On the calendar of the Lutheran movement, today is the Day of Saints Peter and Paul.
We remember saints, people the Bible shows to be sinners saved by grace through faith in Christ, to remember how deep God's love is for human beings.
Through the saints, we also remember how much God can do through sinners who turn to Jesus for forgiveness and new life.
I have experienced these undeserved gifts many times in the forty-four years since I began--imperfectly, often rebelliously--to follow Jesus.
He called me to Himself even as I tried to dig in, a recalcitrant atheist who wanted my own way.
He called me to ordained ministry, I dug in resistantly to that, and He kept calling.
And He has continued to call me, despite my sin, through my nearly thirty-six years of ordained ministry.
He called me and remained faithful to me even when I have been faithless or, by turns, heedless of His will or willfully intent on pursuing my own course.
The God I know in Jesus has been gracious to me.
He has also stood by me. Moses said of Him to God's people, the Israelites, "he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6). And Jesus, God in human flesh, tells all who believe in Him: "I am with you always." (Matthew 28:20)
I have found those promises of God to be true in my walk with Jesus Christ.
Facebook Memories reminds me that it was ten years ago today that I returned from the hospital after receiving a stent in the left anterior descending artery leading from my heart.
Two weeks earlier, I had the "widowmaker," a heart attack with a 100% blockage in that artery.
I probably should have died. A year later, my heart significantly damaged, likely because a local hospital ER had failed to detect what was happening at the outset, I received a pacemaker/defibrillator. (I lost 40% of my heart muscle, something that medicine can't yet restore.)
But I remember well what the cardiac care nurse told me the day I received the stent. "We don't see too many people who survive the heart attack you had. Almost never. God must have a reason for you to still be here."
Whether the nurse said that because she knew she was speaking with a pastor or she really meant it, I have always regarded it as a true statement...although I have not always lived as though it was true.
Like Saint Peter, even after Jesus' resurrection, there have been days when I've talked big and lived small, jumped to conclusions, followed the crowd. But I pray that, like Saint Peter, I've known to return to Jesus each day in what Martin Luther called "daily repentance and renewal."
What I have learned, especially over the past decade, is what I suppose Saint Peter learned. Peter is the one, of course, who tells us that "baptism saves you" and that through Christ, we are born again. But Peter also found that he could still get things wrong, still had to be corrected by others in the Church, even as he lived out his life as a faithful disciple and apostle. And he learned, as I am learning, that Christ is so patient that as I turn to Him, I am born again each day.
I identify with Peter.
That's why I asked that the Roman Catholic priest who preached at my ordination in 1984, to focus on John's account of the risen Jesus meeting the disciples on the lakeshore. There, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loved Him, three painful and restorative questions that allowed Peter to repent and know God's forgiveness.
It can be painful to follow Jesus.
It's painful for us as proud human beings to own up to our sin and to our mortality, to confess our need of Savior and our need of God. At least it is for me.
"Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other," God tells His ancient people in Isaiah 45:22.
And at the first Christian Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus' disciples to proclaim all of God's mighty deeds, including raising the dead Jesus to life, Peter cited words from the Old Testament to call people to turn to God in the flesh, Jesus, with the words, "And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21)
The saint is the sinner who keeps turning to Jesus because He is where life is, along with the hope, the peace, and the only reliable true on Whom we can build our lives.
As Peter himself would say to Jesus, after the Lord had asked the disciples if they wanted to abandon Him as others were doing, "
© William A. Percy, 1885-1942
Peter reminds me to embrace an enduring faith. Jesus says, "The one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Matthew 24:13) Thank God!
Here is Malcolm Guite's beautiful poem for Saint Peter.