Confessing and all with Saints Peter and Paul

Confessing and all with Saints Peter and Paul

+ + + In Nomine Jesu + + +

Dear Brothers and
Sisters in Christ,

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Probably since about
the middle of the third century, June 29 has been celebrated as The Feast of
St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles. On this date, apparently both of their
remains were moved for a time to a vault on the Appian Way, the most-important
ancient Roman road. In keeping with our Lutheran Confessions, we today observe
the Feast: to thank God for these examples of His mercy, to
strengthen our faith
, and to hold them up as examples of faith and
other virtues for us to imitate in our respective vocations. Our St. Paul’s congregation may be inclined to give a little more attention to its namesake
St. Paul, but, in keeping with the spirit of the Feast day, I want us to give
attention to both saints, under the theme “Confessing and all with
Saints Peter and Paul”.

There is a tendency, I
think, to regard people such as Peter and Paul as perfect paragons of
sainthood, quintessential examples of holiness, and our appointed readings this
day in part perpetuate that perception. The first reading tells a bit about how
Peter, Paul, and the other apostles and elders all came together at a council
in Jerusalem to settle the matter of what aspects of Jewish ceremonial law
might be binding on the Gentiles. The second reading tells of Paul’s earlier visit
to Jerusalem when James, Peter, and John gave Paul and Barnabas the right hand
of fellowship and agreed that Paul and Barnabas should go to the Gentiles and that
they should go to the Jews. And, the third reading tells of Peter’s still earlier,
great confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. Yes, the
readings portray Peter and Paul as confessors of the faith and apostles to Jews
and Gentiles, working in concert in perfect harmony

But, such was not
always the case. Immediately after Peter’s great confession of Jesus as the
Christ, Jesus showed His disciples that the Christ would suffer, die, and be
raised from the dead, which prompted Peter to rebuke Jesus and Jesus, in turn,
to rebuke Peter as Satan, for not setting his mind on the things of God but on the
things of man. Some time after Peter gave Paul the right hand of fellowship in
Jerusalem, Peter went down to Antioch, where Paul had to oppose Peter for
hypocritically breaking fellowship with Gentile believers and thereby not
acting in step with the truth of the Gospel. And, before the harmonious
Apostolic Council in Jerusalem, it took Divine intervention to convince Peter
that he could be in fellowship with Gentile believers, and it took an
appearance of the ascended Lord to convert Paul from his way of life as a
Pharisee persecuting Christ’s Church. Of course, we could go on, thinking of
such things as Peter’s three‑fold denial of Jesus on the night He was
betrayed, but those other examples seem sufficient to see that Peter and Paul
were far from perfect paragons of sainthood.

Peter and Paul were far
from perfect paragons of sainthood, and so are we far from being perfect. For
some examples, let us think for a few minutes about our Gospel reading and what
happened after the event it narrates. When Jesus asked His disciples who people
said He was in order to set right some wrong ideas, the disciples told Jesus
about some of the inadequate confessions of Him in those days—John the
Baptizer, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. What are inadequate
confessions in our day? An inadequate confession might still be that Jesus was just
a prophet. Or, an inadequate confession might be that Jesus only did part
of what is needed to save people from their sins. Or, an inadequate confession
might be while admitting Jesus was God also insisting that He cannot be really,
physically present in bread and wine. How often do we let others make
such inadequate confessions of Jesus without commenting? How often are our
confessions of Jesus similarly inadequate? How often are own
confessions of Jesus altogether absent? Even if we do with Peter confess
Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, how often do we turn around
and, setting our minds on the things of man instead the things of God, reject
the way of the cross that Jesus followed and also calls us to follow? Too
is the simple answer. We either too often fail to adequately confess
Jesus, or, when we do adequately confess Him, we too often reject the suffering
such confession brings about.

The examples of Peter
and Paul are helpful for us again. When Jesus used a miraculous catch of fish
in the process of calling Peter as a disciple, Peter fell down before Jesus on
his knees and said, “I am a sinful man, O Lord,” and, when writing to his
faithful co-worker Timothy, even the great apostle Paul described himself as
the “chief” of sinners. By nature, you and I are no better or worse than Peter
and Paul. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “all have sinned and fall short
of the glory of God”. This day and every day, God calls us to repent: to turn
in sorrow from our sin and to trust in Him for forgiveness for Jesus’s sake.
When we so repent, God forgives our sin—our failures to adequately confess
Jesus, our rejection of the sufferings we experience as Christians, or whatever
our sin might be. Out of His great mercy, love, and grace, God forgives all
our sins.

