St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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SS Peter & Paul, 2014

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 “Who do you say that I am?” This is the question Jesus posed all the disciples with him in Caesarea Philippi. Simon replied with words which changed his life.
 
The question I have highlighted from our Gospel lection can best be described as an adult question. It cuts right to the heart of things. It pins you down. You either have to tell the truth or tell a pretty good lie. There is no room for some vague non-committal response. There is no room for saying what somebody wants to hear or for saying the easy thing.
 
“Who do you say that I am?” On this Feast of Peter and Paul as we ponder that dramatic moment at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus puts that question to each of us. We have the answer ready, because it has been formulated by generations of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. Today however, Jesus doesn’t ask us for a formula we have received, he asks us what we actually believe. He asks us for the truth and we can’t fool him
 
This feast of Saints Peter and Paul is about how faith in Jesus Christ engages each of us. St Clement of Rome, who was, it seems, the third bishop of Rome after St Peter and St Cletus, and who did a lot to reform the Church, was possibly the earliest person to write about the joint role of Peter and Paul and about the fact that Peter and Paul each suffered martyrdom. 
 
During the subsequent centuries many prominent speakers and writers in the Church wrote about their achievement. St Irenaeus, whose feast we kept yesterday, writing in the second century, stated that the Church at Rome was “the greatest and most ancient Church, founded by the two glorious apostles, Peter and Paul.”
 
These two great apostles were both martyred for the faith in Rome. S Peter was probably martyred during the massive persecution of AD 64. His tomb, only discovered with a degree of certainty in 1968, lies under the great basilica which bears his name. S Paul was executed in Rome at Tre Fontana probably in the year 65, and was buried where the basilica of St Paul Without the Walls now stands. The Emperor Nero, in the span of a few months, martyred both of them.  In the Church in Rome these two Apostles handed on the faith which subsequently has been lived down the centuries and across the nations. This is the same faith which we try to live each day.
“Who do you say that I am?”
Peter, as we heard in the Gospel, replied “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Jesus did a strange thing. He answered Peter by telling him, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church”. 
One of the most awkward things about the question Jesus put to Peter, “who do you say that I am?” is that it reflects back on ourselves. It makes us ask ourselves, “Who am I?” If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, the one who died for us, if we really let this great love impinge on us, then obviously it forces us to look at ourselves.
Look for a moment at Peter. This is the one who after a miraculous haul of fish went down on his knees and said, “Leave me Lord for I am a sinful man”. This is the one who lost faith, who refused to have his feet washed, who not only ran away in Gethsemane, but denied Christ three times. This is the one who wept bitter tears at the crowing of the cock. And yet this is the one to whom Jesus entrusted his flock. This is the living rock on which our faith is based. Peter is a rock streaked with failure and doubt, and yet by God’s grace he passes on a faith that endures.
 
We may ask what brings Peter and Paul together liturgically.
 
Peter gathers the Church in order to protect the identity, the orthodoxy if you like, of the faith, while Paul sends the Church out on mission, which has of necessity led to the adapting of its message, the Gospel, to the styles of different cultures.
 
These two aspects need to be held in tension: the church which does not cherish, protect and live by the apostolic tradition is no Christian church. Similarly the church which does not go out in mission and outreach is no Christian church.
 
Earlier I said that today Jesus asks of us the same question he posed the disciples. “Who do you say that I am?”
We know that it is the living Word of God who speaks to us. We know that it is God who calls us toward himself. We know it is God in Jesus who loves us and knows us through and through. We know it is God in Jesus who asks us, “Who do you say that I am”. It is in our attempt to answer his question that we will discover his loving and gracious answer for each of us.
 
May the God of Peter and Paul bless us as we live out our faith response.
 
 

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