April 10, 2016 – Are You a Peter or a Paul?

John 21:1-19, Acts 9:1-6

There was a show on a while back hosted by Mike Rowe called, “Dirty Jobs.”  The show had Mike working side by side with someone doing what many would refer to as a dirty job. He would clean out sewer lines, process hogs for slaughter, clean greasy massive-sized fryers, and the like.  I remember hearing him speak about a concern he had for the those classified as laborers.  There is a definite stigma about working as a blue collar worker as opposed to a white collar, manager type.  Mike speaks out regularly against those who would look down their noses at laborers who get their hands dirty.  Here is a quote from him as he is speaking out about the misconceptions concerning laborers:

“Yeah, the big [misconception] is [the people doing those jobs] are miserable. The second big one is that they’re not very smart. The third biggest one is that they’re not educated (which is of course different from being smart). The fourth is that they’re not making any money. There were probably forty or fifty multimillionaires on Dirty Jobs. We just never talked about it because it wasn’t about that. It was about being willing to get dirty, learn a useful skill, and do a thing that, uh, most people won’t.” [http://blog.aftercollege.com/mike-rowe-talks-work-twentysomethings-dirty-jobs/#lightbox-0/0/]

I would see fishermen and women as falling into this category of laborers.  Many have made fishing their profession or even their leisure sport of choice. The watermen and women have often weathered the literal storms at sea along with the fickleness of the catch, trying to support their families and make a decent living.  This is how we see Peter and some other disciples.  They were fishermen, living off the sea, hoping to provide for their families while also paying their taxes to Rome.

Peter in particular is someone we can relate to.  He was a bit brash at times, yet maintained a strong enough faith and/or reckless streak to step out of a boat in a raging sea when Jesus calls him to come and walk on the water.  Peter wasn’t spending his time in the synagogue as many of the holy men of his day were. Peter was putting his hand to the net before dawn, trying to find enough of a catch to support his family for another day.  I’m thinking Peter was not all that polished of a person overall – probably a bit rough around the edges.  My guess is his language and appearance weren’t always that appealing.  Perhaps he liked his job as many fisher persons do.  I say that because fishing was the first thing he wanted to do after living through the horror of Christ’s trial and crucifixion, after his own denial and realization through a night of bitter tears, after the stunning revelation of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  Peter’s mind, body and soul must have been on an emotional roller coaster, so he returned to the familiar and comfortable, what he knew and loved – he returned to fishing.

As a contrast for comparison we see Saul (later named Paul) – a true holy man of his day. Paul was the Pharisee of all Pharisees. He had trained and studied in the synagogue his entire life. He was groomed for life in the church and knew the law probably better than most.  He was one who offered sacrifices on behalf of many.  He was concerned with keeping the Israelites holy in the sight of God. He was most likely convinced that if God were to see the people as repentant and worthy, God would eliminate their enemy, the Romans, and restore the Israelites to their rightful glory as God’s chosen people.   He followed the laws of Moses and did what he thought God was leading him to do.

Saul was not one to sit back and allow the nuisance of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth to continue to corrupt the masses.  In his view, the Jews had to remain separate, a holy people; otherwise God would not send victory and rescue them from the Romans.  If that meant killing every last one of Jesus’ followers then so be it.  There were greater things at stake than a few lives.

Saul was on his way to Damascus where I’m sure he’d been told groups of Jesus’ followers were creating problems.  He was fully prepared to wreak havoc.  Acts 9:1-2 says, “Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.  He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.”  I wonder how many of them would have made it to Jerusalem.  I wonder if Saul would not have found a way to kill them in Damascus.  With his stature and credentials, I have no doubt he could have committed murder in cold blood and would have felt God was blessing him for his actions.  At some point Saul forgot one of the important commandments – thou shall not kill.

Saul, later Paul, was a zealous follower of God. There is a difference from being an average follower and being a zealous follower.  We often see this distinction among sports fans.  Here are some images of what I consider to be zealous fans. Paul was zealous in his quest to please God, to the point of being on a rampage against any who were followers of Christ.  It is on his journey to Damascus that Jesus takes an active part in turning Saul toward a different path.  Ironically, this path led Saul, now Paul, to being a great leader, a zealous leader, among of all people, the Gentiles.  God called Paul to a completely different path, one of inclusiveness and love. Paul became an advocate for those whom he traditionally would not even consider sharing a meal with much less starting a church.  Paul, a righteous and holy man of God, found himself expanding his own focus and becoming one of the greatest evangelists for Jesus Christ.

So are you a Peter or a Paul? Do you find yourself aligning with someone like Peter who may have been on the periphery until Jesus called him to come and follow?  Even after that calling, as you listen and try to soak in all the teachings of Jesus, maybe you too have found yourself stumbling, doubting, even denying you know Christ at all.  When the difficulties of daily life come at us from all sides, it can be a struggle to follow Christ’s teachings of love and compassion for others.  Yet you continue on, renewing your faith in Jesus as a witness of God’s grace.  You didn’t start out with a vast knowledge of the Bible or the prophets or even the most famous stories of characters we are to emulate.  You didn’t spend your entire life in the church, being raised to appreciate the benefits of attending church and sharing God’s love with others.  You came to faith after an encounter with Jesus the Christ – you found your way to Calvary and the resurrection of the son of God.  You didn’t start out as a follower of Christ, but you are one now and continue to walk along your faith journey.

Or perhaps you are more like Paul.  Paul who was raised in the church, attended to every activity and ritual required of a follower of God, and had a true passion for following the law.  Paul, the zealous Pharisee, who took great pride in following the actions that would lead to pleasing God.  Perhaps some of us cannot remember a time when we were not a part of the church. Perhaps we never traveled a path of sinful acts but have worked hard to do for others as a part of our very being.  Yet it is very possible that even those of us who have always been a part of the church have not had an encounter with the risen Christ.   As John Wesley put it, perhaps we are ‘Almost Christians.’

Some would see the paths of Peter and Paul as far apart as the east is from the west.  Yet both have an encounter with Jesus that changes their lives forever.  Peter, the one who did not start out as a pillar in the church becomes the rock on which the church of Christ is built. And Paul, the devout holy man of God becomes the advocate for those outside of the law, teaching of Christ’s love for anyone who seeks it.

Today I will tell you that it does not matter if you align yourself with Peter or with Paul (or neither one.) What does matter is your encounter with the risen Christ. What matters is your acceptance of God’s bountiful grace given for all. What matters is your reaction to the gospel message – feed my sheep.  How do we do that? By sharing the love of Jesus the risen Christ through not only our words but our actions.  Amen.

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