Follow me, and I will make you fishers of women and of men. Matthew 4:19
Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now?” John 13:37a
Loving God, you support us all the day long, until shadows lengthen and evening comes, the busy world is stilled, and our work is done. Preserve us in the coming night, receive our prayers, heal those who hurt, comfort those who mourn, and bring us safely into the new day filled with your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O Gracious Light Phos hilaron Hymnal 1982 #25, #233 (v.1, 3)
O gracious light, Lord Jesus Christ, in you the Father’s glory shone.
Immortal, holy, blessed is he, and blessed are you his holy Son.
Now sunset comes, but light shines forth, the lamps are lit to pierce the night.
Praise Father, Son, and Spirit: God who dwells in the eternal light.
Th’eternal gifts of Christ the King, th’apostles glorious deeds we sing,
and all, with hearts of gladness raise, our hymns of thankfulness and praise.
Theirs is the steadfast faith of saints, the hope that never yields nor faints;
The perfect love of Christ they know, who lays the prince of this world low.
Worthy are you of endless praise, O Son of God, Life-giving Lord;
Wherefore you are through all the earth and in the highest heaven adored.
O Lord, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.
Psalm 87 Fundamenta ejus
1 On the holy mountain stands the city he has founded; *
the LORD loves the gates of Zion
more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
2 Glorious things are spoken of you, *
O city of our God.
3 I count Egypt and Babylon among those who know me; *
behold Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia:
in Zion were they born.
4 Of Zion it shall be said, “Everyone was born in her, *
and the Most High himself shall sustain her.”
5 The LORD will record as he enrolls the peoples, *
“These also were born there.”
6 The singers and the dancers will say, *
“All my fresh springs are in you.”
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit *
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen
The First Lesson: 2 Timothy 4:1-8 I Have Fought the Good Fight
1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: 2proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. 3For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, 4and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. 5As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
6As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
Here ends the lesson; thanks be to God.
Hymn: Two stalwart trees both rooted Latin, tr. Anne LeCroy Hymnal 1982 #273
Two stalwart trees both rooted
in faith and holy love,
by hope of God united
they reach to heaven above.
One on a cross is martyred,
one by the sword is slain;
both triumph in their dying,
both glorious sainthood gain.
The words of Paul assure us
of Christ’s redeeming word;
the works of Peter show us
how we may serve the Lord.
All glory to the Father,
all glory to the Son,
who with the Holy Spirit,
now reign, blest Three in One.
The Second Lesson: John 21:15-19 Feed my Sheep
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to 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.” 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Here ends the lesson; thanks be to God.
Homily: Feed My Sheep, and Follow Me
They took an instant dislike to each other, I suspect – and so show the tales that survived from those days. Paul and Peter never did get along. One thought the other wrong about many and important things, and by all accounts said so. The other thought the one imperious and presumptive, and mostly likely made that clear. There can only be one king in the realm, one queen bee in a hive, and these two starting quarterbacks among those followers of Jesus had no intention of giving way to one another, not once Paul got the Word for real and was told to spread it to the Gentiles here, there, and everywhere.You can imagine Paul and Peter starting to flex the moment they met, these two great evangelists and witnesses for the gospel, the Way, the Jesus Movement, whatever you like to call it. The book of Acts and Paul’s letter to the Galatians tells of their confrontation in Jerusalem and Antioch over whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity had to first become Jews, be circumcised, keep kosher in their dietary practices, and all. Paul accused Peter of backsliding on the point, saying first that Gentiles did not, then that they did. Peter, for his part, said that wasn’t quite it, and anyway he had been appointed apostle to the Gentiles first, and was sick of everybody showing up trying to tell him how to do his job and oh, by the way, making it harder. “Too many ants trying to tell bees how to make honey,” he might’ve said, to quote that lovely proverb. But, whatever went down, Peter no longer controlled the room, and that must’ve hurt.
James, Jesus’s brother, appears to have settled the matter of what the Gentiles had to do – obey the two great commandments, keep it zipped, and leave off strangled meats that had been meat sacrificed to idols – but the fundamental tension between Peter and Paul remained. Whom did God send to the Gentiles? Was it you? Was it me? Was it each of us? What it you, then me? One can’t but feel for them both: the one who was the first, and the one who came along to replace him and did the job better.
It’s also easy to imagine that the real roots of Peter’s and Paul’s fundamental personality clash lay in the very different experiences each had with Jesus / Christ and how their faith chastised and corrected, but did not remove, their respective weaknesses.
“I was there,” might’ve said Peter, “I was there from the beginning, in Galilee, when he called, said ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of women and of men’.” “He appeared to me,” might’ve said Paul, “On purpose and blazing against the sky, and after he’d left you lot. He called me by name – ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ changed my life, gave it meaning and purpose, and told me to go tell the world about it till everybody knew.”
“I actually met him,” Peter might’ve replied, “walked with him, talked with him, sat by him, got ‘buked by him, let him down, and heard him forgive me for it all.”
“He spoke to my heart, my mind,” Paul might’ve said to this, “made me understand it all – freed me from this body of death, this pain, this thorn in my flesh, obeyed God until he died on the cross –“
“—and rose on the third day,” Peter would’ve interrupted, “I know: I. Was. There. I saw them mock him, whip him, belittle him. I saw him drag that heavy beam, fall down, get whipped, get tied and nailed up. I watched him die. Then I saw him again. You can’t know what that was like; you weren’t there.”
