Sermon 28th June 2015

SS Peter & Paul 2015 Acts 12:1-11 2Tim 4:6-8,17-18 Matt 16:13-19

The saying, “Robbing Peter to pay Paul” comes from the practice, when there was even less money about of, taking resources from Westminster Abbey, the Abbey Church of St. Peter in Westminster, to give to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, London. St. Pauls is a cathedral, the seat of a Diocesan Bishop in just the same way as our own cathedral in Chichester is.  Westminster Abbey is a private chapel belonging to the Queen, such are known as Royal Peculiars. There are a few Archbishop’s Peculiars too! Although beginning as a monastery on what was then Thorney Island, Westminster passed into Royal possession. St. Pauls, long regarded as a sort of national cathedral, would need support and so Peter was robbed to pay Paul.

Today the Church remembers both St. Peter and St. Paul. They are often celebrated together. The Acts of the Apostles, chronicles the life of the very early church, the very first people to begin to read and listen to the witness of the Apostles and gather together to worship and pray. It wasn’t straightforward. What had crucified Jesus was still there. Following him they had become themselves a threat to the exploiting power of religious authority and a focus for opposition to the Romans. Looked at from another perspective ordinary, moderate people must have worried about them ands what they might do in the name of God.

King Herod, probably not the same Herod as the king at the time of Jesus’ birth was, still, a puppet of the Romans.  Just the same he was afraid of those occupiers of the country who kept him in power just as long as he could keep order among the Jews. He knew that if he didn’t he was due for the high cross too. These days in parts of the world it is the other way round. While I have been on holiday I read the novel, ‘The Kite Runner’. It is mainly about relationships and loyalty and racialism, and set against the background of Afghanistan as it changes from a Monarchy, through turbulent violence to the time of government by the Taleban. It stretches to breaking point all relationships and friendships as people look for ways to survive.  Herod was afraid that these people who spoke about a man called Jesus who had died but still held tremendous allegiance would unbalance the country. It shows up in high relief as the danger of religion without faith.

This moment as Peter escapes the prison of Herod, illustrates the belief that nothing would or could constrain the Christian message, it would get out, faith would win over religion.  He is told to put his clothes on.  Clothes in the Bible signify identity and character.  Who are you? Can you see who you are?  Can you see beyond the bars of the prisoner built around you by others or yourself? Can others see who you are or do your clothes stop yourself from being seen? Most of us dress that way. It would affect people as they began to realise that the old Law had a deeper meaning than simply behaving yourself and making your sacrifices or merely appearing to be OK. Now injustices and wrongs had to be faced with the face of God and that was destabilising for those who held power by terror.

Jesus realised that people would be wondering who we was.  Was he some upstart religious fanatic? We know what sort of trouble that causes and they had seen that before. He did not fit the mould of the religious and pious leader of faith as they had come to know them. In fact it would seem that he did not want to have much to do with religion at all other than to criticise it. He upset most people in and around the Temple. What do they think?  He asks. Then, what do you think?

One of the central planks of the Diocese of Chichester’s initiative and strategy for mission is simply to be who you are where you are. To be involved with the people you live amongst.  Maybe to loiter a bit in the queue at the shop, to natter to the person standing and looking over his gate. It’s just possible that someone will ask who you are.  Probably not directly to you but without their knowing they will ask God and God will respond in loving embrace. That person has faith, go with her, find me, will be whispered in the back of his mind.

It’s not as easy as that of course. Sainthood is costly. But we are not asked for more than we can give.  Peter found himself in chains. Paul was tried and mob bullied. Both found words and made eloquent speeches or wrote fine letters.  You or I might simply have to be present, there, occupying space perhaps where someone used to be, where someone never was, a vessel to receive the detritus of breaking love, a critic of the decisions of authority, an encourager to get things done. An adult who has not forgotten what growing up is like.

That is the Rock, the bedrock, on which all is built.  And more, we are to forgive in the name of God, otherwise hurt will never be let go of.


© Frank Wright 2015



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