There are truths that appear in Christian writing, preaching, and teaching that are derived from Scripture. One partly derived from today’s epistle to the Romans is “No person is so high and no person is so low for God’s notice and transformation.” It speaks to the discipleship Jesus calls us. The discipleship that frees us from the condescending pride that says, “I cannot work with such idiots for God” and the discipleship that frees us from the false pride that says “I have no gifts or talents that Jesus would be interested in using.” We see the first in Paul’s letter, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think or yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith you have been given.” We see the second in his next sentence, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”
We see that truth in the lives of the two apostles featured in this morning’s epistle and gospel, Peter and Paul. One might say, “You have to be kidding. After Jesus, Peter and Paul, along with John, are the three heavyweights in the New Testament.” I am not kidding. It is true they are two of the more important witnesses for Jesus Christ. They are not that far removed from you and I in the sort of people they are. Their lives show what God can do through different people with different make-ups.
Let’s start with Peter. Jesus enters his life earlier. He was raised in a small town, Capernaum. He had little, if any, formal education. He was a fisherman by trade. He was married. He seems to have a good relation with his brother Andrew. He seems to fit in with the other fishermen in the area. There is nothing about him that would make most people say, “He is the man I want to carry out this big project.”
Then we take Paul. He was raised in more metropolitan Tarsus. His family had connections. They received or were able to purchase Roman citizenship. Paul was taught by one of the two great Pharisaic teachers of his time, Gamaliel. While Paul can do practical things to make a living, such as tent making and repair, he is recognized as a sound Pharisee. Apparently he is single. He relocated to the religious center of his people, Jerusalem.
Background is not the only difference. Peter and Paul have different temperaments.
Peter is quick to speak first think second. When Jesus asks his disciples “Who do you say I am?” it is Peter who boldly states Jesus unique standing in the world, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” After Jesus’ ascension he will continue to speak boldly. He preaches in the temple area after being ordered not to speak by the temple authorities. He overcomes his doubts and heeds a message from God by baptizing the Roman centurion Cornelius and his household.
That encounter shows that Peter, for all his bold speaking, has times of uncertainty. It did take a conversation with God and the timely arrival of out of town messengers to convince him to go see Cornelius. The most famous is denying he knew Jesus after our Savior’s arrest even though hours before he boldly declared he would stand with him to the end.
On the other hand Paul initially saw Jesus as a destroyer of his faith. He becomes dedicated to eliminating what he sees as a heresy within Judaism. He observes and approves when a crowd stones the Christian deacon Stephen. It is only after Jesus dramatically encounters him that he becomes one of the boldest and persistent Christian missionaries, primarily to the Gentile population in the Roman Empire. At times he will even revel in the hardships this call brought.
The two apostles know they differ from each other. And point that out to other Christians.
2 Peter 3:15-16 shows Peter’s awareness of that. “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort.” Peter is nicely saying Paul can be too intellectual and needlessly complicates.
Paul is aware of Peter’s times of uncertainty which lead him to vacillate. In Galatians 2:13-14 he relates how he challenged Peter’s shifting when pressured. “But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned, for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not a Jew, how can you compel Gentiles to live like Jews.”
Jesus used these two different men to preach the word, heal the sick, and model Jesus’ transforming way to the world, even with their respective foibles. Through the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit did in them, we are shown we all have some gifts and talents that can be used to love God and love our neighbor, as Christ first loved us. The work within Peter and Paul demonstrates we do not have to wait until we have it all together to be of use.
I have learned the most physically and/or mentally challenged person has gifts. Our supervisor at Western State Psychiatric Hospital in Washington state Bill Voris taught that the most damaged person at the hospital teaches us, who are more whole, how to be better care-givers. He often told us the patients there were our teachers.
We have much to offer in our present time where there is a generation that is aware that things have jumped the track, and desires something better with a more sold anchor. They live in a world in North America and Western Europe cutting them off from Jesus Christ who can provide the soundest base for that. You and I need to see discipleship is what 19th Century Congregationalist minister and serious short story author Edward Everett Hale described:
“I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”
The truth is, as Jesus and the Holy Spirit demonstrate though the lives of Paul and Peter, it is amazing what that something I can do can become. Amen.