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A Storied People

A sermon by the Rev. Marnie Peterson on the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul

One of the gifts that being a part of our liturgical tradition offers us is the opportunity to explore various Saints who have come before us – to remember the persons who helped to form the Christian faith – helped us to see what following Jesus Christ looks like.

Tonight we celebrate the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, two people who told about and helped to form the stories that we tell each other.

We celebrate these two together (so far as I can tell) for one of two reasons according to various Catholic websites: 1) they were executed on the same day (June 29) by Emperor Nero and buried in Rome or 2) the 29th was the day that is marked the day that their relics were read – or their remains marked as you do for particularly important saints. Both of their deaths are said to be quite awful Paul, beheaded and Peter crucified upside down.

So why would we spend time thinking about these two rather than digging into scripture? Why would we talk about the followers of Jesus and not just talk about Jesus specifically? Why do we hold up these two who, according to the Biblical stories anyway, didn’t seem to get along very well and infact outright disagree on matters of discipleship and church leadership.

Because we are people of a story.

Stories change us, inspire us, make us angry, invoke change, help us to see things differently or more deeply.

We tell the stories of the Jewish people and tradition in the Old Testament that Jesus was a part of. We tell the stories of Jesus and the communities he encountered and we tell the stories of the communities and the people who came after. We tell stories of communities and individuals who fought with each other and made up and fought again. We tell the stories of the communities that Peter and Paul preached to and how they encountered them.

We remember the Saints because they each have particular responses to Jesus Christ. We remember their stories because they are our stories. The stories of our church.

The icons that I found of these two has them either holding the church or holding each other. And that is actually what the church looks like and I’m talking about the ‘church’ writ-large We look like a people who do not agree on everything, who choose different ways of following Jesus Christ – but we are following Jesus, to the best of our abilities. And we hold this church and we hold each other: not all the same, not all agreeing on everything. This is how we live with each other.

I am a little bit late to the world of podcasts and I’m learning which ones I will listen to, but thanks to a few of you I have started listening to the Liturgist podcast with Science Mike and Michael Gungor, I’m not very far in but in episode 4 they have a conversation with Rachel Held Evans and she says something that I have been rolling over and over in my brain since hearing it.

She says (and this is badly quoted) that often she is asked what she believes but people don’t often ask her what the fruit of her faith is: what her life looks like as a result of her following Jesus, or professing this faith.

So I have been thinking: what does my life look like as a result of following Jesus? Because this is not just a way of thinking or a statement of beliefs, we can say the creed and confess our sins together – but what difference does believing those things make for us?

Who am I as a result of proclaiming that I am a Christian?

And so I go back to stories, we figure that out, or I figure that out through hearing stories: stories of Jesus, stories of the disciples and stories of how you and others are living this faith. That is what helps me live my faith.

I think one of the reasons I like podcasts so much is because I love listening to stories and it is certainly why I love this work, why I love being a pastor – I love people’s stories. I love hearing how you connect to God, how you live your life as a result.

There is that song that we sometimes sing: you’ll know we are Christians by our Love. And sometimes as we sing that song, I think ‘really? Will we? Because I think that is kind of a best case scenario. It is not always how you know us at all.

But love is the thing that we preach about most of all – that God loves us, that Jesus loves us, that we are called to love one another.

We build on what we know, our experiences of faith, of what it means to be a part of community, on our experience of prayer and reading of scripture.

And Peter and Paul both spend a lot of time working out and encouraging others to follow Jesus, writing to communities, giving thanks for them, calling people beloved, sharing their own experiences of imprisonment. And whatever you might think of them and honestly I have had my share of arguments particularly with Paul – you have to see that they were trying their very best to follow Jesus, to let their lives be examples of their faith. To be living examples.

In the Gospel of John that we hear tonight, Jesus has shown up again after his death to the disciples as when they have gone out fishing, catching nothing at first but then at Jesus’ urging, they cast the nets once more on the other side of the boat and their nets come up full, so they come ashore and eat together and this is where we hear the conversation between Jesus and Peter.

Jesus asking Peter, if he loves him three times, with three requests: to feed his lambs, tend his sheep and feed his sheep. It’s a weird conversation. But the words he uses are action words: tend, feed. And he talking about taking care of community, lambs are young – less than a year and sheep are full grown. He could be talking about young and old, he could be talking about new followers and those who have been following for some time. But he’s commissioning again the work of Peter, of the disciples. Tend, feed, follow.

This is a faith of action, of lived experiences not just of belief, but because of belief.

We live particular ways, we hold particular values because of our faith because we believe that Jesus Christ has a particular way to show us how to live and we want to live it.

We talk about Saints because of the lives that they lived, the action that their faith took and the example that their lives sets for us.

We observe this day as a part of the pattern that is set for us in the church year within our tradition. Having the opportunity to not just talk about scripture but also how people before us have encountered Jesus and how it changed their lives helps us to think about our own response to this faith that we proclaim.

Yesterday in this Cathedral building we ordained 8 people: three to the order of priesthood and 5 to the order of the Diaconate. All of those people have committed to trying to pattern their lives within this tradition and in response to the scriptures. It’s no small charge.

Two of them will be held within the Cathedral community, Jeffrey Priess as Deacon and Ross Bliss will come as curate or priest in training and it’s exciting to look forward to welcoming them. They will challenge us and push into new ways of being just by being members of the clergy team here.

Their lives will impact the life of this church.

Their story intersects with our own.

Your story touches mine and ours and helps to build this community.

We are a people of a story, yours, mine, ours and all those who have come before us.