July 3, 2022 Sermon Preached by The Rev. Mary Lee Wile

Feast of St. Paul and St. Peter 2022

Back when I used to lead preordination retreats for deacons, I’d create a journal for each ordinand to use during our time together. As the start of the second session, I’d send them away for some quiet time to fill in a page titled “Who Am I?”  It included, among other things:

I am named:

Some of my types are:

I am a reader / subscriber of:

Foods I regularly eat include:

The list ended with: “As I reflect on this list, the best way for me to answer the question ‘Who Am I?’ is to say that I am_____”

When we came back together, participans were invited to share their responses.

Then, when they were done,  I asked them to turn to a blank page in their journal and answer one more question: “Who does God say that I am?”  It took them aback. It took them awhile. But they all came up with answers.

And that leads me to our Scripture readings for today’s Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul – because our readings today offer their answers to that question.

Let’s start with Peter. Back when Peter was warming himself by the fire while Jesus was being tortured, onlookers asked: “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” to which Peter answered, “I am not.”  In other words, I am not one of his disciples, not one of his followers, not the man who said, when Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” that Jesus was the Messiah. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus gives Peter a chance to change his answer, and say yes, I am. I am that man. I am your follower, your disciple, and I love you. That’s who I am.

And our own beloved St. Paul: he gives us a long list of answers to “Who am I?” We heard today that I am the man who “harassed God’s church and tried to destroy it.… But God had set me apart from birth and called me through grace. God was pleased to reveal Jesus to me, so that I might preach about him to the Gentiles.” In other words, I, too, denied Jesus – violently even – but now I am a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Jesus, one who loves Jesus. That’s who I am.

Peter and Paul have claimed their true identity. That’s our job as well. One of the prayers I offer every morning for my beloved ones includes “may they know the beauty of their own true nature.” (I sometimes pray that for myself as well.) 

And notice in our readings today that it is Jesus who helps both Paul and Peter to see their true nature. He helps them see themselves as God sees them and loves them.

And once they get it? Then what?

Jesus tells Peter, if you love me, if you understand my message of love for all people, then “Feed my sheep.” Teach and tend and forgive and love and lead them.

Jesus tells Paul: “preach about [me] to the Gentiles,”  teach them to love others, and to “do good to all people.”

Both disciples are given a purpose. This is who you are – so this is what you’re called to do.

So it is with us. If we know who we truly are, if we know and accept how God sees us, we are better able to know our true calling, to recognize what it is that God desires for us and from us. Identity and purpose.

No matter our age or background, God calls us. Paul tells us that “God called me through his grace.” God called Paul, a religious fanatic – a “purist” – one who today might even be a fundamentalist white supremacist –and changed him from persecutor to preacher, from anger to love. Paul’s story is a reminder that whatever we have done, wherever we have been, God still calls us through grace, through forgiveness, through love, to become our true selves.

And then God gives each of us a purpose, a way to make a difference in this world. Several weeks ago when I preached, I spoke of how the current news cycle is like water torture, the appalling events coming so fast on top of each other that it’s hard to focus. None of us can do it all, can fix all that is broken. But God will use us wherever we are – and whoever we are: to offer a cup of coffee on the corner, to plant native species on our grounds, to seek ways to dismantle systemic racism, to enhance the sound system to make St. Paul’s more hospitable, to write letters and attend protests, to welcome the stranger, and become their friend.

So as you begin to sense an answer to, “Who does God say that I am?”  take time to ponder what that means. You may have noticed that you have an additional insert in your bulletin, an outline of an icon of Jesus holding an open book. I used that image as the centerfold in the preordination retreat journals. I asked them, as I now ask you, to imagine what might be written in that open book, just for you. What might Jesus be saying to you, right now?

I’m going to close with lines from a hymn which includes questions to which Paul and Peter have already said YES:

Will You Come And Follow Me
If I But Call Your Name?
Will You Go Where You Don’t Know
And Never Be The Same?
Will You Use The Faith You’ve Found
To Reshape The World Around,
Through My Sight And Touch And Sound
In You And You In Me?