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Commemoration of Saints Peter and Paul

1.      Acts 12, 1-11

·         If I didn’t notice it before, I hear it in today’s reading.  Scripture presents the word of eyewitnesses to the wondrous works of God.  Details will count.  These catch my attention.

·         It was the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  Who else was arrested on such a day?

·         Herod intended to bring him before the people.  Like whom?  Acts is in many ways a restatement of Luke.  What happened to Christ will happen to his followers.

·         Prayer by the Church.  All members high and humble are united in this intention.  I remember our prayers of the faithful.  We are one with our leader, and so were they.  We know how powerful prayer can be.  So did they.  How can I show this?

·         Peter.  My listeners will not miss the name after hearing it five times.  But what exactly will they hear?  Herod knew how important his action was.  So did the Church, for whom Peter was the indispensable witness and symbol of their unity.

·         On the very night before...  I am reminded of two things.  First, God acts in secret, often in the silence of night.  Second, the words in our Eucharistic Prayer.

·         Secured by double chains.  In other words, beyond his ability to resist or escape.  Again, only God can get Peter out of there.

·         Climax: Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel.  Peter knows that it is about God. 

·         Message for the assembly: Many have been chained in history, including by people who called themselves Christians.  Can we remember them now?

·         I will challenge myself: To read with wonder, and to project a sense that God is achieving the same kind of liberation for men and women today.

2. II Timothy 4, 6-8 and 17-18

  • I am already being poured out like a libation.  It is a farewell from the apostle to his beloved disciple.  I can be strong, but I don’t think too much bombast would be appropriate.
  • The passage is divided in two.  In the first part I hear a voice with no regrets.  I have competed well; I have finished the race.  Over and over, I have…, a rich sense of completion. 
  • What he deserves is coming to him.  The Lord, the just judge, will award to me the crown of righteousness.  He’s talking about Jesus.  There is no hesitation or doubt in these words, and I will read them confidently.
  • Then in the second part I notice a touch of greater humility.  The Lord stood by me.  The Lord will rescue me and will bring me safe.  Let me not give an impression that my happy ending is due to my own efforts alone.
  • I hear also a slight complaint about “false brothers”: everyone deserted me.  We are learning about the numerous divisions and betrayals that took place within the church itself in the very beginning, and that have continued right to this day.  I will not emphasize the fact, because the apostle survived them just as we will. 
  • Climax: All who have longed for his appearance.  It is a hope we share, so that the reading is suddenly about us all.  All that we have just heard can apply to us as well.  Right now we long for a quick end to the hurricane season, or a successful conclusion to the semester, or a good job offer.  The church has always prayed for the return of the Lord.  Advent will soon be upon us, and once I used this phrase as a theme for my Advent cards.
  • The message for our assembly: The world praises those who have planned prudently for their years of retirement.  But how have we planned for the eternal days after that?  Is our own end tied in with the presence of Christ?
  • I will challenge myself: To rediscover that confidence with which the apostle dictated these words.

Gospel. Matthew 16, 13-19

  • Once again Jesus and his disciples have journeyed to a remote place north of Judea and Galilee, Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus can talk openly about potentially risky things.  Everyone mentioned by the disciples – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah were subjected to persecution and in John’s case murder.  These prophets are not dead and forgotten; the mere mention of their names still threatens the status quo.  We have many modern parallels.  In Iran it may be a dangerous thing to say the name of the patriot Mohammed Mossadegh in public.
  • Who do people say that the Son of Man is?  Who do you say that I am?  I will pause after each question to let the congregation answer for themselves.  Do they think about these things?  Do they know the consequences of their answers?  If we follow Jesus these are capital questions.
  • Only Simon Peter answers him.  The others are keenly aware of the meaning of all this.  They might be on their guard against informers in their midst.  Is that such an outlandish idea?  It happened to Jesus.  It happens so often today!  So Peter steps up and speaks for them, from his heart, with all his abandon, his courage and his loyalty.  You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Note: it is the same declaration Matthew uses at the trial of Jesus before the council.
  • And now I hear Jesus choosing (or the disciples presenting) this bold courageous man as the rock on which I will build my church.  So it is Peter’s courage that we and our church’s leaders are to imitate.
  • The reading is not about Jesus’ giving Simon his new name in grand isolation.  It is about Jesus’ confirming his gifts of leadership and the disciples’ rallying around him, against all threats to their union.
  • Climax: The words of Peter’s confession.
  • Message for our assembly: Our church is not like earthly empires, because it is indestructible.  The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  And its leadership speaks with the voice of God, holding the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  With this privilege comes a great responsibility: to confess Jesus openly.
  • I will challenge myself: To evoke the undertones of political risk in my reading as I declare the names of the prophets and repeat Peter’s confession today.

Word to Eucharist: Do we feel proud to be part of a communion with such courageous apostles?  Does the presence of Jesus among us increase our own courage?

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