Thursday, June 29 – Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul – 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Today, June 29th, we gather to celebrate Saint Peter and Saint Paul. It is not January 18th, when we commemorate Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah nor is it January 25th when we commemorate the so-called “Conversion of Paul.” No, today we remember these two great leaders of the Apostolic Age because they were persecuted and died as martyrs.
Clement of Rome wrote to the Church in Corinth, “Because of jealousy and envy the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and competed unto death.”
It’s hard to say it much better than that. Peter and Paul were good at serving as witnesses to Jesus Christ. The fearful leaders of the empires of this world didn’t know what to make of their zeal for their God. Faced with the stark reality of a group of followers proclaiming a Lord who lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty, earthly authorities killed these apostles in an effort to ensure the continuance of their own power.
Both Peter and Paul took their place in glory as examples of God’s endurance, and today as we remember them because they glorified God in their death we can also learn from the example of their lives.
“I solemnly urge you:” writes the author of the second letter to Timothy, “Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”
Proclaim. Be persistent. Convince. Encourage. And rebuke.
Proclaim the message with persistence in good times and bad—whether surrounded by the Spirit’s rush on Pentecost, after your second trial, during the growth of the church in Rome, or during your seventh stay in prison. Encourage and convince—take heart, ask questions, and burst into doxology when necessary.
And yes, even rebuke. “For the time is coming,” says the writer to Timothy “when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.”
Yes friends, we’ll have do some rebuking. It’s tricky to challenge those who wish to distort the faith, but luckily Peter and Paul show us that it is possible. Even they had differences of opinion. Their disagreement over the appropriate mission to the Gentiles is well known.
Paul wrote about his meeting with Peter in Antioch in his letter to the Galatians, saying, “I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong … he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when [men from James] arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.”
These saints help us see this good news: that rebuking doesn’t mean leaving someone behind, writing someone off, or breaking a relationship. Amid the strong words of bitter disagreement these two who seemed on the surface so different—a cosmopolitan Jew and a rural fisherman—kept always in common their unwavering commitment to Jesus, and they remain examples for us.
They remain examples of the importance of never losing sight of what binds us together even when our hermeneutical lenses or exegetical interpretations are at odds. They remain examples for us—no matter how we vote at General Convention or what we think of a certain church canon—of our one, sure foundation, the Lord of the Church. And they remain examples for us of the peace that passes all understanding, that peace that guards our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ our Lord. So may it ever be.