June 23rd Year A
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Reflection on the Readings
By Dennis Hankins
Theme: Like A Wise Man
The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded upon the rock. (Matthew 7:25)
I remember back before I was a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church an event forever embedded in my memory.
The Pentecostal church is the church of my youth. It's the church where I heard of the love of the Father and received the Lord Jesus as my Savior. It's the church where I encountered the power of the Holy Spirit. And it's the church that was founded by my great-grandfather. Now this church was calling me to be its pastor. I had preached my first sermon there when I was the robust age of 13. This was a homecoming made in heaven. Or so I thought.
Time has a way of changing all of us. And I had changed. I was not the same Pentecostal. The Charismatic renewal was sweeping the world. Mainline churches including the Catholic Church were receiving what Pentecostals had cherished since 1900, Azusa Street and Topeka, Kansas. David DuPlessis, an ecumenical Pentecostal had been an invited observer of Vatican II. I had read his book, A Man Called Mr. Pentecost. That book was heady stuff for a young Pentecostal learning that the same Spirit in the Pentecostal church was alive, active and filling hungry Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal and Catholic hearts. Additionally, I had pastored some student parishes in the United Methodist Church, gotten some college under my belt, and I had changed. I didn't know it, but the folks who had loved me and nurtured me in the faith knew. They saw I was open and welcoming to the Charismatic folks who were starting to make our Pentecostal church their home.
The event I mentioned is this. It was four months since returning to my hometown and church and the congregation was restless. They didn't care for the new Pentecostal son they had watched grow up from a baby. And so the congregation held a business meeting. One person asked me how much longer would we have to hear that the church was not brick and mortar. I explained that the lovely church we worshipped in is not the church of Jesus Christ. Brick and mortar are fine, but the church is more than this I explained. My family and I left the meeting as the Pentecostal Sanhedrin determined if I would be retained as Pastor.
We waited at home. About 3 o'clock on a sunny Saturday afternoon Orville came to give me the not so sunny news.
Orville explained that I had been 'voted out.' And he presented me with a severance pay check for 2 weeks. My first anguished thought was, "My God, and this is the church?" The church of my youth had put me and my family out on the street.
I share this because it was that event that propelled me on a journey I didn't know I was on. Today's readings speak of Peter, James and Paul and their work and peril they endured to be the foundation upon which the Church was built. (Ephesians 2:20) And Jesus made Peter the principle Apostle to guide the Church and guard the faith. Jesus said he would build his Church 'on this rock.' He looked at Peter and speaking in Aramaic used the word Kepha that is rendered Cephas 9 times in the NT and is understood as a sizable rock. The indisputable point is that although I have nothing but thanksgiving for the life of Christ I received in the Pentecostal church of my youth, there is a Church that is 2000 years old, has always been and will always be. And the guardian and guide of that Church is currently Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. Rome, the place Peter guided and guarded the same Church and where Peter died the death of martyr.
Since this reflection goes out to my Protestant and Catholic friends I offer this important point. To this day, I cringe every time I hear of a Pastor being voted on or a Pastor is trying out for a pastorate. My heart goes out to him and his family, and I hope for him that his experience will not end like mine did. But in my heart of hearts I know 'if they can vote you in, they can vote you out.' The splitting and dividing that continues to spiral today has given us about 33,000 denominations. Read that number again and weep. There seems to be no end to the proliferation of denominations. And every one of them claims to be more faithful to the early church than its predecessor. Peter and Paul, whose feast day we celebrate would weep. The Church, which is built upon the 'apostles and prophets', is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. Where do we today see bishops in succession to the Apostles of the early church?
Jesus did not say he would build churches. There are not many 'rocks' upon which the church is built. And the furthest thing from the truth is to believe that the Catholic Church is just another denomination. They are many wonderful churches, denominational and non-denominational serving many wonderful children of God. We are united with them in the waters of baptism as long as it is baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. But we are imperfectly united. Read that again and weep. Complete unity awaits the day when all of us accept what Jesus said to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
The powers of hell cannot prevail against the Church Jesus built. Churches and movements have been built on personality and slick advertising schemes. But the Church of Jesus Christ was obtained with his own blood. It is in that Church in which is appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. All this and more 'to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.'
Through the centuries this Church has endured the storms of persecution and division. She weeps for the restoration of all things in the Church. She prays and repents of her sins of commission and omission. But she still stands, because she has been founded upon the rock Jesus the wise builder chose. Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus said, "You are Kepha, and upon this rock I will build my Church.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, inspire in me the unity of the faith. May I be so one with you that your presence will be felt by all I meet. More than anything else, may your friendship transform me and bless those nearest me. Amen.