Sunday of St. Peter and St. Paul
And he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.
Peter and Paul, pillars of the church set upon the foundation of Christ. I think it is fitting that we have a day set aside to celebrate them together. Some today would have you believe that Peter and Paul were against each other. That Peter and James were opposed to Paul. But the early Church, and the framers of our liturgical calendar knew this to be bogus. Oh there was a time when Paul had to chastise Peter publicly. But Peter took the chastisement, admitted fault, and the two restored their friendship that was founded in a common faith, in the gospel that cleansed their faith. It was with that common faith in the gospel that makes no distinction between Jew and gentile that Paul confronted Peter.
 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.  For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.  And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.  But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Galatians 2:11-14 (ESV)
Paul confronted Peter with the Gospel. As Paul states here in Acts. “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” In our self-righteous hypocrisy it is easy to put God to the test. We ought to know that God’s law is not a light thing. By law here I mean all those things that God tells us we should do or not do, the Ten Commandments for instance. We play with the law to our peril. The law does not create disciples of God, but enemies of God. This is why Jesus confronts the Pharisees saying: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” Matthew 23:15 (ESV)
Now that is a condemnation! One we should all fear. It is the effect of the law. It makes you a child of hell, for no one can live by it, rather they die on that side of the God’s sharp two edge sword. The law only drives one to hypocrisy or despair. This is what Luther was talking about in his explanation to the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, lead us not into temptation that our “sinful nature would not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair or other great shame and vice.” False belief, hypocrisy, the belief that you are doing fine by the law, at least better than others and that ought to count for something. Can you imagine standing in front of a judge and claiming yes I have murdered, but not as much as that guy? But that is what we do before God. We even point at other people’s sins. We point at things that aren’t sins. We want them to be sins, so we can claim we aren’t guilty of at least one thing. This is a disease the world will never be rid of, false belief. It is a great shame and vice. And there is no room for it in the church that lives by the gospel, that believes faith cleanses a heart, and not works. We do our neighbors no justice in merely chastising them for some sin we find offensive. How often have I seen Christians chastise others and think in doing so they have evangelized their neighbor, as if the gospel were some list of rules to live by. Criticizing them for smoking or drinking, lusting, being late to work. In the law we major on the minors, and often on things that aren’t even the minors. We take societal standards and equate them with God’s law. How pharisaical of us. When it comes to the law we are not at liberty to create new rules for Christian living. We must learn to be silent where God’s word is silent, and only speak where it speaks. Oh, the law is needed in evangelism too, but it must be followed by the Gospel. The person must be told of the forgiveness of sins Christ won for us on the cross, and gives freely without condition. Otherwise we only create other Pharisees, or put despair in their hearts with no hope. For if we don’t tell them about the cross, and the forgiveness of sins to be found in Jesus alone, the forgiveness by which we live. Then their hearts cannot be cleansed by faith in Jesus. They become children of hell wallowing in hypocrisy or despair.
Despair. A yoke on the neck of disciples neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear. Have you not in the darkest moments of life been confronted with God’s law to be visited by despair. Moments of truthful honesty with yourself in the mirror of God’s law. Ever been kept up late at night or in the still hours of the morning fretting over something you said or did. Have you ever curled inward to search the closets of your heart only to find there the skeletons of past sins. Us pastors often fret in the wee hours of the morning wondering if there was something we could have said or done better after we lose one of God’s precious lambs. How painful it is to search your heart. We have romanticized the heart have we not. We expect to find love, joy and happiness there. We have white washed that tomb of sin with those words painted on the door. But when I search there I don’t find those things. I find greed, envy, hate, lust, discontent, pride, and arrogance. For some reason I find a lot to be proud and arrogant about. But in moments of truth and honesty I’m embarrassed by them. We are sinners through and through. And the law can’t help us. It drives us to despair when we are honest. And despair drives us to hell. We recall all those awful moments we write off as lapses of judgment. Maybe those days in high school we went to parties, drank too much, or let our hormones get out of hand, found our friend’s dad’s stash of illicit magazines. Or maybe it was last week when our temper got the best of us and we lashed out at an employee, or our boss. Maybe we talked to much with a coworker and failed to get our job done on time, but billed the boss just the same for our time. Been there? Ever felt guilty, promised not to do it again, only to find yourself doing it again the next day? Ever think you cleaned your life up for good, got rid of that annoying habit, or some closet sin, only to find yourself doing it all over in a moment of weakness? Then you know despair. Then you know how weak we humans are, that we cannot live up to our own standards, much less God‘s. Then you have been fitted with the yoke of the law. No this yoke isn’t just the ceremonial law of the Old Testament. Circumcision, and dietary codes. Would that it was! I would miss lobster, but I can’t afford it any way. I could do with out it. No pork? Hey, they have turkey bacon now. And I never cared for vulture any way. You laugh but it is part of the dietary code, no vulture. No it is the law in its entirety, that is represented with circumcision. It was a statement, forgiveness was to be a one time offer according to the circumcision party, to be followed by a perfect life, or at bare minimum a work towards a state of perfection. But hey, once you lost your virginity, its gone, you don’t work towards chastity. You either are chaste or you are not. So it goes with perfectly following God’s law. And it is impossible, we are sinners. We can’t carry the yoke of the law.
Paul calls them on it. There is no difference between us and Jews, or in Paul’s terms us and gentiles. If we are to be saved it is by the grace of the Lord Jesus. We will be saved as they will, not by the law, but by grace. Grace that comes to us in the forgiveness of sins, a gift from God flowing form His side on the cross, in water and blood. It was won for us with His death. Forgiveness for you, forgiveness for all, without which we have no hope to wash away the sin and despair in our hearts, to scrape away the white wash and clean the walls of the mold growing underneath. Grace, it is the other yoke of which Jesus speaks and says:
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:29-30 (ESV) And so it is. For in the shade of the tree of life, the Cross of Christ, there is forgiveness for all your sins, and in forgiveness there is rest for your souls. They no longer have to carry guilt, because you have been forgiven. With forgiveness, your heart has been washed clean by grace with the blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.
Now the peace of God, your souls rest, that surpasses understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our lord. Amen.