Saint Peter and Saint Paul
never really spent
a tremendous amount of time
with one another.
Yet, their lives
were lived
by a common commitment
to proclaiming God's
definitive word
of reconciliation and grace-enabled healing
to anyone and everyone
they encountered.
Saint Peter
would go from persecution in Jerusalem
to persecution in Rome.
And there would lead the church
as the first Bishop of Rome.
Before being crucified.
Upside down, as tradition holds it,
in deference to Jesus.
Saint Paul
would cease persecuting Christians in Jerusalem
and would travel broadly,
expanding the church's mission to Gentiles;
establishing and guiding churches;
before being taken to Rome,
imprisoned, and beheaded.
Saint Peter would be buried
on what is now Vatican Hill.
Saint Peter's Basilica built atop his resting place.
Saint Paul would be buried
in Rome, as well.
Now within the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.
Their resting places,
these holy sites --
first make-shift shrines
erected to their memory;
later, church buildings, grand edifices;
the church of Jesus Christ throughout the world
enduring testimony that
though the imperial powers of Rome
would take their lives,
even the most violent and systematic
affliction,
oppression and
prejudice
could not take their voices.
Or their witness.
Could not take their witness
to God's promise of healing in a world that,
despite the promise of pax Romana,
was in so much pain.
Could not take their witness
to the wellbeing of all people.
Could not hinder their witness
to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
"Yes, Lord.
You know that I love you."
Three times Jesus asks Simon Peter.
And each time Peter
responds courageously and with commitment.
First by voice.
Later by giving his own life.
Faithful people have responded similarly ever since:
Three seemingly related instances
in these past few days.
Nine times in Charleston.
Twenty six times at Sandy Hook.
Untold number of times in villages and cities
from the West Bank to Africa to the Caribbean.
At border fences; and port cities
here in the Americas, in Asia, and Lampedusa.
Countless times among the LGBT community
in small towns like Laramie, Wyoming and
in metropolises like New York City.
Each time
and in every instance
a person's life is taken
the goal of the perpetrators is clear:
diminish dignity,
oppress by malice or by neglect,
inflict affliction,
incite fear,
silence the marginalized.
Yet, God has a different way.
These people of faith lived and died by a different way.
We are called to live a different way.
We do not,
we must not,
and by the grace of God
we will not
allow individualized terror,
systematized discrimination or
institutionalized intimidation
to overcome us.
We press on.
Keep our eyes on the prize.
Honor these faithful dead.
Honor them as witnesses, as martyrs.
And find ourselves inspired by their witness,
inspired by the Holy Spirit,
not to despair,
or indifference,
or retaliation.
But inspired to raise our own voices
to proclaim healing in a world in so much pain;
to champion the wellbeing of all people;
to live our lives in the strong love of God in Christ Jesus.
For love such as this
-- to borrow the words of the Exsultet
proclaimed at the Great Vigil of Easter --
love such as this
"restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy,
casts out fear,
brings peace,
humbles earthy pride,"
is the foundation of God's kingdom
on earth as in heaven.
"Yes, Lord.
You know that I love you."
I pray,
we all pray that
witness such as those offered
by Saint Peter and Saint Paul,
offered by martyrs since
will cease.
Too many are the deaths.
Too violent.
And all too frequent.
We need no more shrines built atop martyrs tombs;
No more Mother Emmanuel's;
No more churches, synagogues and mosques;
No more homes, schools, resorts and factories
visited with such heinous and callous violence.
We need, instead,
to feed the sheep.
Feed those who have endured hardship and horror.
Feed needy souls.
Feed a world hungry for peace.
And, see,
we have this food.
The church's food.
Nourishment from God.
Christ's very self.
Our very selves.
The broken, yet whole body of Christ.
A body which knows
betrayal,
sorrow, and
pain.
Yet, engenders
devotion,
healing, and
resurrection.
A strong, though sensitive body.
And the voice of one who says, "follow me."
An invitation, a promise:
Follow me to the shadowy places of this world.
Follow me to the halls of power.
Follow me to dismantle racism.
Follow me to set tables for people in need.
Follow me to march down city streets.
Follow me to have your own minds opened and hearts healed.
Follow me even from death to life.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES
Sunday, June 28, 2015

Acts 12:1-11
Psalm 87:1-3, 5-7
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18
Saint John 21:15-19