Tag Archives: Peter

Peter’s Vision (Third Sunday of Easter) – April 19, 2015 (NL Week 33)

Sunday’s Readings:
Complementary Reading: Matthew 9:36-37
Preaching Text: Acts 10:1-17

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

Tony just read the first part of an extended narrative that represents the turning point in the book of Acts. The dual visions experienced by the Roman soldier, Cornelius, and the Jewish Christian apostle, Simon Peter, led to a fundamental change in the make-up of the church. Though it’s a little unusual, I’d like to continue reading at length from the Acts of the Apostles; sit back and relax, and I’ll pick up right at the point at which Tony left off.

10:17Now while Peter was greatly puzzled about what to make of the vision that he had seen, suddenly the men sent by Cornelius appeared. They were asking for Simon’s house and were standing by the gate. 18They called out to ask whether Simon, who was called Peter, was staying there. 19While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Look, three men are searching for you. 20Now get up, go down, and go with them without hesitation; for I have sent them.” 21So Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22They answered, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and to hear what you have to say.” 23So Peter invited them in and gave them lodging. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the believers from Joppa accompanied him.

24The following day they came to Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25On Peter’s arrival Cornelius met him, and falling at his feet, worshiped him. 26But Peter made him get up, saying, “Stand up; I am only a mortal.” 27And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28and he said to them, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?”

 30Cornelius replied, “Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31He said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’ 33Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.”

34Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, 35but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. 36You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. 37That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

44While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. 45The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, 46for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, 47“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

11:1Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. 2So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, 3saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” 4Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, 5“I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. 6As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. 7I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ 8But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ 9But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ 10This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. 11At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. 12The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; 14he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ 15And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. 16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” 18When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 10:17-11:18, NRSV)

Last week, we heard Jesus’ final command to his disciples: Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a, NRSV) In Peter’s encounter with the Holy Spirit and the God-fearing Gentile, Cornelius, this command took on flesh. God revealed that the gospel truly was for everyone, and that the community of Christ was big enough to encompass all people everywhere. Today, we still struggle with the wideness of God’s mercy, and sometimes we imagine that the church is only for people like us. The truth, brothers and sisters, is that the good news of Jesus is for everyone, and that even – especially! – those who are often regarded as outsiders are being invited to experience the love of God that is ours in Jesus. Like Peter, we have to be on the lookout for the Holy Spirit’s movement in our midst, and we must be open to the change that is always possible when the Spirit is loose in the world. Once, we were on the outside looking in. This Easter season, we will be hearing more stories about how the Gospel broke out and shattered the apostles’ expectations of what the church could and should be. As we hear more of these stories in the weeks to come, let us pray that God would reveal God’s will for mercy and grace for all people, so that we might continue the work of building bridges, rather than putting up barriers to Christ. Amen.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 22) – Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday’s Readings:

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

 Earlier this summer, I was listening to a soccer match on the radio while I was cooking dinner. It was the US Men’s National Soccer Team, playing a crucial match against Portugal in the World Cup, the biggest and most-watched sporting event on the planet. The US was ahead and closing in on a victory that would have clinched a berth in the next round. With the game pretty much in hand, I started talking to Katie and focusing more on dinner, when I suddenly noticed the announcers talking excitedly. The next thing I knew, a goal had been scored, and I threw my hands up, thinking that the US had gotten a second goal and sealed the win. Seconds later, however, I realized I was wrong. It was Portugal who had scored a late goal, tying the game and making things much more difficult for the US team going forward in the tournament. The fact that the US had given up that late goal was bad enough, but what made it worse for me was the fact that I had been so excited about what I thought had happened.

Take that feeling and multiply it 10, 20, or 100 times, and you might begin to approach how the disciples must have felt when they heard what Jesus had to say in this morning’s gospel reading. Just minutes before, as we heard in last week’s gospel, Jesus had congratulated Simon Peter for his bold confession that he believed his teacher to be the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God., and this knowledge surely excited the disciples to no end. They were following God’s Son! The time was finally coming for Israel to be delivered, for all their people’s suffering to be ended, for the Romans and any other powers that threatened God’s people to be defeated and sent packing. This was what they had all been waiting for, for as long as they could remember. Then, in an instant, Jesus dashed their hopes, trading their dreams of victory and peace for a harsh prediction of more suffering, more shame, and the death of their beloved teacher. It was too much for Simon to take.

