June 29, 2014
Psalm 87:1–3, 5–7
1 Corinthians 3:16–23
Robbing Peter to Pay Paul, Pastor Kinsey
Today we celebrate the two most influential disciples of Jesus in the early church – Peter and Paul, Apostles. They didn’t always share this same Commemoration Day. Like every Saint, they had their own day of celebration originally, until the church realized, they’re worth much more together, then individually. So, no more Robbing Peter to pay Paul, you might say!
I remember as a teenager, robbing my brother’s Piggy Bank. I thought of it as borrowing, at the time, because I intended to pay him back ASAP. And I knew he’d loan it to me if I asked. But the problem was, he wasn’t around – so I just took it! I needed it because, my friend Kurt and I had hatched this business scheme. All we had to do was to purchase advance sale tickets to Milwaukee’s Summerfest, at reduced prices, and resell them at full cost, and we’d simply pocket the difference. “No waiting in line,” we promised, hawking them a block away from the front gate. I was so nervous we wouldn’t make our money back, but it was great, we managed to sell them all, on opening day, and now we were rich!
When I went home to repay my brother, I slipped the money back in his savings jar, making sure it looked untouched. No one would be the wiser, right?! The problem was, he already knew it was gone! He was planning to use the money on a date, the night before! And when I confessed it was me, he was livid! What right did I have to take his money? Did I know what kind of embarrassment that caused him? What was I thinking?
So, that was the first time I learned what happens, when you Rob Peter to pay Paul. Someone always loses, and it’s usually hard, if not impossible, to fix.
Of course, it happens all the time. We all know how the State of Illinois has been robbing Peter to pay Paul, for a decade or more now, taking from the state worker’s Pension Fund, robbing it, to balance the state budget and pay for everything else, like schools and human services. Not only is it self-serving and cowardly, it also turns out it’s unconstitutional! More recently, as everyone is catching on, the legislature has been using some creative, but dubious, accounting methods, trying to show taxpayers that, it’s not as bad as it looks. But Robbing Peter to pay Paul, has consequences!
Who’s responsible? All of us, as voters, to some extent. Also, Politicians who have used, and misused, our tax money to feather their nests and garner greater power, enhancing their political careers, instead of working for us, who elected them. And then there’s big money and corporations, who have successfully lobbied for unjust tax breaks. 2/3’s of Illinois corporations pay Zero, no taxes! Is there a one of us who has a deal like that when April 15th rolls around?
In our gospel reading today, the three-fold question Jesus puts to Peter, is Peter’s chance to pay his Lord back – without robbing himself! Peter was the disciple who denied that he knew Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times, on the night of his arrest, even as Jesus was being condemned to die on the cross. Jesus had even predicted Peter would do it when they were eating the Passover meal at the Last Supper, and Peter denied that too.
It was Peter’s greatest embarrassment and most unpardonable mistake. I will never deny you, Peter had said. But when the time came, Peter was caught with his hand in the cookie jar – he lied to save his skin! He stole from Jesus’ reputation, in fear of his own future. And he nearly destroyed the mission of the disciples and the birth of the church.
Now, after the resurrection, when Peter is back in his fishing boat, contemplating all this, Jesus appears on the lakeshore, and cooks breakfast for Peter and the other disciples. Waiting till after they broke bread together, Jesus asks Peter three times, “do you love me?” Peter says yes, of course I do, you know I do, you know that I love you! “Then, feed and tend my sheep,” says Jesus, a clear sign that he not only forgives Peter, but expects him to do something about it – to go out and be a leader of the church. To love and care for the sheep of this world, just as Jesus did.
Jesus’ love and forgiveness heals the brokenness of our relationships that always wants to, Rob Peter to pay Paul. Peter was brought back into the sheep fold, restored, to use his best gifts for the life of the world.
This month, June of 2014, we begin to pay back, same sex couples, after robbing them of the chance to be married for so long. We rejoiced just a week ago, that Sascha and Robert were married here, as naturally and entitled as every other opposite sex, man and woman couple, have been married here, for over a hundred years.
Starting this month, there will be no more Robbing Peter to pay Paul in the laws governing marriage in Illinois. No more stealing the dignity, the healthcare and estate rights of gay and lesbian couples who desire to make their love public. No more taking away from, and stigmatizing those whom God loves, and turning around and rewarding, paying in effect, those who would claim they know better. [Hold up coin] Today, on this Pride Sunday, we have been given about 50 coins from the Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches, that say, “2014, Blessing on Illinois Equal Marriage!” These coins, which will also be passed out to the churches marching in the parade, are a symbol of beginning to pay Peter back – pay back what was robbed from LGBT people in the past.
We cannot right the wrongs for those who have lost their loved ones, or those couples, known and unknown, who have gone before us in the faith, in the long history of discrimination. But we can begin now to get our fiscal house in order, so to speak, and end the practice of Robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Historically, Peter and Paul actually had a pretty stormy relationship. One of their more famous disagreements was not over money, but over a much deeper issue at the time – the issue on which the church would decide to open up, and admit the Gentiles, or not. Peter lived and ministered with the Jerusalem conservatives, who were happy with the status quo, as we know from Paul’s letters. But in the book of Acts, it is Peter, actually, who stands up for Paul. Sounding just like Paul, Peter rises to address the Jerusalem Church, recalling how God first made him the one to welcome a Gentile family, at the house of Cornelius. And so, if the Holy Spirit could come to them, and they were baptized, Peter argues to all the Jerusalem leaders, why should any Gentile have to submit to a yoke that has been so hard for us and our ancestors to bear– aren’t we all saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, says Peter!
With this major shift in policy comes a turning point in the story of Acts, for Peter and Paul, Apostles: Before this, Peter has been the lead Apostle at the center of the story, and now, after this important Jerusalem Council, the focus of the church will fall on Paul, the apostle who takes us on mission trips, far past Jerusalem, into the Gentile world, to Africa, Asia and Europe.
The two most influential Apostles, Peter and Paul, were as stubborn and passionate about the gospel of Christ Jesus, as any two could be! They no doubt had ego’s that were way too big for them to work together. But the history of the church has seen to it that we celebrate them together, because together, they represent equally essential aspects of the church of Jesus Christ. They teach us what Christ first taught them, how we must find unity in our diversity. How we must continually look to the Holy Spirit, to remain healthy and continue to grow. How we must find humility amidst each individual’s passion for the truth. And how together, we must reflect the justice and peace of Christ, for the good of all.
Robbing Peter to pay Paul, only creates injustice, which leads to divisions, and away from peace, it leads to lies not truth, and to inequality not sharing. It’s time to end the robbing of the dignity and livelihood of anyone, not only of our lgbt brothers and sisters, but for women, and people of color, and every group we stigmatize, who are thereby, robbed of God’s blessings.
In the Meal that Christ instituted for us, everyone receives a blessing, of love and forgiveness, that is not just spiritual, but fleshly and incarnational. Like Peter and Paul, we are forgiven, and we are Sent – because our actions, stem from our faith. Let us break bread together – for at the Table, we find our unity!