SCRIPTURES – Acts 15:1-12; Galatians 2:1-10; Matthew10:34-42
“Webelieve that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 15:11
June29, the Feast of St.’s Peter and Paul, is the most ancient of the Apostles’Days. There is a tradition that the two apostles were martyred in Rome by orderof Nero on the same day, June 29 of 67 or 68 A.D. On June 29 in the year 258 theirremains were removed to the catacombs in Rome, and that is when this feast datebegan.
Sowhat? That was over 1700 years ago. Shoot, people today barely remember whathappened 20 years ago. Who cares about St.’s Peter and Paul? We do. For, thesetwo great apostles of Jesus teach us much about our Lord’s Church.
Whatis the Church of Jesus Christ? It is a place of grace, of undeserved and freelygiven acceptance and forgiveness because of Jesus, and not because of anythingwe have done or will do. It is so important that you realize this! For, theChurch is often not the happy and unified and uplifting place that we think itshould be. It is not today; it was not in the days of Peter and Paul.
Thereare hints of this in today’s readings. Acts 15 tells us that when some Christians froma Jewish background began demanding that Gentile converts be circumcised andmade to follow the Jewish religious laws, “Paul and Barnabas had no small dissensionand debate with them.” No small dissension and debate; that’s a niceway of saying that they had a loud and roaring argument! The argument anddebate continued in Jerusalem, where they gathered with the apostles and eldersto settle it. You don’t like arguments in church? It’s an ancient tradition!It’s original Christianity!
Evenin Christ’s Church, we argue. Even in Christ’s Church we hurt one another. Why?Because we are, and remain, sinners, even the best among us. Even our leaders:
Ø Peter was strong infaith and even gave up his life rather than deny Christ. In Acts 15 we see himstanding up for the free forgiveness of sins in Jesus and so defending theGentiles who have come to believe in Him. “God, who knows the heart, gave them theHoly Spirit just as he did to us [Jews],” he declared. “Hemade no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts byfaith.” And so, they didn’t need to be circumcised! It would addnothing! Several years later, however, Peter stopped sitting with the Gentilebelievers because he was afraid of what the believers from a Jewish background wouldthink of him. He waffled! How that must have hurt those Gentile believers.Sometimes he was a strong for others, but at other times he was weak.
Ø Paulwas what I call the “ex-smoker” of the apostles. You know how former smokerscan be: arrogant and argumentative, as they now know better. Don’t you hearthat in Paul, who, when he is in Jerusalem and among those first Apostles who hadbeen blessed to be with Jesus Himself, says: “those who seemed influentialadded nothing to me.” My, my, Paul, aren’t you something!
Ø Ourown District President, visiting us today, is consumed with the desire toelevate himself over his 3rd VP by beating him on the golf course.Envy and jealousy fill him!
Oh, the sins ofChrist’s people, even the leaders of His Church. How they surprise and distressus, so that we look down upon and devalue the Church!
Argumentsand divisions and sins do not surprise and distress our Lord. “Donot think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come tobring peace, but a sword” Jesus says. His Gospel is not about worldly happinessand continual victory over sins and the removal of problems, but about the ongoingstruggle with sins and dealing with them with the forgiveness and theacceptance – even the welcoming – of sinners and their sins. “We will be saved through the grace of theLord Jesus” Peter says, and not by our own goodness, neither before webecame Christians nor as Christians. The Church is, and will remain until theLord returns, an imperfect place where Christ’s welcome is extended and Hisforgiveness is shared. Thanks be to God, then, for imperfect, sinful leaderslike Peter and Paul! They were loved and received by Jesus, and they loved Himto the end, even to laying down their lives for their faith in Him.
Itold you that both Peter and Paul were killed by order of Nero, the RomanEmperor. Peter was crucified upside down. Paul, being a Roman citizen, wasgiven the more merciful death of being beheaded. Legend has it that his headbounced three times when it fell, and at each place where it bounced a fountain sprang up.The place where he was killed was therefore given the name Tre Fontane – Three Fountains.
Anothersilly tradition from gullible, hero-worshiping ancients? Not at all. Thistradition emphasizes a very important truth: that our Lord is present with andworks through those He sends. “Whoever receives you receives me, andwhoever receives me receives him who sent me,” Jesus promised His disciplesas He sent them out to preach. His promise is so certain and so reliable that eventhe lifeless head of Christ’s apostle Paul is a source of life in its Trinitarianbounce! The promise of the living Jesus cannot be foiled even by death.
Well,how much more are the living voices of those who follow after Peter and Paul inthe Apostolic Ministry of preaching Christ crucified sources of life from theHoly Trinity. The eternal life of the Triune God is a spring of water wellingup in you as you hear and believe this preaching! That is Christ’s promise. “Theone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’sreward” – the forgiveness of sins and life eternal won for us by JesusChrist. This is because of Christ’s promise, a promise He backed up by Hisdeath and resurrection for us sinners; it is not because of the holiness of theprophet. “We will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus,” and byHis grace alone.
Knowthat His grace is at work through you, also. It is not only preachers andprophets who bear the presence of the Holy Trinity. Jesus declares, “Whoevergives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is adisciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” Theleast of believers bears the Triune God. And so, wherever you who believe inJesus live, wherever “your head bounces,” you bring the blessing of the HolyTrinity. You are not dead in your sin! You are alive to God, and alive forothers, in Christ Jesus!
Pastorsand parishioners, sinners all; yet, “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” andholy before God because of Him – this is what the Church is. No law orobedience of our own, neither past nor present, nor even the greatest of our sacrifices,makes us holy or makes us the Church. Only Christ’s work for us, received by usthrough faith alone, does. This is what Saints Peter and Paul declare. OurCatechism sums it up so well:
All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodnessand mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty tothank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true. (the 1stArticle of the Creed)