Monday, June 23, 2008

The Feast of St Peter

These are some the readings that can be taken for 29th June, St Peter's Day, Ezekiel 34:11-16;Psalm 87; 2 Timothy 4:1-8;John 21:15-19 & also Acts 12:6-11 is particularly suitable

June 29th is a particularly special day for the Diocese of Adelaide
as the Adelaide Metropolitan Cathedral Church is dedicated to St Peter.
Our first Bishop, Augustus Short, no doubt was keen to keep before the pioneering church
one saint, Peter, who struggled vigorously
to faithfully follow Jesus.
The Prayer for today talks aboth about Peter and Paul and says:
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom:
Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit,
may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord;
who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

In the way of heroics the phrase
"glorified you by their martyrdom"
just trips off the tongue, doesn't it?
Indeed, the early church seemed to hold martyrdom
in particularly high regard.
It is probably not too much to say
that many early Christians
were some what like some present day Moslems
who regard dying for their faith
as the ultimate act of faithfulness.
(Of course there is a lot of difference
between dying for your faith
and deliberately getting yourself killed
or blowing yourself up...but that's another story)

BUT 'martyrdom' does not mean 'dying'
even though it may have that popular overtone.
To be a martyr is to be a witness.
The early Christians witnessed in many ways
and the most dramatic was dying for the faith.
But it was not the only way.

The readings today perhaps lead us beyond
the death-martyrdom nexus.
Ezekiel is keen to promote the idea that
there is challenge involved in being faithful
it is not just about fattening the sheep!
Or creating an easy life.
Paul, writing to Timothy, also reminds us
that one key feature of his ministry
has been that he has not always got on well with people!
But he has tried to do his best.
At an ordination a couple of weeks ago the preacher reminded the people gathered
that clergy, and indeed all Christians, are not likely to be perfect!
But we are to try! God wants us to do our best

Both Peter and Paul intrigue us
as we look at them.
They like all of us
are deeply flawed people.
They have strengths and weaknesses.
Sometimes in wanting to canonise
major Christian figures
we overlook their flaws
So we do not see Paul's
arrogance, authoritarianism
often a failure to admit he was wrong.
It is good in a way to balance him with Peter
because we characterise Peter
as the one who denied Christ.
But to characterise him only as a betrayer
would be wrong,
just as to characterise Paul as perfect
would be wrong.
What we see in both these people
is someone who struggles with their humanity
as well as their capacity to be a saint.

This is, I think, what martyrdom-witness is about.
Not heroics, but how we implement the Christian faith
in our day to day struggle with what it means to follow Jesus

So Paul has to confront his seemingly brittle personality, which doesn't suffer fools gladly,
Peter has to confront his desire to be liked
and his inability to respond well under pressure.

This sounds more like you and me
than St Sebastian who gazes lovingly
as he is pelted with a thousand arrows.

How do we live as followers of Christ
when things aren't going well
with other people?
When we are tired, or depressed
how do we think Christ wants us to behave?
When like Paul,
---we get angry with those
who are slow to understand
---or who go back on their word?
---or We are arrogant
When like Peter
we discover things about ourselves
that we don't really like
---that we are not necessarily people of principle but that we do what is easiest
---that we don't always think things through properly, but act impulsively

Their witness comes about not because they are put to death (both are)
but by their struggle
with what it means
not to live the fairy tale of Christ
but to witness to the reality.
Our weakness
our failure
our humanity.

For Paul, that it is not when he is most erudite or clever
that Christ is most evident
but when he is weakest.
That in human relationships he needs to be reconciled
to all those from whom he has alienated himself.
and for Peter, that failure is par for the course
and that Christ himself uses our weakness and vacillation
to establish a powerful life in the Spirit.
You are a pebble, he jokes with Peter, I will make you a rock.
You are a betrayer, but I want you to feed my sheep.

There is great hope
in true Christian witness.
the call of Peter and Paul
for you and me is the call to be a martyr
in our lives,
bearing witness
not to an adventure story
but to a reality of day to day struggle.

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