Sermon – Saints Peter and Paul: June 29, 2008

June 29, 2008 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment


omeone once said,

“A man without God is like a teenager with a powerful car.”

I like the simile.

Sometimes a teenager, full of his own possibility,

can see only that possibility,

sees the power of the car as an extension of his own identity.

The power of the car is used to attract attention

and increase the freedom of the owner.

No respect is given to the power of the car to injure, to wound, to kill.


When I consider Peter and Paul

I see two men who could have easily been

people who lived lives full of their own possibilities.

With their strong personalities,

their incredible energy,

their magnetism,

they could have easily gone through life like teenagers with powerful cars,

heedless of the destruction and fear they would have left in their wake.

They could have become tyrants,

they could have become cult leaders,

and of course in some people’s minds, they were.

What made them different,

what made them not teenagers with powerful cars?

What made them people who, like Paul in 1st Corinthians,

called the weak people of the Church “God’s temple?”


If there ever was a symbol of religious power

it was the Jerusalem Temple.

If God lived in heaven,

The Temple was God’s home on earth,

You could go to the Temple to communicate with God.

You had to go to the Temple to sacrifice to God.

And what does Paul say?

To the weak, sinning, foolish, wounded people of the 1st Christian Church in Corinth?

He says,

“You are God’s temple – God’s Spirit lives in you.”

In other words,

“You are the place where God lives on earth.”

Not an impressive building,

constructed upon the backs of slave laborers,

erected by Herod the Great to cement his kingship over Judea,

but a bunch of ordinaries like you and like me,

the place where God decides to camp on earth.


In order to say such a thing,

in order even to conceive of such a thing,

Paul has to have such a respect for others,

such an insight into  God and others,

as to seemingly defy understanding.

It’s still a problem today, isn’t it –

no matter how many times we sing “We are the church together,”

no matter how many times some well-meaning preacher mentions it,

we still are captive to this idea

that the church is the building and not the people

and we think that God lives here somewhere in this space

and not in us.


And yet Paul got it.

Paul understood that God meant to live on earth in people,

in the Person of his Son, Jesus and in all who were built upon him.

Peter says very much the same thing in his first letter,

where he writes,

4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals

yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and

5like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house,

to be a holy priesthood,

to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.


Whenever I think of St. Peter,

I think of watching a mini-series called “A.D.” about the lives of the apostles

back in the days when there were both mini-series

and actual biblical dramas on television.

I didn’t watch the whole thing,

but I remember the moment when Peter was told he was to be crucified,

and he said, “I don’t deserve to die in the same way that He did.”

And so they crucified him head down,

honoring his last wish.

Ever since, one of the symbols of Peter has been the cross turned upside-down.

Legend?  Perhaps.

But it seems to cohere well with Peter’s giving pre-eminence to Jesus.

For it was Jesus who himself set Peter on the way to the cross,

it was Peter who would have done everything and did everything to avoid the cross

had it not been for Jesus embracing it with him and for him.



the Great Denier,

and Paul,

the Great Persecutor.

How would it be if we called today

the Festival of the Great Denier and the Great Persecutor?


who denied the cross and Jesus himself in the courtyard of Pilate,

out of fear for his life,


who stood by as Stephen was stoned to death,

who with the zeal of a J. Edgar Hoover

found followers of  Jesus and had them carried them off to prison

where they would face charges of blasphemy and heresy,

But the Great Denier and the Great Persecutor

both were brought to their knees by Christ’s redemptive love.

Their faith in this merciful God brought them likewise up from their knees

and got them walking and talking of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.

Their own lives led to their deaths and so too, to their resurrections.


Pastor, professor and teacher Harry Wendt

is fond of saying

that the Bible is a book with only one hero.

Who was it?

Not Adam – listening to your wife is usually a good thing, but not in this case.

Not Noah – he was a drunkard.

Not Abraham – he was an idol-worshiper before God met him.

Not Jacob – he stole his inheritance from his brother.

Not Moses – he said, “Send someone else.”

Not King David – he was a murderer and an adulterer.

Not King Solomon – he worshiped foreign gods.

Not Jonah – he fled to Tarshish and later sulked under a bush.

Not Peter – he denied –

not Paul – he persecuted –

not Thomas – he doubted –

not James and John – they wanted glory for themselves.

The only hero in the Bible is God.

God always seeking, always searching,

always calling to people to turn away from sin

and towards the people that they can be –

temples of his Spirit,

members of his Son’s body,

children of the heavenly Father.

These two, Peter and Paul, were saved by God from themselves to be for others.

Saved from is to be saved for.

That is why we remember them in Christ this day,

and pray that we might become like them,

saved by God from ourselves to be for others,

temples of the Holy Spirit given to us in baptism,

messengers of the Good News to a world still in need of it.




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Church Photo Site Now Online! Sermon 7/6/2008: On America, Freedom, and Paul

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