Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sts. Martin and Peter - Will We follow them as they follow Christ?

Today is the 25th Anniversary of the celebration of Martin Luther King's Birth. For Episcopalians, today is also the celebration of The Confession of St. Peter. The convergence of these two "feast days" seems somewhat important to me. Both Peter and Martin were disciples who decided that they would follow Jesus Christ all the way to his and their deaths. They were both prophets to the people around them and they both confronted the political and religious leaders of their times and suffered the consequences of their witness to the liberating Christian Gospel.

Both King and St. Peter publicly declared the true identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. And, they died: King from the gunshot of a racist white man; St. Peter - crucified by the orders of a lunatic Roman Emperor. Their legacies have been softened over time in some ways. King is remembered for his "I have a dream" speech not for his advocacy of sanitation workers in Memphis or denouncement of the Vietnam War.African American historian Vincent Harding had this to say about his friend:

"Martin was one of these "crazy" members of the Christian community who really took Jesus seriously. And believed that the way you get closest to the divine is by getting closer and closer to the most outcast members of the society. And that's a hard path, but once you have chosen it, you know that there's no easy alternative." (Harding, 2011, para. 28)

The Church remembers St. Peter as one of Jesus' closest followers and his role as the Roman Catholic Church's first pope. We speak of his denial (Luke 22: 54-62) but we're more prone to recall his proclamation of Jesus' Divinity.

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Who do we say Jesus is? How do we say it? Under our breaths, with our reception of the Eucharist. Do we get closer to God by getting closer to the people on the margins of our society. Jesus put his hands onto the bodies of lepers. Peter challenged Nero in Rome and Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. King marched with sanitation workers. What am I willing to do? What is our Church willing to do?

It's my faith that our lives are reborn through sacrificial acts. The mortal end of our lives is not the end of our existence; it's the beginning of new life in Christ's eternal presence. Martin and Peter believed in Jesus and his resurrection. And yet, I'm not a huge fan of martyrdom. I don't want to die as Jesus, Martin Luther King, and Peter died. I don't know many people that do and yet the sacrificial aspects of following Jesus won't go away. I often doubt that I have the same courage. I give thanks for Martin Luther King and St. Peter's examples while often choosing not to pick up my cross as they did. I don't want to be like the White pastors and priests who King chastised in his letter from a Birmingham Jail. Sometimes I am - I am not alone.

I've considered the risks that the Saints have taken on our behalf while wondering what sacrifices I'm willing to make today and the days to come. It's easy to remain in the crowd when and where it is safe; the status quo provides security and solidarity. Walking in Selma of the 60s or treading the Galilean Way with Peter is unsafe. Caring for the least of these demands compassion, courage, and contemplation.

Martin Luther King said on April 3rd, 1968:

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

He was murdered the next day.

I want to do God's will too. I hope that faithful Christians do too. The days are still at hand that we must continue to challenge racism, violence, and global oppression as King did. The Holy Spirit encourages us to confess our faith in Jesus as Peter did and faithfully follow them to the Cross and to the Easter tomb with God's help.

I hope that all of us will live more prophetically and push back against the World's desires as Jesus calls us to join him in creating God's reign of justice, love, and reconciliation now, not in the hereafter. I pray that we will continue to walk along The Way, without unnecessary death at our side but with a willingness to go and be faithful disciples as Jesus beckons us to do along The Way.

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