Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Galatians 2:11-14, "Peter the Rock, Paul the Rock-thrower", Ordinary 6, 2013

Ever felt like you were somehow not related to your family? Maybe you were really adopted or perhaps switched at birth, because there is no way you are related to that know it all older sister or that loud mouthed little brother. How could your mom and dad be such people persons while you hate being around people, at least for more than hour at a time? How could your cousin be such a math wiz while you're mathematically incompetent? It's funny somtime how different we are from our families, but yet, we are related...believe it our not! As we get older, like into our teen years, we start to develop our own personalities, our own likes and dislikes, our own way of doing things. This is when it starts, when we become painfully aware of the fact, or joyfully aware, that we are different and not just different than our annoying little brother, but different from a lot of people.

When I was a kid I was a big Schwarzenegger fan. I saw just about all his movies...that my parents would let me watch. I loved the Terminator movies and all those action films he did, but I also thought his comedies were funny and watched a lot of those. One of my favorite Schwarzenegger comedies was Twins. This was a movie that co-stared Danny Devito as Arnold's "twin", his lost at birth twin. Obviously whats so humorous is that the two could not possibly be any more different, ones tall, muscly, and handsome, while the other is short, fat and obnoxious, so the irony is...their twins (ha ha ha ;)...and you and your bother thought you to were different ;). As the family of the 1st century began to be formed we saw in it what we see in a lot of families....differences. None of these difference could be any more pronounced than the differences between two of Christendom's most prominent figures, Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

Tradition says they were both martyred in A.D 64 in the City of Rome in fact some scholars theorize that they were even buried in the same grave, but that's were the similarities pretty much stop. Besides other more significant difference, they looked a lot different, like Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger different. All one needs to do is look at the iconography to see the physical difference.

Saint Peter (above) was tall, burly, rugged and even...handsome. Saint Paul (below) was short, slim and bald...maybe not so handsome ;)
Along with these physical difference there were obvious cultural, traditional and ministerial difference between the two.  Peter was "blue collar", small town and rual. He was uneducated, uncultured, and knew only friends and family from his very small, very simple and very country part of the world. He was a laborer, a struggling and somewhat impoverished fisherman. He was slow to comprehend and quick to speak. He was impulsive and impetuous, and he was quick to act, a trait that often got him in trouble. Despite all that he was a natural born leader. People were drawn to Peter. He was charismatic, out-gowing and a great speaker/preacher. Peter is mentioned every time the Apostles are listed and he is always...always listed first.

On the other hand Paul was "white collar", what we might call a "suit" today. He had been trained in the best Midrash schools, by the best and most well respected Rabbi (teacher) of his day...Gamaiel. He spoke Greek, Latin, Aramaic and Hebrew. He was an up and coming figure in the Jerusalem political scene as a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a Roman Citizen, a thing he valued very much and even used to his advantage as an Apostle. He was a trained Artisan in the art of leather work (what we know as a tent maker). He was a devote, disciplined, dedicated and Torah observant Jew even to the point of being "extreme" or "fundamentalist". He was urban, well cultured and "metropolitan". Paul was not a natural leader, in fact he spent most of ministry defending his right to lead the church as an Apostle. He wasn't much of a speaker/preacher either. The book of Acts tells us the Barnabas spoke for Paul while they were in Lystra (the people thought Paul was Zeus and Barnabas was Hermes, Zeus' messenger). And Paul always considered himself the least of the Apostles, never to be mentioned first like Peter.

As you can see, the two couldn't be more different and they are one of the greatest ironies of the Early church. Paul the Torah observant, well educated and cosmopolitan Pharisee spent the duration of his life taking the gospel, a then rural religion, filled with images of shepherding, farming and vineyards to an urban Gentile peoples, while Peter, the semi-observent, unschooled Jewish fisherman spent his life taking the gospel to torah observant, semi-rual jews, trying to convince them that all the regulations, all the ritual amounted to love God and love neighbor, a truth that Peter himself often forgot.

Which brings us to our passage this week. Last week we heard Paul's testimony on how he went from a Torah terrorist, throwing rocks, stoning Christians to death,  to an Apostle. We all know Peter as the rock because of his profession of faith. So this week we see what happens when Peter the Rock encounters Paul the Rock-thrower. It's important that we have some background when approaching this passage. The main reason for Paul to write to the Galatians is to combat the heresy of the Judizers. The Judaizers were a group of Christians, supported by and encourage by the Apostles in Jerusalem (mostly James). They believed that in order to have a share in the life of Christ one must first become an observant Jew, i.e be circumcised, eat kosher and observe ritual cleanliness. Paul writes them in an attempt to pursued them to the truth, that all one needs to do in order to have a share in the life of Christ is be baptized and join themselves to the body of Christ (the church). All this of course by grace through faith. In this passage Paul recalls a conversation he had with Peter in which he reminds Peter that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones. You see unfortunately Peter had allowed himself to be persuaded by the Judaizer sect and was preaching that observant Judahism was a precursor to Christian life. Paul essentially calls Peter on this and points out that he has, nor has he ever really been an observant Jew, at least not like him. Paul shames Peter into repentance and again embracing the one true Gospel, a message of faith, hope and love open to any and all regardless to whether they are observant Jews or not.

One of the most interesting things about this passage, about the book of Galatians is that it bares witness to the process of changing from a religion that is works based, i.e the strict observance of the law, to one that is faith based, i.e salvation by grace through faith. This was by no means an easy transition, it was a struggle and the law remains a stumbling block to the Jews to this day. It must have been difficult for God fearing, observant, even semi-observent Jews of that day to forget everything they were ever taught about holiness and began welcoming people they had always seen as un-holy and that would transfer their unholiness to them, into the family of God. Paul was a perfect example of all this. Paul knew the law, he was zealous for the law, but he also knew the transforming power of Jesus Christ and he knew that it didn't take and observant Jew to experience this.

We know that Peter and Paul made up, they resolved their differences, why? Because thats what members of the body of Christ do....right? ;) Church people never get mad at each other, they never leave their local churches because they are upset with something the pastor said, or because some one they don't like joined...right? Church people always resolve their difference without name calling, back biting or gossiping...right? What allowed Peter and Paul to resolve their difference? They were joined by something greater than their differences. The person of Jesus Christ and if more Christians would turn to the powerful bond that a body has to it's various members more often, we wouldn't have so many church hoppers. Theres nothing wrong with differences, there's nothing wrong with disagreeing or even arguing. What's wrong is division, malice...hatred. Unfortunately there is plenty of all that in our churches today.  How do Peter and Paul, the Rock and the Rock Thrower exist in the same body without killing each other? It's the common message of the cross and their commitment to never doing anything that would compromise that message.

Other faiths have sacred places like tombs and sacred historical sites, faiths like Jews, Muslims and Hindu's. These historical and sacred sites end up being a point of division often, like the difference between Shiite and Sunni Islam, but whats special about us is that even though we have a few historical site or two ;), they don't act as lightning rod for division. What makes us Christians is one baptism, one faith and one Lord. We are all called to and embrace the person of Jesus Christ, that my friends cannot be divided. So may you be people called to unity, called to oneness, called to Christ and may you refuse to embrace the foolish difference that threaten to divid the body of Christ. Amen.

In Christ,
Pastor Josh

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