Peter and Martin
Today marks two important memorial days. It is the Feast of the Confession of Peter, our patronal saints’ feast day and it is Martin Luther King Day, remembering a saint of our time. So first a word about Peter and then some thoughts about the common ground upon which they both stand.
No disciple gets more coverage in the gospels than Peter. He is the first of the disciples to be called and early in his ministry, Jesus stayed at his house in Capernaum where he heals Peter’s mother-in-law. In the Fourth Gospel, Peter is the first to enter the empty tomb. So it seems clear that Peter was with Jesus at the beginning of his ministry provided a place for him to stay and rest, and was with him all the way to the end. His name was Simon bar Jonah, but Jesus called him Cephas, Aramaic for rock, which was then translated into Greek in the new Testament as Petros, Peter.
As we know there were ups and downs in their relationship. Peter was not always as faithful as he might have been. As you remember, he denied that he even knew him, though his Galilean accent gave him away. But in the end, he was the Rock upon which the church was built. Today, of course, we remember that signal event when Peter sees in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. [Matthew 16:16] It is this recognition that causes Jesus to appoint him as the keeper of the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
After the resurrection, Peter played an important role in the formation of the early church. At first, Peter was a protector of the traditions of the faith, his faith, Judaism. He disagreed with that upstart Paul who wanted to make Christ available to everyone, not just the people of the Law, the Torah. Peter resisted that. He knew the way things were supposed to be. But then he had a dream.
In his dream, God showed Peter that there were some parts of the Law that were not important if they separated people from one another and separated people from God. A sheet was lowered to him filled with impure, forbidden food. Peter said that he would never touch the stuff, but a voice said, “What God has made is not profane.” [Acts 10:9-16] This happened three times and it changed the way Peter saw things. And so he opened his arms and the arms of the church to anyone who heard and believed the word of God in Christ; no exceptions, no exclusions. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Martin Luther King had a dream too. In his dream, he saw a world in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘…, that all men are created equal.’ And the crooked shall be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” i
King’s dream was rooted in the power of faith to move mountains and make even the most obstinate enemy his friend.
After his assassination, Howard Thurman said this about Dr. King:
“Perhaps his greatest contribution to our times (was that) he (a)lways spoke from within the context of his religious experience… And this indeed is his great contribution to our times. He was able to put at the center of his own personal religious experience a searching ethical awareness. … Radical prejudice, segregation, discrimination were not regarded by him as un-American, undemocratic, but as a mortal sin against God. ii
And this is where the ministry of Blessed Peter and Blessed Martin converge. Peter put it this way speaking to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but (everywhere), anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’ [Acts 10:34] For both Peter and Martin, It’s all about inclusion, not exclusion.
This church that bears the name, St. Peter’s, and sits high upon its own rock has an ongoing responsibility to share their proclamations of an impartial God a God whose love is indiscriminate. We do that of course in many ways though recent events suggest that there is always more that we can do to bring about a new day of peace and understanding.
Here are some suggestions:
• Fill the food closet downstairs to overflowing and help distribute the food.
• Call out hate speech everywhere and at all times.
• Look deep within our own souls and root out whatever vestige racial or ethnic or gender bias might lie there, and
• And pray, pray a prayer like this one of Dr. King’s:
“God (who makes all things new) grant that we will be participants in this newness and this magnificent development. If we will but do it, we will bring about a new day of justice and brotherhood and peace. And that day the morning stars will sing together, and the (children) of God will shout for joy.” iii
[i] Martin Luther King, “I Have a Dream Speech,” August 28, 1963.
[ii] Walter Fluker & Catherine Tumber, A Strange Freedom, eds., p. 186.
[iii] Sermon by Dr. King, March 31, 1968, found at http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_70874_ENG_HTM.htm