Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season,
if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold
that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise
and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ….
(1 St. Peter i. 6,7)
Many people like to undermine the credibility of the ancient Christian witness because so little is known of those early Christian disciples and martyrs who gave their lives and selves to transmit its truths to posterity. Most clergymen are known to become mildly irritated at one time or another when a Red-Letter Saint’s Day pops up, and they have so very little to tell their flock about the Saint they are celebrating. Inquiring minds question the clergyman: Who were his parents? Where was he born? What did he do before he met Jesus? Was he married? Did he have children? Where did he end up? Was he a martyr? And so forth. And in most cases, with most of the questions, the clergyman must answer: We don’t know. And if he is intelligent enough, he might also add, And we don’t need to know!
Now the Saints whom we celebrate today—Saints Peter and Paul—we do tend to know more about than the other Apostles or even the Mother of our Lord. We don’t know anything about Saint Peter’s wife, except that he had one, and that her mother was once sick and Jesus healed her. And we don’t know about the exact nature of Saint Paul’s thorn in the side, except, again, that he had one, and that it wasn’t his wife, since he didn’t have one of those.
Yet we do know that Saint Peter’s original name was Simon, or Simeon. He was the son of Jonah, had a brother named Andrew, came from the village of Bethsaida, and had some kind of fishing business along with James and John the sons of Alphaeus. Simon was later called Peter, as we read in today’s Gospel. The word in Latin is Petrus, derived from the Greek Πετροσ and related to the Aramaic word for kepa, which became, again in Greek, Κηφασ, all basically meaning rock. So we read of either Simon Peter or Cephas in the New Testament as the rock upon whom Christ Jesus intended to build his Church.
The rest of what we know of Simon Peter can be read in the four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of St. Paul, and St. Peter’s own Epistles. Suffice it to say that St. Peter was an eyewitness of the adult life of Jesus Christ, denied the Lord whom he knew, witnessed His Resurrection, received the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, and then went on to contribute in no small way to the conversion of the nations. Tradition has it that he died a martyr at Rome, crucified upside down by the Emperor Nero between 64 and 67 A.D. He was crucified because, like his Lord, he was not a citizen; he was crucified upside down because he did not deem himself worthy to be hung right-side-up like his Master.
St. Paul, on the other hand, was a late-comer to the Christian religion. By his own admission he had played no small role in the attempt to stamp Christianity out. He was born as Saul around 5 A.D., as a Jewish citizen of the Roman Empire (unlike Peter), in the city of Tarsus on the Mediterranean Sea in modern day Turkey. In all probability Saul studied at the ancient university of Tarsus, renowned for its philosophical instruction. There he would have become familiar with the Greek schools of thought prevalent in the early Roman Empire – Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism. By his own admission, he was circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Phil. iii. 5,6)
Saul’s knowledge of the Law and Prophets led him first to persecute the infant Church, and then, while on the road to Damascus to round up and arrest more Christians, he realized the futility of keeping the Law perfectly when he was confronted by Jesus Christ in a vision. Once he began working as a Christian he used his Latin name Paul, since his ministry was mostly to the Gentile pagan world. What we know about him we learn from his companion St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, and then from his thirteen Epistles or Letters. Tradition has it that he too died in Rome, a martyr under the same Emperor Nero, but by beheading, the punishment reserved for citizen traitors.
What is most remarkable about Saints Peter and Paul, and all other Saints who were like them, known to us or known only to God, is this. Far beyond the miracles that they performed, or any details of their personal lives that the Scripture reveals, both Saints Peter and Paul were men who came to embrace the living Christ fully in their hearts after much trial and tribulation. Each of them had, in his own way, denied Jesus Christ. Each of them had to be broken; each had to repent and die to his former self before Christ came alive in him.
In the first instance, we have St. Peter. His zeal and passion for Christ needed to be moderated by faith, hope, and love before he could become a true disciple and shepherd of the embryonic Church. You will remember that in Christ’s darkest hour, Peter denied his Lord not once, but three times. The Peter who should be the rock on which the Church would be built had to be completely broken and ground to powder before converting truly to Christ. When later, Peter exhorts his friends to come to Christ, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God and precious (1 St. Peter ii. 5), he speaks as a man who had at one time disallowed, disowned, dismissed, and denied Jesus Christ. For this precious stone, [now] made the head of the corner, had been to him a stone of stumbling, a rock of offence, because he had stumbled at the Word [of God in Jesus Christ], being disobedient. (Ibid, 8)
Peter, the disciple whom Christ loved, knew only too acutely and piercingly his own sin against Jesus Christ. Peter denied Jesus, and we read that once the cock crowed, he went outside and wept bitterly. (Ibid, 62) Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny him, but He said also, Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. (St. Luke xxii. 31) So Simon Peter did, as prophesied, indeed turn back to the Lord; he repented, waited, watched, and finally was converted through Christ’s Resurrection and the descent of the Holy Ghost into his soul. Like the woman who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, Simon [whose] sins which [were] many, [were] forgiven; for [he] loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (St. Luke vii. 47)
And the same holds true in the life of St. Paul. Paul sinned grievously against Christ. As a Pharisee he spent no small amount of time, energy, creativity, and zeal hunting down, persecuting, and devising methods of eliminating the followers of Jesus Christ. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that his vengeance and revenge reached such pique that breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, [he] went unto the high priest, and desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this Way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Acts ix. 1,2) Saul was hell-bent on destroying Christianity in the name of the Jewish God. And the Jewish God’s Son, Jesus Christ, met him on the road to Damascus, having decided that his zeal and fervor should be put to better use. Paul was thrown down off of his high horse, slain in the Spirit with a Vision of the Ascended Christ, and converted.
