Carrying the grace and truth of God is obviously not that easy. As we hear here today, Jesus never said it would be.
The prophets and Apostle’s discovered that it wasn’t. It is not as if this world is ‘neutral’ on truth. It is generally antagonistic to God’s truth. All human beings have this pull to go it alone or on their ‘truth’ terms only.
So, when you carry the truth about this sin and this forgiveness only received by means of humility and honesty before a holy God, it is usually not received too well. That makes living in this love and hope in Jesus hard at times.
So, Christians have always remembered those who have gone before. We do this to re-tell the story of a person’s faith as an encouragement on the journey we still have to live.
This day of St Peter and St Paul is remembering the two most prominent and foundational people God called into his first church community.
Specifically, this day is one to honour Peter and Paul’s martyrdom, which are believed to have occurred in Rome sometime between AD 64 and 68.
Tradition (not in the Bible) says that this is the day that they were both martyred in Rome by Emperor Nero, in his unjust persecution of Christians. No one is really sure if Peter and Paul were actually put to death for their faith on the same day or even if the same year. But it is likely they died in that first major persecution in Rome. Remember, Rome is where Paul ended up under house arrest, after all of his mission travels, and Peter may have been based in Rome as a leader in the first church.
Tradition also has it that Peter, when assured that he too would give up his life for his Lord that gave up his life for him, asked to be crucified upside down, so as to be lesser than his Lord Jesus. Who knows? He may have.
As we know, it is generally believed that all of The Twelve, except the Apostle John, were put to death for their allegiance to and living for the Jesus whom they personally knew.
John writes and an older man exiled by Caesar Domitian on the island of Patmos in the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey – where he saw that grand vision of life now and for the future in Jesus, we call the Book of Revelation.
In my lifetime, bearing testimony to the grace and hope of Jesus has been a relative ‘walk in the park’, compared to the description Jesus gives today, or to Paul and Peter’s journey. By and large, I have lived in boom-time, safe, secure and free post WWII Australia.
We have been able to carry the truth and grace of Jesus whom we know and love without his presence in our lives being the cause of losing a job, suffering any physical injury at the hands of any antagonist or having to keep our association with Jesus and his people, the Church, ‘underground’ for fear of being arrested. We have certainly lived gospel faith without ever any fear of being put to death for it.
Not so for many around the world now or obviously in history: threats everywhere for a Christian what was the Soviet Union, still in China, in so many places in the past and now.
None of us know the future. Sometimes we think this lovely safe, secure ‘land of the long weekend’ is descending into something far more risky, along with the rest of the Western world. Who knows? Truth is that forever and always;
‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be flood, fires, quakes and shakes of a natural epic nature. There will be tyrant after tyrant bent on world domination or just domination of your workplace.
There will be personal and relational pains in our lives. We will lose much and only have occasional wins. We will not understand much and be confused by many things and only sometime walk with total clarity.
So, from a natural disaster we face, to a loved one we are losing or have lost, or a conflict we are experiencing, or traumatic thing that happened, this life is often unsettling, uneven, unsafe and difficult.
But one thing prevails. Peter was enabled to see the thing that surpasses all the shakes and quakes we face
As Jesus and the group were way up in Caesarea Philippi at a place known as ‘the gates of hell’, Peter made that great confession of all Christians.
Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” and Peter nailed it for all time – “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. In other words, Jesus of Nazareth is the love of God, the hope of God, the peace of God that will still stand despite the pull and threat of the gates of hell.
Friend, this good news you carry will keep you standing strong in love and truth in all the difficulty, threat and challenge no matter how serious that lasts in and beyond all the pain.
It is my faith and many of yours, I know.
And with that faith comes the conviction that surely inspired Peter and Paul to walk the walk and talk the talk as disciples and ‘sent ones’ (Apostles) of the Saviour Jesus they knew personally, no matter the personal cost.
From what they write, you can se three basic convictions;
- Jesus was the Son of God sent to save all sinners including they themselves.
- Jesus was alive with them and that he was reaching out to sinful human beings and offering and giving complete forgiveness and new life to any sinner who called on his good name.
- Jesus Christ is the love of God for the world and that only by faith in him would justice, peace, life, joy, hope, meaning, fulfilment and wisdom be found, at great cost to God and great blessing and joy for them.
Paul sums it up for himself and Peter…..
There’s the real heart of a courageous life of witness to this Jesus whose love and hope we know, no matter what shakes and quakes unsettle us or hurt us or sadden us.
We live in a righteousness that does not come from achieving, performing, being good or bad, but comes as gift from his achieving, performing being holy and true- enough for us all.
Any lasting peace, unity, confidence and convicted to speak and do his love by faith comes from his love for me, not my love for me or anyone else’s.
Hear his love for you that gives you courage to stay the course in whatever you are facing today:
There is life that has been won and one day will be a complete win. Jesus is that complete life, now and then.
And so, we share the Call of Peter and Paul. For Paul it was this:
Friends, safe passage in the love of Jesus is assured, no matter what.
We remember these apostles so that we are firmed up the truth that when you boil life down to the really important thing, that thing is actually, losing to gain: “losing all things to gain more of Christ”, as it was for Paul and Peter.
As John Dixon, the Australian Church historian says his marvellous outline of the church as it worst as bullies and at its best as saint, we gospel carriers can be and learn to be ‘good losers’, losers of face, of things, of status in the community, of health, of money of even our life and whatever else the world may eventually want to take.
As we lose these lesser things we gain the greatest thing – we gain more of this Jesus whose love we know.
Can these be your words today?
Friend, may the scales of any grief, confusion, despair, pride or prejudice fall from our eyes, so we truly see today.
Church, we are still sent. We go from here with this sure immovable hope whatever the cost.