We have heard so much good preaching and teaching and conversation around St. Paul’s the past few weeks about that question from our Baptismal Covenant: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Each of us in our own way has answered: “I will, with God’s help.” Christy Drackett has even created T shirts with that promise emblazoned on them – proceeds to Black Lives Matter.
But the question about striving for justice and peace and respecting every human being’s dignity is the fifth and final of five questions in the Baptismal Covenant. Of course, our real life, day-to-day answers to all five questions are meant to work together as an organic whole expressing how we follow Jesus Christ. Not one question more important than another; all dynamically connected. Still, on this Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles, I’m drawn to the first question, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” I wonder specifically what it might mean for us today, with God’s help, to continue in the apostles’ teaching and in the apostles’ fellowship?
The apostles’ teaching – that could refer to the entire New Testament and all the rich tradition built upon it down to our own Bishop Rickel and Presiding Bishop Curry’s statements about COVID-19 and race in America. That’s just too much teaching to wrap our minds around all at once. We need something more concise and manageable.
Well, how about Paul’s instruction in Second Timothy not to turn from listening to the truth and wander away to myths? (4:3-4) Do not wander away to myths, our apostle teaches. I know, like me, some of you were formed to understand these words as staking out a very narrow range of sound doctrine. But what if we heard Paul, instead, teaching us to break free from the myths of the dominant culture around us, its media and its commerce? Illusions to which we succumb sub-consciously and which obscure the truth about God and our humanity revealed in Christ Jesus?Myths about our bodies and beauty and ability and worth. The myth of punishing, perfectionistic expectations and the myth that there is absolutely nothing I am capable of doing. The illusion of always having it all figured out. The illusion of never ever deserving love or respect. Myths of privilege and comfort, as well as isolation and suspicion.
And what about the apostles’ fellowship? That could be a topic for an epic film. Luckily, in our epistle and gospel readings this morning, we have profile pictures of Paul and Peter to keep us company.
Paul’s story is one of holding on tenaciously. Be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable, he writes. Convince. Rebuke. Encourage. All with the utmost patience. I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.(2 Timothy 4:2, 6-7)
Peter, on the other hand, provides an example of gracefully letting go. Very truly I tell you, Jesus says, when you were younger you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18) Letting go, when age or change or circumstance re-make the one who was always in control, looking out and caring for others; re-make Peter such that he can no longer dress himself and choose where to go and what to do.
Jesus calls both of today’s apostles to “Follow me.” Paul responds by holding on. Peter by letting go.
These past few weeks – and especially with the news of Joyce Palmer’s death fresh in my mind – a poem by Indigenous Canadian writer Oriah Mountain Dreamer beckons me to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. By refusing to wander away to the myths and illusions of our culture about the true meaning of life. By learning the dance, the unity, of holding on and letting go. Her poem is called “The Invitation” and here are a half dozen of its stanzas:
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for lovefor your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations of being human.
I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
With Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s invitation, I ask us all: “Will we continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” For although we lack familiar access to our building, St. Paul’s is in no way closed as a community. We persist. Together. We struggle together. We continue. I know this is risky on Zoom, but please unmute your computer or phone audio – all of you – and answer “We will, with God’s help,” as I ask today’s Baptismal Covenant question once again.“Will we continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” “We will, with God’s help!”
For the Baptismal Covenant, see Book of Common Prayer, 304-305.
Baptismal Covenant Protest Tee: In the spirit of Pentecost and social justice, purchase
your very own baptismal covenant t-shirt, designed by Christy Drackett. All proceeds go
to Black Lives Matter Global. Click here to order yours! [From the St. Paul’s Newsletter
Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “The Invitation”: see her website, oriahmountaindreamer.com