Paul’s conversion was doubted for some time by the Jewish-Christian community. The Jewish-Christians, led by Peter, were suspicious and cautious over Paul’s conversion. But Paul, for his part, eventually won them over through the Grace of God working in him. And his effort was successful because he was so cruelly and painfully honest about his own sins against Jesus Christ and His disciples prior to his conversion. With all humility and self-abasement, he fully and completely confessed that he had persecuted the Church of Christ. He said, I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. ii. 20)
What is most remarkable about Saints Peter and Paul, and all of the other true Saints for that matter, is their receiving and passing on of the life of Jesus Christ. Peter would have agreed with Paul’s summary of the new life which they both found in Christ: But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ… for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. (Phil. iii. 7-11) Both Apostles, Peter and Paul, were always dying to themselves, coming alive to Jesus Christ, and calling and welcoming others into the new Mystical Body that was being made by Him. They knew that this was the only way home to the Heaven of God’s love.
So on this Feast Day of Saints Peter and Paul, let us pray that we may be determined to embrace the death and life of Jesus Christ in our hearts and souls as they did in theirs. Christians don’t worship Saints, not even Saints as venerable and sanctified as Peter and Paul. But they do venerate, honor, praise and thank God for them. Why? Because, as Austin Farrer reminds us, out of them Christ’s dying and rising faith has overflowed into the hearts of others, out and into human history. Through them the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ molded and shaped a new Mystical Body, a communion and fellowship, the Church. Through them, from soul to soul, heart to heart, and mouth to mouth the Real Presence of Jesus Christ’s faith walked into history. Isn’t it high time for us to receive, try, and test this faith once again? St. Peter says that it is of more value that precious gold. And both he and Paul died and lived through Jesus Christ that we might receive this treasure from heaven. Amen.
And so we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19)
Trinity tide is all about the moral life rooted in our vision of truth that we see in God. Today I will speak about the friendship of God and man. Throughout the seasons of the liturgical year you and I have been illuminated progressively by the knowledge of God so that we might come to find friendship with Him. If Eastertide might be called the season of vision and knowledge, Trinity tide is one of activity, experience, and living. To know God through vision, as He reveals Himself in the historical life of Jesus Christ, is not enough. Vision is knowledge, and knowledge for the Christian is the perfection of that belief that must bear fruit in our lives.
Satan tempted, distracted, and tormented Christ in order to extricate Him from His first Love and mission which was to save us, precisely because he knew that He was the Holy One of God, the Son of the Most High, who came down from Heaven to reestablish our Love for God and our neighbor. So Satan had a real knowledge of what Jesus Christ intended to do for all mankind, and he opposed Him. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of God made flesh. Knowledge of this reality is not sufficient to save a man. Knowledge must be translated into the desire for virtue. And what I mean to suggest is not that one must not have intellectual virtues like wisdom, understanding and prudence, but that it is moral virtue that reveals man’s participation in and application of what he knows to be God’s will for his life.
But how can a man find this truth, let alone allow it to govern his entire existence? In this morning’s Epistle, St. John reminds us that no man hath seen God at any time (1 John 4. 12).So how can we possibly know of any love or friendship approximating the Love of God? For the natural man God is the great unknown—the imperceptible beyond, the mysterious principle or being of all existence, which speaks haltingly and obscurely in the world’s great religions. In the best of them He rules and governs the created order through the rational principles of His design. And yet such a God seems impersonally uninterested in the struggle and ordeal of human existence. A metaphysical understanding of this God becomes feasible and yet friendship with Him seems an unrealizable dream. Like the best of the ancient pagans, man knows Him, and yet cannot discover a way to become His friend. Man seems no better off and might even be worse. Because what he knows of Him does not touch him personally, at best he resigns himself to Stoic apathy or at worst he surrenders to Epicurean despair.