Jesus has strong words for Simon after he is taken aside and scolded for his talk of what will happen to him in Jerusalem, and rightly so. But can we really blame Peter for his reaction? We, too, live in a world in which it seems that the forces of sin, death, and the devil are winning the fight. War continues to rage between nations and people, sometimes by those who twist and disfigure peaceful religions to suit their own quests for power and influence. Fear and mistrust continue to rear their ugly heads within our own nation, and calls for justice are met with overwhelming force. Disease ravages our brothers and sisters in West Africa, and even attempts to raise awareness and money to battle conditions like ALS – through campaigns like the Ice Bucket Challenge – are met with scorn and condescension. What so many of us crave is exactly the kind of divine intervention that Simon Peter and the disciples wanted from Jesus: swift, complete, and lasting victory that puts an end to everything that afflicts us and this world.

But we don’t worship that kind of God, the kind who sweeps down in anger and vengeance to strike violently and obliterate people who are often acting out of ignorance and fear. The God who came to live among us in the person of Jesus wields power in ways that are much more subtle, ways that allow for transformation and rebirth and renewal – see the centurion at the cross who participated in the crucifixion of Jesus before he realized that the man on the cross was truly God’s Son. We worship the God whose presence and power took on human form, and who willingly suffered death and rose again so that we might know that death doesn’t have the final word – see the disciples transformed by their encounters with the risen Christ. We worship the one who walked in our midst to show us what God’s love looks like in real life, love that risks vulnerability and the possibility of pain, love that doesn’t follow the rules for their own sake, love that breaks down barriers and changes lives – see the apostle Paul, who turned from persecutor of the church to proclaimer of Christ.

As disciples of Jesus, we are called by our Lord to bear the cross, to recognize that lives lived in pursuit of justice and peace and love are far from safe, but that they also have the potential to change the world. As we deny ourselves – laying aside the desire for more power, more influence, higher status, the need to be right – we make room in our lives for the kind of love that Paul talks about in our second reading. Let’s look back at that passage again:

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Pick just one of these examples of authentic love and imagine how it might transform one of your relationships! Think about how each one of them requires something in us to die, and how that death can bring forth new life. Remember that we are called to live this way, not so that God will love us more (as if that was possible), but so that others might recognize God’s presence and know that love for themselves. Ponder how this kind of love can make a difference in our community, our state, our nation, our world!

Brothers and sisters, today’s gospel reading may have dashed Simon’s expectations, but it also represents our hope and our calling in the world. As we go forth to live as disciples of Jesus this week, may God grant us the strength to follow the way of the cross and show genuine love to all, so that the grace of our Lord Jesus might be known in every place, and the reign of God might be revealed throughout the world. Amen.

Peter and Paul, Apostles – Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday’s Readings:

Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7 (3)
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
John 21:15-19

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

 Tradition tells us that it was on this day in the year 67 that two of the most important figures in the early church, the apostles Peter and Paul, were martyred in the city of Rome. Our building bears witness both to their significant ministries and to the manner of their deaths in stained glass images. Peter is represented here in the first window here on the east wall, with the combined symbols of crossed keys and the upside-down cross, said to be the instrument of his execution. Why an upside down cross? The story goes that Peter requested it himself, believing himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord Jesus. Paul’s emblem is preserved in the window at the south end of the upper room, consisting of an open book with the words Spiritus Gladius, or “Sword of the Spirit” and a two-edged sword, the preferred method of executing Roman citizens like Paul. From very early on in the church’s history (at least as early as the year 258), the tradition regarding their deaths on the same day has led to their being remembered and celebrated together on June 29, but in another respect it is an odd thing that that they should share a day of celebration. After all, Peter and Paul found themselves opposed to one another fairly early in the church’s history. Acts recounts the story of the conflict as a disagreement about membership in the church, with Peter believing that Gentiles should be required to accept certain marks of Jewish identity to be considered Christian and Paul arguing that accepting the Gospel was the only condition for being welcomed into fellowship. The disagreement was bitter, and eventually led to a sort of stalemate: Peter would take charge of the mission to the Jewish people, while Paul would be responsible for the mission to the other nations of the world. Other parts of Scripture bear witness to the on-going feud, with Paul’s letters accusing Peter of hypocrisy regarding Gentile Christians and letters bearing Peter’s name panning the writings of Paul as too difficult to understand.

