Sunday, June 29, 2014
Homily for The Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul, Apostles
Matthew 16:13-19; Galatians 2:1-10; Acts 15:1-21
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul confesses that he was called to preach the Gospel to the uncircumcised. Now, the uncircumcised were Gentiles, pagans, not Jews – that is to say that the uncircumcised were people just like you and me. You might think that to such godless people Paul might lash out at them with a stern preaching of the Law and whip them into shape. But, no, instead Paul preaches the Gospel to them, the good news of their freedom in Christ Jesus. He does not lay into them with the Law because they do not know Christ – that would be required only if they were unrepentant or rejected the Gospel – but rather Paul proclaimed the freedom of the Gentiles in Christ. He told them that they were not required to fulfill the ceremonial and the dietary laws that had been set before the Jews. He told them that this was not because the Law had been abolished or done away with, but because Jesus Christ had fulfilled the Law for them, on their behalf. He told them that all they needed to do was to believe in Jesus. In short, St. Paul told the Gentiles that they were not required to become Jews, but they were to become Christians.
The uncircumcised did not have to become circumcised. This was good news indeed! But, such good news goes against our nature. We think it must be too good to be true. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, after all. What’s the catch? Surely there is something we must do. This is the way of the flesh. This is the way of our fallen human reason. Because of this reality, I’ve considered putting a sign on that tent out in the church yard saying, “Take everything in this tent for $10,” because, if I that if I put up a sign that said “Free,” no one would take it, suspecting that anything that’s free must be suspect, worthless junk. Likewise, St. Paul proclaimed to the Galatians and to numerous other Gentile city-states and communities the free forgiveness of sins by God’s grace, received through faith in Jesus Christ, only to have them revert to works and obedience under the Law soon after he left them. Where Paul cast off their shackles and chains and set them free from captivity under the Law by the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the people believed in their hearts and confessed with their mouths, “It can’t be that easy. Nothing is free. What’s the catch?” Then false teachers rose up to preach to them a religion of works, a religion of the law, and placed them under its shackles and chains once again. And the saddest thing about this is that the people submitted willingly because it made sense to them, because there’s no such thing as a free lunch and there’s always a catch.
This is most certainly true, with men, but not with God. With God, free really means free – free to you – though not to Him. Indeed, your free lunch cost God plenty. Your forgiveness and redemption from sin and death was most costly, even priceless, to Him. His cost was the life of His only-begotten Son. Indeed, your freedom is not free, but you were bought with a price – the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. Yet, the Son willingly laid down His life for you. He did this because of His great love for you and for His Father. Indeed, Jesus fulfilled the Law completely for you, even its greatest and summary commandment, perfectly loving God with all His heart, soul, and mind, and perfectly loving you, His neighbor and His brother. You were bought with a price; you belong to God through Jesus Christ. You should be a slave, but He has made you to be His son. If the Son sets you free, then you are free indeed.
Then why do you insist on submitting yourself to slavery under the Law once again? What, you think you don’t? You do! Let’s try a little experiment: If you were to die, right now, are you certain that you will go to heaven? If you are certain – absolutely certain – that you will go to heaven, then put your hand up. I’m serious, raise them up! Ok, good, that’s a little better than I expected. But, now, let me ask you this: Think of a time when you weren’t sitting in church, a time when you were really angry or had done something that you know was wrong and you were feeling guilty and ashamed – what about then? What if you were to have died right then and there, in the middle of an argument with your husband or wife, or after blowing up at your children? Do you believe that you would have gone to heaven then? Raise your hands. Put ‘em up! Ah, not so many this time. Why not? Did Jesus die for your sins, or not? Did He only die for your small sins, but not your big ones? Or, do you place your hope for salvation in something else in addition to Jesus, or even in place of Jesus? Do you place your hope for salvation in your being a good person, in your good works, in your charity, in your going to church? The Gospel Truth is this: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” – period. Every one of your hands should be up – way up! For you have been purchased in the holy, innocent shed blood of Jesus Christ. You were bought with a price. Nothing can separate you for God’s love in Jesus. Therefore, do not submit yourself to the shackles, chains, and slavery of the Law. Live in the Gospel freedom of your sins forgiven in Jesus Christ to the glory of God.
St. Peter is best known for his great confession of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Our Lord praised Peter for his confession saying “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” However, Peter is, perhaps, equally, and infamously, renowned for his rebuke of Jesus moments later, unwilling to accept or believe that Jesus must suffer and die, which earned Jesus’ reproach, “Get behind me Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” You see, Jesus wasn’t incarnated, Jesus didn’t become a man, in order to provide you an example of how you should live your life and how you might work your way to God, but Jesus became a man so that He might fulfill God’s Law for you, in your place, and still suffer and die for you and for your sin and guilt, thus setting you free forever. More than that, because of His obedience and His righteousness, God raised Jesus from the dead, the firstfruits of those who die in the Lord, that you will be raised up on the Last Day and live in His glorious presence in flesh, blood, body and soul forevermore.
St. Peter was far from perfect. However, just like St. Paul, that’s what makes him such a great preacher of the Gospel! Peter knew his sins and failings well. He knew how weak his flesh was and how easy it was for him to succumb to temptation and to sell himself back into slavery under the Law. Thus, when he heard the testimony of Paul and Barnabas of how the Gentiles received the Gospel, Peter proclaimed to Jewish converts and to those of the party of the Pharisees, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and He made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” “Now, therefore,” Peter continued, “why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
St. Peter knew well the grace and freedom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He had personally experienced the weight of the Law lifted off of his shoulders, like a calf being released from the burden of its yoke. Peter knew that the same Christ who had set him and his Jewish brethren free had also freed the Gentiles. Peter knew that the Law, which neither he, nor his brethren, nor their fathers had been able to bear, could not be forced upon the Gentile converts who trusted in Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation. And so, St. Peter and St. Paul were united in their confession and proclamation of the Gospel of forgiveness and redemption in Jesus Christ. Their ministry was one of casting off the chains and shackles of the Law, the ministry of Good News, the Gospel, in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Too good to be true? What has goodness or badness to do with Truth? The Truth is what it is – whether you think it good or bad, whether you believe it or not. And the Truth is this: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” And so, Jew or Gentile, you are saved, not by works of obedience under the Law, but by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ who has fulfilled the Law, suffered and died for your sin, and has been raised for your justification.
No such thing as a free lunch? The Lord has prepared for you a lavish feast of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, freely offered, freely given for you to eat and drink that you may live in Him and He in you now and forever. Your LORD invites you, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Here the poor in spirit receive comfort and nourishment, even the kingdom of heaven. You don’t deserve it. You cannot earn it. You cannot buy it. But, you can receive it, in faith, as a gift – but, only as a gift. Thanks be to God. To God alone be all glory.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.