Text: Galatians 2:7-9
Date: Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles + 6/29/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
I like Mel Brooks movies. You know, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Spaceballs, History of the World Part One. Mel doesn’t hesitate going for even the cheapest, most obvious joke. Every once in a while, however, his humor will stumble upon a profound truth. One such was in his movie, “Frisco Kid,” a story of a young, not-so-talented or experienced Polish rabbi, who was sent from Poland to an outback synagogue in San Francisco in the 1800s. On his way across America on a train, then on horseback, he was robbed, caught in a blizzard, captured by Indians and ran into all sorts of difficulties. Once when he was being cared for by an Amish family he was noticing the huge farms in the area and mentioned his own family’s farm back in Poland. The young man giving him a ride to the nearest town asked why or how he had become a rabbi instead of a farmer. It was almost as if he had never considered the question before. So he said, simply, “Because God made me a rabbi,” and then explaining to the young man, “I guess God had enough farmers.”
I give the same simple reason when someone asks why I became a Lutheran pastor. There can be lots of reasons why a man may think he’s called into the ministry and pursue it through attendance at one of our seminaries. But the bottom line is always, “Because God made me a pastor.” For unless it is God’s call and drawing and initiative and blessing, one can and will always wonder whether he has deceived himself. And we believe, teach and confess that God works through His Word rightly handled through His Church which trains, certifies and calls her servants. It is the certification and ordination by the Church that testifies to the reality and validity and divinity of the pastor’s call.
Today is Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles Day and my 29th anniversary of ordination as a pastor. Of all the twelve apostles only Peter and Paul have two dates each of commemoration on the Church calendar—the Confession of St. Peter on January 18, The Conversion of St. Paul on January 25, and today together on June 29. It was the confession of faith uttered by Peter that Jesus said would be the fundamental building block of the Church. And it was the rather spectacular conversion of St. Paul that served as his divine certification as a bone fide apostle. Then it is because these two apostles are head-and-shoulders more important than the rest that they are remembered together today. Peter is the leader and head of the twelve for his apostolic ministry to the Jews, author of two letters in the New Testament and it is his preaching that is believed to be the main voice behind St. Mark’s Gospel. Paul is the amazingly gifted and inspired apostle to the Gentiles and author of at least 13 of the 27 writings of the New Testament. Together they represent the most important development of the early Church, namely, the breaking out of the Gospel not only to the house of Israel but through the Jews to all nations of the world, just as it was foretold ever since the covenant with Abraham when the Lord said, “In your seed will all the nations be blessed,” and fulfilled and echoed in the Great Commission of the Lord Jesus, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”
Now, neither Simon Peter the fisherman nor Saul of Tarsus “applied” for the job as apostles! In fact, Peter fought against it and felt totally unqualified for it, and Saul was in the business of trying to wipe out this new Christian sect! It was only at the Lord’s call and command that either one felt compelled to follow, to believe, to serve and obey His call from the Lord. Most of us can identify with Peter, of course, as the impetuous, vacillating champion of his Lord with all his ups-and-downs of faith. We all know what it’s like to be silent when we should have spoken up, and what it’s like to speak without first engaging the brain and saying things we later wish we could recall. Most of us identify well with Peter.
Paul, on the other hand, was more unique. He executed his ministry with an even greater white-hot passion than his former zeal against the Church when he persecuted Christians left and right, and the middle-of-the-road Christians, too! He had an up-front confrontational style and admitted to the Lord’s extraordinary gifts, revelations and vision given to him. Well, he had to make his case boldly because he was not one who was an eye-witness to the Lord’s earthly ministry from His baptism to His death and resurrection. He received his call after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, yet he was taught directly by the risen Jesus personally over an extended period of time. That’s why it was only as the pillars and leaders of the Church, James, Peter and John, “perceived the grace that was given” to Paul, that they gave the right hand of fellowship to him and to Barnabas to continue their ministry to the Gentiles.
Yet, despite their great differences in direction, style and personality, Peter and Paul shared a common, constant center, namely, Jesus Christ. Each of the apostles had a unique history and experience with Jesus, and each had his own gifts. I always chuckle when I read Peter’s comment about Paul’s letters when he wrote, “there are some things in them that are hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). I agree! But there is no questioning the clarity of St. Paul when he would write words such as, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor. 4:5), and “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Saints Peter and Paul, for all their differences were perfectly united in the mission of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ to the whole world. And so the Church through the ages has been made up of distinct and diverse people united in one faith and mission. St. Paul put it this way, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph. 4:4-7). Acknowledging that there are unique differences between people, remember Paul’s illustration of the human body when he wrote, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. For the body does not consist of one member but of many…. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 27).
So is the Church the Lord was building through these two giants of the faith, Peter and Paul. It is a church that is “catholic”—that finds its core and center in Jesus Christ, and in its clear witness to him as Savior and Lord. Jesus Christ has been at the heart and center of the catholic church everywhere and at all times. At the same time, the church is “evangelical”—it is founded in the freedom of the Gospel, the freedom that continually searches for creative expression of its life and hope in every age. Personalities will come and go, but at the heart will always be a common witness to the church’s uncommon Lord.
It was actually quite accidental that my ordination happened on this date. I had wanted a different day of that week but I was second in line from another new graduate from our “other” seminary. But I’m glad it worked out this way anyway.
I often wonder what it would have been like had I stayed in my original call to Grace English Lutheran Church in Chicago for all these 29 years. On the other hand I think of all the saints, the great friends and folks of St. Paul congregation in Wood River, Illinois, Trinity in Jackson, Michigan and even St. Mark’s in West Bloomfield, and then Zion in Detroit and now Incarnate Word in Rochester Hills. You see, regardless of where you go, God is in the business of blessing, of taking you and your circumstances, whatever they might be, and, how did St. Paul say it, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). For His purpose is the life and salvation of all through the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ our Lord. For we have heard it again and again through all those who have preceded us, again in the words of the apostle Paul, “So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
May Jesus Christ be praised.