God forgives all our
sins because His Son, Jesus the Christ, suffered, died, and rose again for
and for our salvation. Jesus came down from heaven, was incarnate
by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man so that He could
be crucified and rise again to save us from our sins. And, He ascended into
heaven, sits at the right hand of the Father, and finally will come again with
glory to bring about our salvation fully. The ancient creeds—Apostolic, Nicene,
and Athanasian—in most cases give an adequate answer to Jesus’s question: “Who
do you-all say that I am?” Peter confessed Jesus as the Son of the living God;
Jesus confessed Himself as the Son of God (and the Son of Man) and was
crucified for it, giving Himself up for His Church. Paul made the confession of
Jesus as the Son of God in all its fullness the center of his apostolic
preaching. Jesus, the Son of God, died and rose for all—we individually need
only believe and thereby receive the salvation He so graciously offers. When we
do, God forgives our sins.

In today’s Gospel
reading, we hear Jesus tell Peter, son of Jonah, that human flesh and blood did
not reveal to him the confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living
God, but that His Heavenly Father revealed that to Peter, even as Paul
elsewhere describes Christ revealing the Gospel to him. And, in today’s Gospel
reading, we hear Jesus say that He will build His Church on the ministry making
that confession of Jesus as the Christ. It is Christ’s Church that makes known
the wisdom of God to the world, with Peter’s and Paul’s successors exercising
on Christ’s authority the keys of the kingdom of heaven for the Church’s
benefit, feeding and tending Christ’s lambs and sheep. Christ Himself is
present with His Church, even if only two are gathered, as in individual
confession and absolution. The glory of Christ’s Church does not depend on the
number gathered into it, even though He wants all people to confess Him as the
Christ, the Son of the living God, and by believing in Him to have life in His
Name. The Triune God alone has life in and of Itself and alone gives life to
others. The Son of the living God first gives life and His Name in the living
water of Holy Baptism—Holy Baptism, which St. Peter by Divine inspiration wrote
saves us. Then, those Baptized in His Name, confessing the fullness of the
faith together, come to the altar to receive the bread of life—the Sacrament of
the Altar, which St. Paul by Divine inspiration wrote proclaims the Lord’s
death until He comes. Through these Means of Grace, God lives in those who
acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God. Through the exercise of the keys in these Means
of Grace, repentant and believing sinners are forgiven and unrepentant and
unbelieving sinners are excluded from the communion of the Church and bound
over to hell.

We probably can easily
imagine how if someone who threatened our family came to our door we would do
everything we could to keep them from crossing the threshold and coming into
our homes. So, we probably can easily relate to how gates of cities in the Old
Testament are the place for contending with enemies and how the Lord was the
source of strength for those who battled at the gates. In the Gospel reading
today Jesus describes His Church as a structure built on the rock of the
ministry confessing Him, and Jesus also describes the forces of evil as a
structure but a structure that not only cannot prevail against His
Church but one that also by implication is defeated by His Church. The
Church and we in it suffer an onslaught until the Last, Great Day, but we take
great comfort knowing that the gates of hell do not prevail against the Church
or us in it. As St. Peter exhorts us, we who suffer according to God’s will
entrust our souls to a faithful God, and, as Christ reminded St. Paul, we
remember that as we suffer God’s grace is sufficient for us, for His power is
made perfect in our weakness. Truly, as the sermon theme suggests, we can
“Confess and all with Saints Peter and Paul”.

Saints Peter and Paul did more than confess with their lips that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. As our sermon hymn reminded us,
on account of that confession they yielded their lives, respectively, to cross
and to sword. The blood of their martyrdom is represented in the red paraments
and stole. St. Paul, for one, finally got to do what he wrote to the
Philippians he long-wanted to do: to depart and be with Christ, for that is far
better. May God grant that we who have vowed likewise to suffer all, even
death, rather than fall away from this confession and Church, similarly wait
eagerly for the redemption of our bodies, knowing that God, Who has begun this
good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of our Lord Jesus


The peace of God, which
passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

+ + + Soli Deo Gloria + + +