Clearly, despite their disagreement, these two figures were vitally important to the church’s growth during its earliest years. So what can we learn from these saints of God, whose lives bear witness to the power of the gospel?

First, we each need to be reminded that the central truth of their lives is also the central truth of our own: It is not our own power or ability that saves us, but the love of God in Christ that comes to us and establishes our relationship with God. Peter came from humble beginnings as a fisherman to be numbered among the foremost of the apostles, while Paul’s high status among the authorities in Jerusalem ultimately meant nothing when it came to his position before God.

Second, the lives of Peter and Paul remind us that the life of discipleship is costly. As much as we would like to think that following Jesus is the path to blissful, care-free living, Scripture teaches us otherwise. The apostles we remember today show us what it means to bear the cross, to pour ourselves out so that others might know the love and grace of God, to give without counting the cost. Though few – if any of us – will ever find ourselves in the position of facing death in service to the gospel, faithfulness may require us to take a stand before the powers-that-be, to speak a word of truth that might stir up division and conflict, to be willing to sacrifice our comfort or respectability for the sake of others. Because of the example of Peter and Paul, we know that this kind of discipleship is not only possible, but it is the kind of life that can change the world for good.

Third, the fact of their disagreement on an issue of vital importance to the early church demonstrates something about the church in the present: namely, that our unity is in Christ, and in our being joined to his crucified and risen life in the waters of baptism. The church in general (and our own ELCA in particular) is a body of unique individuals with widely varied understandings of significance parts of the life of faith, and yet our common identity as God’s people can transcend those disagreements, so that we see them as evidence of diversity to be celebrated rather than as obstacles to be overcome or eliminated.

Finally, we can draw strength from Scripture’s insistence that the one who calls us to share and serve is faithful, and that even our moments of greatest weakness are not enough to prevent God’s will from being done through us. Peter, of course, might best be remembered for his denial of Jesus on the night of his betrayal, an act of cowardice and self-preservation that could have derailed his ministry forever. Paul, on the other hand, witnesses with approval the execution of Stephen, the church’s first martyr, and was regarded as one of the foremost enemies of the church. God, however, would not allow either of them to be defined by their failures. Instead, each of them was changed by the grace of God and freed from their shame so that they could become powerful witnesses to the good news of Jesus. Today’s Gospel reading, for example, represents the undoing of Peter’s denial of Jesus: for each instance of betrayal on that fateful night, Peter is given an opportunity to profess his love for Jesus and a command to serve his brothers and sisters. In the same way, the second reading represents Paul’s testimony about his calling to preach the gospel and his confidence that God would strengthen him for the work of proclaiming the good news to the world. So it is with us. Each of us have been called to share the gospel in word and deed, and each of us struggles to overcome all the obstacles to that calling – like pride, fear, anxiety, shame, or doubt. Like Peter and Paul, we have also been united with Christ and assured of his presence with us, and so we can go out with good courage as they did, knowing that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Brothers and sisters, with the whole church we celebrate the example of our forerunners in the faith, the apostles Peter and Paul. May we be inspired by that example to bear the good news in everything we say and do, so that all the world might come to know God’s grace and life. For the lives of Peter and Paul and all the saints, and for divine love made flesh in Jesus Christ that frees us to love others in return: Thanks be to God! Amen.