Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Odd Couple

By every account, Saints Peter and Paul didn’t like each other very much. They were total opposites—one an uneducated (likely illiterate) fisherman and the other a highly educated (most eloquent) religious scholar. They had vastly different resources at their disposal—one had only the Spirit to sustain him and the other, while dependent on the Spirit, had the benefit of his Roman citizenship. Most notably, they had very different understandings of the Jesus-movement—one that it was a principally Jewish undertaking and the other that it was a reaction to the Judaism of the day. Yet, somehow, despite their differences, they ended up on the same team.

I wonder whether Peter and Paul would be glad that they are combined into one liturgical observation. Although each has his own independent feast day, they both share a remembrance that is linked to the legend that both died in Rome in the same year. There are cathedrals named after both in cities around the world. They go hand-in-hand as the two greatest figures of the early church. And, whether the details are apocryphal or not, they both gave their lives for the same cause—no matter how differently they viewed the faith which united them. Perhaps, whether they’d like it or not, they deserve each other.

I don’t always like the people who call themselves “Christians.” Fundamentalists, revisionists, anti-Semites, warmongers—there is a long list of people who say things or do things in the name of the faith that we share who make me ashamed to be identified with them. Yet, as I was reminded in a recent discussion in a bible study about creationists, there is room under the umbrella of Christianity for a lot of people with whom I disagree vehemently. And, as much as their interpretation of the faith may be diametrically opposed to my own, they’re still Christians. They are still following our Lord, even if they’re marching to a beat I can’t enjoy.

Peter and Paul—two men of extreme difference, two men of one faith. Our collect for today suggests that unity will overcome even our most radical of differences: “Grant that your Church, instructed by [Peter and Paul’s] teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord.” I like that phrase, “knit together.” When was the last time you put on a garment and considered the thousands of individual threads that were knit together into the one article of clothing? Even if it’s multi-colored, we hardly ever consider the individual strands before the unified whole.

There aren’t many organizations or movements that can lay claim to individuals as disparate as Peter and Paul or as conflicted as so many within the Church. But that’s who we are. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. That’s not a modernist statement that anything goes and anyone can find a home. There’s no power in that. Instead, it’s the transformative statement that no matter where you might be on whatever continuum of identity you choose for measurement the power of Christ’s unifying work can bring you into his body, the Church.

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