theunfamiliarname

SS Peter and Paul

In Uncategorized on June 28, 2014 at 6:23 pm

There are so many of them,

it would be churlish not to begin with a

St Peter at the Pearly Gates joke:

A man dies and is greeted by St Peter at the gates of Heaven.

“Welcome,” he says. “Rather like earthly immigration,

we operate on a points system. 100 points and you’re in.

What can you tell me about your life and conduct?”

“Well,” says the man, “I was married for 50 years,

and never once even thought about being unfaithful.”

“Excellent,” says St Peter, checking his notes. “3 points.”

“Oh. I was a faithful churchgoer for all my life.”

“Good. 2 points.” said Peter.

“Gosh. I tithed 10% of all my income?”

“I can probably give you a point for that,” Peter replies.

“A point? … I volunteered at the Foodbank,

and started a soup-kitchen, an afterschool programme,

oh yes, and an international charity?”

“Well done,” says Peter, “2 more points.

You’re well on your way.”

“But…,” says the man, “I always tried to be faithful in prayer.”

“Fantastic. 3 points.” says the Saint.

“I’ve got no chance here!” says the man.

“How but by the blinking grace of God Almighty

does anyone ever get in here?!”

“Bingo!” says St Peter, “In you go.”

 

So we have that image of St Peter at the gates of Heaven,

because of this morning’s gospel.

Simon Peter’s declaration of faith

– his recognition of the Messiah –

a wordplay and metaphor around this being the “rock”,

and the gifting of the keys of the Kingdom

to Peter, Cephas in Aramaic.

Peter was without doubt the leader among the Apostles.

Flawed, hot-headed, eager, quick to lay claim to faith,

but able to breathe denial of even knowing Jesus when scared.

Peter is us. He’s the absolute model and example

of who Jesus calls, and who Jesus changes.

After he is restored on the lakeside after Jesus is risen,

he’s given responsibility to care for and to feed the flock, the Church.

He grows into that role, leading the Apostles.

And Jesus also tells him that when he is old

“you will stretch out your hands,

and someone else will fasten a belt around you

and take you where you do not wish to go.”

Because Peter will be a witness for Jesus,

literally, a “martyr” under the Roman Emperor Nero.

Today we also commemorate Paul, or in Hebrew, Saul.

As we first meet him, certainly: flawed, hate-filled, calculated, zealous,

and to be blindsided by an encounter with Jesus

on the Damascus road.

The likely winner of “most bigoted zealot”

around AD 35

becomes the leader in the Early Church who

recognises what Peter’s declaration means.

The Messiah, the whole arc of Scripture and history

has been pointing to the proclamation

of good news to the Gentiles.

The man who once could not tolerate that followers of Jesus

existed among his own people,

becomes the messenger, ambassador, Apostle,

who will take Christ’s gospel

to more nations and peoples than anyone else.

He will travel on three extraordinary journeys,

by foot and by boat, at up to 4500km each.

He will contend with initial mistrust by the church,

beatings, shipwrecks, abuse, petty power struggles,

the privations of his travels, imprisonment

and ultimately, like Peter,

martyrdom – and probably at around the same time.

Both Peter and Paul

become something they had not imagined themselves being.

Both open their understanding of Jesus’ identity

and mission to include Gentiles,

those of us once outside the Covenant.

They clash, and while they clearly respect one another,

they disagree at times. And they disagree

about the “them “ and “us” of Jews and Gentiles.

Peter struggled within himself, about how to be a Jewish Christian,

and yet to share with Gentiles.

Paul was committed to the equality of Gentile to Jewish Christians,

but struggled with the communities he had founded or visited

throughout the Mediterranean world

that he tried to keep in communion,

in unity of belief, and in compassionate interrelationship,

especially with the Church at Jerusalem.

I can’t help but feel that’s God’s sense of humour at work,

after our recent conversation within the Parish

that we have Peter and Paul today.

We have a “them” and “us”.

Heaven knows the whole Church is still caught up in that,

as you’ll know if you’ve read a Papal Encyclical lately.

“Them” and “us” looms large.

But we are called, like Saul and Simon, Paul and Peter,

to a place beyond where we are now.

Looking to the future, to the one Body of Christ

that is beyond the “them” and “us”,

towards the unity Christ prays we’ll know.

Not just as a Parish, but as the whole people of God.

We have, can and will hold meetings.

But it is only by the grace of God and by a sharing

in the vision and the purpose God alone will give us,

that we will grasp the transformation of identity

and the good news that Jesus calls us to embody.

When we remember Saints,

we do not do so as some sort of insect-in-amber interesting.

Saints are those who are alive to God,

and in a very real sense alive to us.

And we are invited to think about our timekeeping.

Those who went before us,

who built this magnificent edifice as an act of faith

and really, as an expression of intent,

would not, I’m sure want us to be gazing ever backwards.

Martyred Archbishop of El Salvador Oscar Romero had a pithy phrase.

He said, “we are prophets of a future not our own”.

Maybe we spend far too much time – and I ask myself this too –

facing in the wrong direction. Dealing with the problems

and the work of preservation with which our past encumbers us.

We have a faith, a faith we share with Peter and Paul to pass on.

Our safe arrival at the Pearly Gates is not the end of the story,

and by God’s grace there are those who are not part of the Covenant

who are yet to be welcomed in.

Who will tell them about the good news, if not us?

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