But St. John tells us this morning that Christians ought to know better. God is more, it turns out, than an operative principle or mechanical engineer of the universal patterns and laws that man’s mind discerns in nature’s ever-changing existence. God is Love. God is one who desires and longs for, seeks out and finds a common ground of friendship with man. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4. 10) And so we love Him because he first loved us. (1 John 4. 19) God is Love, and that Love not only makes, creates, orders, defines, governs, beautifies, and harmonizes all of nature, but He also comes to His human sons and daughters in order to redeem and reconcile them to Himself.
To know this is to begin to see and grasp a new way of living. It is to perceive and embrace a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. xxi. 1), being made by God Himself, who through Jesus Christ proclaims behold I make all things new. (Ibid, 5) St. John tells us that every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (Idem, 7,8) We are not then called to be children of knowledge only, but children whose knowledge reveals God’s love for us in His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. We have been touched by Him in the life of His Son. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. (1 John 4. 9) And here is the operative difference between those who live naturally in and through the world and us. God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. The knowledge that we have, the truth which we confess is nothing short of new life, life in communion with our Heavenly Father through the Son by the real and present operation of the Holy Spirit. Our knowledge of Jesus Christ is meant to form a new moral character in our lives, through which, as members of His Mystical Body, we become the new sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father.
And yet we cannot have any of this until what we know and see becomes what we desire and love. In other words, we must make an act of will that surrenders completely to Jesus Christ by forfeiting and foregoing all rights to ourselves. God is Love, and He loves us in and through His Son. This is the only true Love that can lastingly convert and carry a man back to his destiny, which is friendship with God the Father. We can be like most men of the world, good enough, but loving and living only for the here and now. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. (1 John 4. 5) We can be like Dives - the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day, (St. Luke xvi. 19) whose earthly life was mollycoddled and cosseted by comfort, ease, frivolous recreational pastimes, and amusements. Or, perhaps if we are not moved and defined by the kinds of riches that characterize those full of tongue and weak of mind (R.Hooker, E.P., i. viii. 2), we might be like Dives in another way - perhaps we count ourselves rich spiritually. We feast sumptuously on Christ’s Body and Blood each week, we pay our tithes and live fairly moral lives, and count ourselves blessed.
But being like Dives may mean that we are either materialistic or spiritual hoarders. In this morning’s Gospel, Dives walked over Lazarus, who was laid at his gate, full of sores and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. (Ibid, 20, 21) The literal interpretation of Dives’ moral character was that he was uncompassionate, uncaring, cheap, mean, and parsimonious with his earthly treasure. The spiritual interpretation is that Dives could have cared less for the spiritual welfare of this poor beggar Lazarus who found love only from the dogs [who] came and licked his sores. (Ibid, 21) In either case the Love of God was not alive in Dives’ life. Friendship with God was of little worth when compared to his earthly desire and happiness. And so in the end, his soul is parched and tormented because he rejected the Love of God. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Ibid, 22,23) Dives might have known God, but his knowledge had not been converted into Love for Him or his neighbor.
Unlike Lazarus who had nothing here but longed for the more that only God can give, Dives is left with the fruits of a self-love that rejects God’s offer of loving friendship to man through Jesus Christ. Had Dives received the Love of God in Jesus Christ, he would have given liberally of his material means to poor men like Lazarus and others because he would have loved him as a spiritual brother, one worthy not only of his material bounty but also of his prayers and spiritual hopes. In other words, the Love of God in Jesus Christ would have so filled his heart that he could not help but share so great a gift and treasure with any and all of his neighbors. When the Love of God is alive in the human heart, giving to others becomes an unselfconscious expression of what lives to be passed out and on to all others.
St. John invites us this morning into the real and present operations of God’s Love. The Love he knows is both a Love received supernaturally and then a Love shared with others naturally and instinctively. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? (1 John 4. 20) If a man does not love his brother whom he sees with his natural eyes, then the invisible power of God’s Love ceases to move him, stops reaching out, and thus dies. And if this is the case, we might find ourselves with Dives in Hell when we die, where all access to Heaven is now impossible ‘because the gulf is too great’ and the time for our awakening to the Love of God has ended.
In closing let us consider this. Today we are called to be touched by the Love of God in the real and present life of Jesus Christ. The knowledge of that Love must be met with our response to it. Here is where Hope comes in. The Love we know we desire as what alone can touch, change, and transform us. For it is only through God’s prior Love for us that we have Hope and confidence that that same Love can change us. We pray for that Love. And we know that it has entered and lodged in the innermost core of our souls only when the same Love becomes Hope in us for all others. Then our knowledge and vision expand to include our neighbors. What we see and know in every other person is the vision of one whom God’s Love desires to touch and transform also. And then the Love of God and the Love of Man become one in us. Short of this double operation of Christ’s Love in us, we shall not be saved. Then with Dives we shall cry out for a Love ignored, untried and untested in our own lives, the only Love that could have made us the friends of God because we knew that it was given to us in order to touch and fill the hearts of all other men. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons