Sunday, 29 June 2008

"Apostolic Diversity" - A sermon for the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul.

Zechariah 4:14: "These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth." (NJB)

I have to start by telling you that the OT reading today actually has nothing at all to do with Peter and Paul! It refers to the High Priest and the Governor appointed to run Palestine after the return from exile of the Hebrew nation in 520BC and we can date this vision pretty accurately to circa February 519. And of those two anointed ones, by chapter 6 of Zechariah, they were down to one, as the Governor Zerubbael had proved to be a bit of a busted flush!

But in the context of celebrating the Feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, our two anointed ones are the two apostles who most significantly shaped the history of the Christian Church as we experience it today. Peter and Paul proved to be the decisive double act who freed the young Church from its potential imprisonment as a Palestinian, mainly Jewish, sect and set it free to become the diverse, multi-cultural, global body we know it as today. And a more unlikely pair of multi-cultural liberators than Peter and Paul you would be hard pressed to find in human history.

Peter was your original "hick from the sticks". A small town Galilean fisherman, the farthest he'd every been from home was down to Jerusalem for the Passover. He spoke a bit of Greek, no doubt, but was very likely illiterate. Paul was a Roman citizen, born in what is now modern Turkey. He would certainly have had Greek, Latin and Hebrew as his languages and would probably have been literate. But he was a hardcore Pharisee and anti-Gentile and pagan culture. I suspect that cultural liberator was a role neither had in mind when they began to preach and lead in the early Christian Church. But Paul, driven by his experience en route to Damascus, was to become the great advocate of preaching the Gospel over cultural boundaries and was to be surprisingly sensitive to the need to accommodate local cultural practice when deciding what was and wasn't acceptable as a Christian lifestyle. peter, unsurprisingly, was more resistant to this endeavour, but his baptism of Cornelius and his household in Acts 10 and his strong support of the Pauline approach at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 show him to have been open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in this area. Perhaps he was never quite as committed to this vision of inclusiveness as Paul was - Paul was to be very critical of Peter in Galatians chapter 2 for giving in to Judaisers in the Church there.

Our twin pillars of the Church represent the diversity of the Christian Community in its early days. From different cultural backgrounds and with different levels of education, sophistication and experience of other cultures, they came to share a broad level of agreement on policy when they opened themselves to sharing their experiences and insights with one another in the context of prayer and dialogue. Both knew where they came from and what they deeply believed but both were willing to sit down and talk because they knew each other and recognised each other as fellow disciples, human and flawed, striving to be faithful to the same Risen Christ they acknowledged as Saviour and Lord.

Here this morning in Christ Church we have something of a living example of this diversity and unity in our sacred ministers. Our celebrant, in historic robes, is Ann, English, married mother and priest. The Liturgy of the Word is led by Tim, Kenyan, widowed parent, former Principal of a Kenyan theological college and Priest in Charge of a congregation in the Diocese of California and hospital chaplain. The sermon is being preached by John, Scot, bachelor, pushing 41 and dressed up as one of the Pope's 2nd XI! Apostolic diversity incarnate!

Next months Lambeth Conference is meeting in part to resolve not dissimilar tensions in the Anglican Fellowship of Churches. Disciples witnessing in different cultures and with different backgrounds are trying to find common ground and agreement on how to reach out effectively and with integrity into their different cultures. The tragedy is that not all the differing parties will be there to listen to each other and to God and to learn.

The Bishops of Uganda and Nigeria will largely be absent, as will some American Bishops from both ends of the spectrum. This will naturally and inevitably limit Lambeth's ability to discern common ground and find a via media - a middle way that is not a compromise or a fudge but a mutually agreed way ahead. This is tragic, in the proper sense of the word, for it will diminish rather than strengthen the world wide communion of saints and weaken rather than strengthen our common witness. Yet we should not yield too easily to the demon despair.

Peter and Paul were eventually drawn together again through adversity in Rome. Both shared imprisonment and martyrdom in the reign of the Emperor Nero and today their earthly remains rest together in a splendid tomb in the Lateran Basilica of St John in Rome. When I visited the Lateran on holiday in 2006, I found the site of their shared resting place a profoundly moving spot with a strong atmosphere of God's presence drawing us into unity in spite of disagreement. Whatever separates us as disagreeing Anglicans or separated denominations will ultimately be defeated by the power and will of God. For that which unites us - the blood of Christ shed that we might be reconciled to one another and to God and declared co-heirs together of the Divine Glory - is far stronger than our current unhappy divisions or than any power or principality of this world.

So as we celebrate this festival of S's Peter and Paul, let us commend the Lambeth Conference, those who attend it and those who are not attending it, to the prayers of Peter and Paul, co-workers for the Gospel and brothers in Christ, that through their intercession and through the reconciling love of God in Christ Jesus, God's Church may be one in spirit and in truth as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are one. Amen.

Our diverse and apostolic sacred minsters - spot the Dougal!


  1. Get a free Irfan View or free XNView (the former needs a plugin that can be downloaded) and you then need JPG lossless operations and rotate by 90 degrees either way or 180 degrees.

    I'm afraid I think the intention of the Archbishop of Canterbury is not to produce a via media but an organic relationship of bishops that has already been well and truly busted by the launching soon of the Primates' Council after GAFCON. See my blog: no mater which way you look at it, Anglicanism as a whole will be a loose body. The Archbishop's policy was disastrous from the start.

  2. Thanks for the tech advice adrian. As to the intentions of Rowan, they are as abstruse as his theology. What Anglicanism will be after July God alone knows. And she's keeping schtumn!