Homily preached by Br Andrew, at Winmalee on Sunday 29th June:
Sts. Peter and Paul Apostles and Martyrs, Third Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel John 21:15-22
Men of Faith,
Abraham, Peter and Paul
Our forefathers and mothers in the faith bear witness to the grace of a Faith filled life, faith trusts and goes where God leads, unquestioningly despite the idiocy and insanity of the request:- because 11 Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIVR)
In today’s readings we have three men separated by some 3,000 + years who in exercising phenomenal faith made it possible for the world to be blessed through salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
You noticed that I said faith is trusting despite the idiocy and insanity of the request. It surely must have appeared insane to Abraham to be told by God to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering when he was to be the only ancestor of the Congregation of Judaism; nevertheless he took his son to the foothills of Mount Moriah, piled the wood on the altar and laid his much beloved son upon it. In his faith Abraham reasoned that God could raise Isaac from the dead and with the sacrifice of the substituted Ram, so he did. Unspoken echoes of that perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
At the other end of the line there are Sts. Peter and Paul who are considered to be the Fathers of the Church, men of great faith, truly human, both sacrificed for their Faith in Christ.
Peter was born in Bethsaida in Galilee into a family of fishermen, about the same age as Jesus, called by Jesus to the cryptic vocation of fishing for men, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law at Capernaum and later Ordained him in the rock of the church dialogue in Matt.16:18, he was one of the witnesses to the Transfiguration, denied Christ three times, was forgiven three times, his most famous sermon given at Pentecost, Peter was sacrificed for Christ in the year 67 AD in Rome during the reign of Nero, he was crucified upside down considering himself not worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus.
As we read in our Gospel today Jesus tells Peter cryptically of the manner of his death saying “when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you, and carry you where you don’t want to go.”[Matt 10:42]
Prior to our Gospel Peter has denied knowing Christ three times and after the third time “when the Lord turned, and looked at him. He remembered his Lord’s word, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice you will deny me three times.” 62 Peter went out, and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:61, 62).
That was the turning point in his life; much earlier Peter had asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus had replied, “you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." (John 13:36). Peter had not been in a fit state to follow Christ, because he had not reached the bottom of his barrel. He did not know his own depths, and therefore could not follow Christ. But when he went out and wept bitterly, then came the great change. Christ had already said to him: "When you are converted, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:32).
Here is the point Where Peter was converted from self to Christ – finally he knew himself for what he was, one whose Ego made grandiose claims his unsupported spirit could not achieve. He yet belonged to himself.
Now Christ reigned supreme and he no longer relied upon himself to achieve anything save in Christ alone.
Throughout his ministry Peter stressed the importance of dying to self and living for Christ, he had learned that many of us share the bottom of his barrel and for the same reasons, inordinate love of self.
He always referred to himself as Elder or servant and kept his promise to tend the Lambs and to feed and tend the sheep; he fed them with the Word of God and urged them to seek it out. In the last paragraph of his second Epistle he mentions the letters Paul had written to them saying 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him;[2 Peter 3:15]
St Paul was a Roman Turk by nationality and a Hellenistic Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, anywhere between 6BC and 10CE, and first known to us as Saul. He referred to himself as “a Pharisee, and the son of Pharisees” [Acts 23:6], he was brought up in Jerusalem and studied under Gamaliel, [Acts 22:3] – we first come across him at the stoning of Stephen the proto-martyr [Acts 8:1].
Saul was a zealot for Judaism and the Torah and confesses to the Galatians“13 you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how forcefully I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was progressing in Judaism ahead of many of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my forefathers. [Gal. 1:13-14 paraphrased] (NIV)
Paul's conversion can be dated to 31–36 by his reference to it in his letter to the Galatians. Luke provides three versions of this in the Acts of the Apostles: Acts 9:1-31, 22:1-22, and 26:9-24.
This took place on the road to Damascus, while on his way to arrest more followers of the way and take them captive to Jerusalem. He reported having experienced a vision of the resurrected Jesus which occurred as he neared Damascus when, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”5“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6“Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”[Acts 9:4-6 paraphrased] In the kJV the end of verse 5 reads “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”
Paul spent three days with Ananias during which he spent time in mystical union with Christ himself. As he later told the Galatians “15[…] God, set me apart from my mother’s womb has called me by his grace, (and) was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, [Galatians 1:15,16 paraphrased]
According to the wording in the kJV it rather seems that Paul’s zeal may partially have stemmed from self-doubt, and notice- to persecute a Christian is to persecute Christ, for whatever you do to the least of these, my little ones you do unto me [matt.25:40]
When St. Paul became a little one he preferred to be known as the Apostle to the Gentiles and preached to them that Faith is a free gift given by the Grace of God, salvation came through Faith in Christ and his death and resurrection which dispensed with the Torah – (which Christ had fulfilled through his life death and resurrection Matt.5:17) Thinking, perhaps of the manner of his coming to Christ he taught that Faith had primacy over works.
Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero around the mid-60s at Tre Fontane Abbey (English: Three Fountains Abbey) In 2009 pope Benedict XVI announced excavation results of the probing of a sarcophagus at the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls – the remains were carbon dated to the mid first to second century and declared to be those of St Paul.
When we through the Grace of God accept the free gift of Faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the remission of our sins we then can die to ourselves and live in Christ. Until we do this we are like Peter full of ourselves and a danger to ourselves in spiritual matters. Like Paul we may knowingly or unknowingly feel the jabs and the pricks of the calling of the risen Christ until the pain brings us to our knees and we are emptied of ourselves and free to believe in him who first loved us.
And never forget that Faith in Christ is illogical and if we expect it to be we are in the wrong religion.