June 28th, 1992
St Peter and St Paul
It would be hard to think of two more different people than Peter and Paul whose joint anniversary we're keeping today.
Paul was a scholar, a graduate, a native of one of the most famous university cities of the academic world, Tarsus in Northern Cilisia. A Roman citizen by birth, a pupil of Gamaliel, one of the most respected tutors in the Jewish scholarly society, Paul would have received the finest kind of education that money could have thought.
And then by contrast there was Peter, a Galilean fishermen, who'd received no more than an elementary education from the local Rabbi in Capernaum, perhaps finding reading and writing a bit of a difficulty, and yet someone who had had to learn quickly how to survive in the uncertain trade of a fisherman, where one day you might catch nothing but weeds and driftwood, and the next catch a large number of fish only to discover that everyone else had done the same and so the market was saturated and as a result you could only charge a fraction of the price of good fish usually sold for. Peter was a down-to-earth, somewhat impulsive man who was used to the dangers and discomforts of open-air life on the Sea of Galilee.
It would be difficult, as I said, to think of two more different people, separated as they were by having had a different education, different accents, different fortunes, different temperaments and coming from the opposite ends of the social scale.
Where else would you find two such different men standing up to be counted side by side?
Well one place of course is in the Church of God which is the Body of Christ and I suppose Saint Stephen's is one of the most remarkable examples of people from an extraordinary number of different backgrounds working together in order to become the means by which God, in Christ, is reconciling the world to himself.
But let us remember that God's use for St Peter and St Paul did not involve either of them trying to hide or ignore the things which made them different from each other. On the contrary it was precisely those differences and making the most of them which enabled both Peter and Paul to serve God as they did.
Paul didn't suddenly have to throw away all his learning and academic brilliance. It came into its own when he needed to write his letters to the local churches and to explain to both Jews and Gentiles in terms which gained their intellectual respect just how the coming of Jesus Christ, he sin less life, his shameful death and his triumphant resurrection could change their lives as it would change his own.
Peter didn't have to unlearn his fishing skills and suddenly become a scholar like Paul. His knowledge of how to cast a net to catch fish and trade in them more than once saved his fellow apostles from starvation and financial troubles; and if you read the book of Acts carefully, it was Peter not Paul who gather the crowds around him as a preacher, especially to the Jews.
Indeed there are signs that Paul found it particularly difficult to get his message across to his fellow Jews. His strong card was the non-Jews, the Gentiles, helped no doubt by his ability to write and speak Greek fluently which as you know was the one language which nearly everyone could understand even if only a little
And what about the physical hardships of being a missionary? The trouble, the discomfort, the cold, the heat, the need to defend oneself against bandits and pirates? I can't help feeling that such things came a a good deal more naturally to Saint Peter than to Saint Paul!
The importance in God's eyes of these two men (except in one fundamental way which I will come back to when a moment) lay not in their similarities but in their differences). That is why so much modern thinking is very misguided and wide of the mark.
The idea that everyone is really just the same as everyone else and we should somehow be almost ashamed of our differences is one which Peter and Paul would have found utterly astounding and incomprehensible. They understood perfectly well that God knew what he was doing when he created people of different sexes, different sizes, different aptitudes and different abilities. His purposes were never going to be said forward one iota by pretending either that these differences didn't exist or weren't to be taken seriously.
There is of course the one fundamental matter which I spoke of a moment or two back and that was the matter of their faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and their commitment to him as their Lord, which Peter and Paul had in common. Week by week they expressed this common faith by coming together with their fellow-Christians as we have done this morning to celebrate the Resurrection and to meet the Risen Lord in the Breaking of Bread.
Although thousands of miles may sometimes have separated Peter and Paul physically, as they did culturally and educationally, they remained united in the mystical body of Christ upon earth which is the Church of the living God.
And then, as so often happens to those who like Peter and Paul try to discover and follow through God's plan for them, they both found themselves together in the City of Rome (by what the world would call a coincidence, though Peter and Paul knew better than to call it that!) in the late spring of the year 64 A D.
Whilst they were there, on July 18th, a dreadful fire broke out in the City which blazed for several days and destroyed a lot of the buildings.
The Emperor, who was called Nero, and who was no friend of the Christians, or of anyone else for that matter who criticised the immorality of himself and his court, seized upon the fire as an opportunity to blame the Christians and get his own back on some of them.
Among those who perished were Peter and Paul, Peter being nailed to across tradition tells us upside down, and Paul by being beheaded by the Imperial sword which is why the coat of arms of the City of London (of which St Paul is the patron saint) its as a sword in one of its quarters.
So in their death for their faith in Jesus Christ, as in their life Peter and Paul were united, they were not divided. In practically every other way they were different.
The purposes of God and not worked out by trying to weaken or or belittle the differences between those who whom has called be his servants and the fellow heirs with Christ of his Kingdom.
But of course the differences between us will only be of use to him providing we continue to live out our common salvation within the Body of Christ. Without the faith which we hold in common, and in which the one baptism which we share expresses an eternal unity with one another, then the differences which divide us from each other will tend to be destructive, negative things. It's only necessary to look at the world scene to realise this.
But within the body of Christ the differences which characterise such men as Peter and Paul are the very building stones by which the Kingdom of God continues to grow.
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