Thursday, July 7, 2011

Only little fingers until God brings us together as a fist...

Sermon preached for Sts. Peter and Paul, on June 29, 2011.

I recall a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy, the ever present bully, walks into the room demanding that Linus change TV channels and threatening him with bodily harm if he didn’t. “What makes you think you can walk in here and take over the TV?” asks Linus.
“These five fingers,” says Lucy. “On their own, they’re nothing but when I curl them together like this into a single unit, they form a a mighty weapon.” “Which channel do you want?” asks Linus. Turning away, he looks at his fingers and says, “Why can’t you guys do something like that?”

Unity is strength – an interesting thought as we come together to give thanks to God for the two great but very different apostles, Peter and Paul. In their lifetime Peter and Paul were not close.  They came from vastly different backgrounds and had very different personalities.  Peter was unschooled and raw.  His hands stunk of fish and bore the callouses of the working class.  He was brash and impetuous.

Paul was just the opposite.  He had degrees from the most respected rabbi school of Jerusalem – a veritable PHD.  He had the lineage and the intellect to make him a fast mover up the ladder of rabbinical success.  He spoke the careful, complicated, and nuanced language of an academic – though he got out enough to get his hands dirty every once in a while (remember Stephen).

Peter was called directly by Jesus and given “the keys of the kingdom” (Matthew 16:16-18). He is the first among equals of the twelve and it was his voice that usually spoke first.  He is portrayed in icons carrying the keys.

Paul, on the other hand, never heard the voice of Jesus call Him, but met the Lord on the Damascus Road – a conversion no one wanted but Jesus. Once a persecutor of the church, he beheld a vision that resulted in a life change so dramatic even his name was to be different (here a bit like Peter).  He was both street preacher and academic debater all rolled into one. He is portrayed in icons carrying either a sword or a book. Peter and Paul were so different that Peter was surnamed the Apostle of the Jews and Paul the Apostle of the Gentiles. They had a very public disagreement with Peter on whether Jewish Christians could or should eat together with Gentile Christians. (Galatians 2).

What bound them together was not a common background or personality but Jesus Christ.  The Word of the Lord came to each of them in different ways but for the same purpose.  In different venues of the kingdom, they served the same cause, for the same goal.

If Peter and Paul did not have much in common in life, they did share the same death. Both suffered martyrdom, in the same city, Rome, about the same time, 64-67 AD. The early church saw Peter and Paul as the two pillars of the church of Christ. This is depicted in an ancient icon with Peter on the right and Paul on the left, each extending a hand with which they bear up the church. By placing two of them together in one icon, united in lifting up the church, the church reminds us today that what binds us as one, what unites the diverse together, and what is our goal and purpose is the Word of the Cross, for the sake fo the world, for the glory of God.

In the beginning the Church tended to divide into various factions, each faction claiming to follow the leadership of one of the chief apostles or missionaries. It is not so different from the way we divide today within a congregation, within a church body or even within the larger church.  This was not lost on Paul and so when he encountered this in Corinth, he wrote to them in no uncertain terms.  They were not to divide up into followers of Paul, followers of Peter and followers of Apollos. Paul challenges their uniting around equal servants of Christ instead of Christ alone.  When we focus on personality or perspective, we become divided and weak.  When we focus upon Christ and He is alone our goal, we are united in His strength.

Let no one boast about earthlyl eaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23)

I find it personally satisfying that the Paul whom we as Lutherans love so and the Peter who is claimed as first pope were both trumped by the voice of James of Jerusalem when the division over Gentile Christians and what was required of them came to a head at a council in Jerusalem (in Acts).  Just when you think the whole thing is a power struggle between Peter and Paul, James steps up surprises us.  The goal is Christ and Him alone.

Even within the walls of the same church, there are signs of disunity, labels, a party spirit.  It is not unlike the divisions that once revolved around the two towering personalities of Peter on one hand and Paul on another. When the Church combined the feast day into one, the church reminded us that is it all about Christ, He is our unity, He brings together the individual fingers of the hand into a mighty weapon through which God accomplishes His purpose in the world.  Each saint gets his own day in January (though only days apart from each other) and yet today, on June 29, both stand together, as do each of us, as one in Christ.  And in Christ we are forged into the mighty tool through which Christ does His bidding and offers His victory for the sake of the world to all the world.  Amen.

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