Thursday, April 25, 2013

Peter and Paul: The Wake-Up Calls

This sermon is based on the commissioning/call stories of Peter and Paul, found in the Revised Common Lectionary for April 14.

So today we get to talk about Peter and Paul. These two essentially start the very earliest Christian church—they’re the founders, so to speak. Peter was head of the apostles and worked within the Jewish community and Jerusalem, while Paul traveled to the Gentiles in the rest of the world, and people reading these stories would already know that. They’d know of Peter, and would have maybe even read one of Paul’s original letters. Coming across these stories, their reaction would be more like ours would be to the pope. We maybe know who he is now, but not really who he was before that. 

“Oh yeah, Paul, I know him, how’d he get his start? Where did he come from?”
Here we go. Here are their call stories—when they were called and commissioned by Jesus to minister to the world. Their stories are actually quite similar, and they hold pretty big implications for us as well.
Both Peter and Paul are great Christian evangelists—they help start the Christian church and care for Jesus’ first followers. But both of them start by failing. Peter denies that he knows Jesus—not once or twice, but three times—while Jesus is hanging on the cross. Paul, well, Paul is actually persecuting those who dared to believe in Jesus.
Both Peter and Paul fail. They exhibit their humanness—their sinful side. How often do we fail, do we sin? More often than we can think of, I’d guess. We bring that with us each week—our fallenness, our humanness. We confess and pray that in the Lord’s prayer each week—forgive us our sin—or we say those words, anyway. Do we hear the words we ourselves say, or is it just a line we recite? Are we aware of our sinfulness?
We also are forgiven. Do we hear those words and take them in when we realize the reality of our sinful nature?  Forgive us our sins. In the name of Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven. What does it take for us to understand the impact of these words?
Peter and Paul have a major wake up call. They encounter the risen Christ, and see their sinfulness. They repent. They are forgiven. This changes their lives forever. For Paul, it’s conversion—he completely rejects the person that he was, and becomes the opposite: a champion of the early church. For Peter, it’s permission to come back from a mistake and try again.
How do we react to forgiveness? To realizing how much we have failed—really failed—and there’s nothing we can do to fix it, then hearing that we are given permission to change, to move on, to try again? We are given the chance to keep living without the burden of our pasts because Jesus knows them, has heard our confessions, and has forgiven us.
Peter and Paul help start the Christian church. We get to continue it. This community of followers that Jesus inspired. What does it look like? Jesus tells Peter to “feed his sheep,” he chooses Paul to spread the good news of the gospel to the world. This is an active, moving, vibrant community that takes chances because of their faith and the message they are entrusted with.
Peter and Paul are great role models—but where do we see ourselves in this story?
Where are the Peters and Pauls today?
The church is not a country club, where people pay dues and expect certain status or favor based on their payment—to enjoy certain select company (often people like them) and have it for their personal use and/or agenda. We have actual country clubs for that.
Church is different. Whether there’s two hundred dollars in the plate or twenty, whether you’ve been through a life-altering experience, or you’ve just been baptized, or have just walked in the door for the first time, you belong here. Whether you have a past or are looking to the mysteries of the future. You are called to give what you can and are welcomed as you are.
Because Jesus died for all, not just me or you, but all of us.
The church is a community. It’s a place where we can come to support one another, share with one another, and work together to continue ministering to one another and the world. Because this is still the church, and there is still much to be done. We are called to give of ourselves, to take chances, to serve one another in the world God made.
The Peters and Pauls of today are all around us—they are us.
Whenever we reach out and extend ourselves to someone who needs some grace and good news, that's church. When we give of ourselves—volunteering our time, sharing our interests and talents, donating our money and resources--that's church. When we hear those words of forgiveness from God and take them to heart and when we respond to those words by going out into this messy and colorful world and sharing the love and grace we’ve been given, that's church.
We give what we can—if it’s time, or talents, or resources. Because we’ve been forgiven, been saved, by Jesus, we are free to live like it. To participate in the life of the living. To share that life with the world around us.

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