really does open our ears and our eyes and enables us to see things differently. And if God wants to spread the good news of his love it makes sense that he will alert us to ways we might do this.
DON’t give up praying! We often only see the evidence of God answering our prayers with the benefit of hindsight or after a considerable period of time. I’m sure many of you have stories you could tell to illustrate this. One of my stories is about my dad. I prayed for my dad for a long time. As I was growing up he was quite an evangelical atheist. He hated me becoming a Christian. Praying for him to see God differently seemed an impossible thing. I did it, but to be honest without much faith. Only years later did I learn that at the time I was praying dad appointed a new chap at work who was a Methodist lay preacher. Dad really liked this man and could see something different about him. I’m not sure that anything I have ever said will have moved my dad towards God but I am sure that those prayers were much more significant than I felt at the time.
LEARN FROM OTHERS- I hope that we can learn from one another here at St Benedict’s. Part of being in a family is being able to support and encourage one another and hopefully see and experience good practice that then becomes part of our own lives.
Together we can rejoice in good things – both big and small things- Richard being offered funding for his treatment, a fruitful Summer Fayre, Sally being able to not wear a wig for the first time since her cancer treatment, baby James thriving, the disabled toilet being completed at last…..
And together we can communicate God’s love to the world. Amazingly considering that we are ordinary flawed human beings I think this already happens. A friend of mine visited the fayre yesterday, someone who doesn’t profess a faith in God, but said, ‘when I visit those fairs I always feel that everything will be alright….’ I think that is pure God.
We are different people with different gifts and callings- we have our individual lives to lead but we can also work together ….in the same way that Peter and Paul were very different people who had very different lives but they also worked together to make Christ known to their world.
May each of us be inspired today to play our part in making Christ known to our world, may we respond as Peter did with passion, fighting the good fight as Paul says, and communicate in whatever way we can, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Amen.