You were too close, I imagine Paul actually thinking. You were so close to him that you missed the heart of it.
You have no idea what we went through, I imagine Peter actually thinking, and you never worked a day in your life. What he means to you is all in your head, and I also remember who you really are and what you did.
You see, Paul might not’ve seen Jesus die, the way Peter did. Paul might not’ve heard the cock crow, as Peter did, just after he denied three times that he knew Him. Paul might’ve not heard Jesus say to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” when Peter presumed to press Jesus not to go to Jerusalem and die. But nothing Peter did in his whole life was a bad as what Paul, when he still went by Saul, had done.
He persecuted people for their religion, and sometimes had them killed.
Paul the Apostle. Saul of Tarsus. The rabbi, the teacher, the evangelist. He stood watching, holding everybody’s cloak, while the enraged mob killed Stephen, the first martyr for Christ – Stephen, converted by the preaching of Peter, no less, and condemned for repeating to the Sanhedrin what Peter had told him about Jesus and about salvation. Saul would’ve happily watched while the same crowd and stoned Stephen stoned Peter, and might’ve picked up a rock or two himself to th row. He knew it, though he never admitted it. Peter knew it too, though no record indicates that he ever said anything about it. You get the sense that they knew, and set their hearts against one another despite Jesus’s directive to forgive seventy-times-seven times. For forgiveness, there must first be repentance, and then the acceptance of that repentance. I doubt that Paul ever offered it in a way that Peter could hear, and I bet Peter resented that, and I bet that it showed.
It takes grace to look without hatred into the eyes of someone who once wanted to kill you.
It takes grace to look without shame into the eyes of someone you once wanted to kill.
You might say that it takes all the grace there is – and then give thanks to God in Christ for making sure that grace comes to us and that we accept it.
That grace might’ve allowed these two to tolerate each other from afar and be thankful for each other’s gifts, even if they’d never, as it were, go out for a beer together type of thing. Peter would’ve always seen Paul as a puffed-up smarty-pants who thought he could do anything he wanted and had no use or respect for anyone else. Paul would’ve always seen Peter as the crude, uneducated fisherman whom Jesus, inexplicably, put in charge of things though he wasn’t any good as a leader. There may be in Christ no east or west, but all struggle is class struggle, and these two were of very different social classes and educational levels. Sometimes even the grace of the risen Christ can’t bridge that gap.
For all that, they had a common goal, and shared much understanding of what Jesus meant and Christ had come to do. His resurrection promised salvation to all by the forgiveness of their sins and their conversion to new life. His closest disciples, including these two, showed the same powers he’d had to heal body, mind, and spirit. They all, for the rest of their lives, spoke truth to powerless and powerful alike, never minding what it cost them.
It cost them everything – and they were willing to pay that cost, by all accounts, though one can never ask the dead what they think of how they died. Together, they changed the world, and made Christianity stronger and more diverse than it otherwise would’ve been.
It’s not a stretch to say that the two great sources we have for early Christian literature: the epistles and the gospels, exist because of the differences in how these two apostles approached the faith. Paul, of course, is famous not only because of his preaching the Word and founding churches, but for the letters he then wrote to those churches. The ones that survive, many of which were in fact ones he wrote, explained in fine theological detail what difference Christ made to the worship of God as known to the Jews, and how one was to believe and think and act now that Christ had died, once for all, to bring salvation to the world and justify us through faith alone, that we might be saved. He worked out an entire theology, as I said, of what Jesus’s deeds meant, and mean, for everyone.
But he told no stories about Jesus, other than the appearance on the Damascus Road that led to his conversion, because he didn’t have any. What he had was an insight into how you free people from the oppressive, ponderous weight of sin and death and grief and loss and disappointment – and a deep sense that God had done that in Christ. Nothing else mattered to Paul; nothing that got in the way of that message mattered, either, except as an obstacle he had to overcome.
Peter, by contrast, and his follower John Mark, traditional author of the Gospel of Mark, inaugurated a different tradition. It’s the older one, but it took on new life once he was dead and the temple destroyed in Jerusalem. This is the tradition of the gospels, which tell the stories not just of how Jesus met his death and then rose, but of the deeds of power he did during his ministry – and also share as many of his sayings as they found credible and memorable. Where these sayings come from we do not know; insofar as they represent what Jesus actually said, people such as Peter must’ve been the ones to start passing them down. Peter was no writer, of course, and was probably not literate, or very much so. Educational standards for working-class provincials were not, in his day, very high. But he was a talked, and, to judge from the Book of Acts, a pretty good one. I mean, people listened to him and changed their lives because of what he told them. A lot of what he told them was what Jesus had said and done – it must’ve been. For this reason, we consider him and his fellow disciples as the key sources for the gospels as we know them – and for some that the church later rejected, such as the Gospels of Thomas, Mary, Judas, and even Peter himself.
It’s from these gospels that the stories come that give the title to this sermon: Feed My Sheep, and Follow Me. The former is one of the last things Jesus says to Peter, as the Gospel of John reports, when Jesus frees Peter from the burden of his denials and other weaknesses. He gives Peter instruction as to what he’s to do: if you love me, and you say you love me, feed my sheep, tend my lambs, take care of them all. The latter order, “Follow Me,” was the first thing he said to Peter, when he was still the fisherman Simon living in the middle of nowhere special. “Follow me,” he told these people from out of the clear blue, “and I will make you fishers of women and of men.” Jesus did; Peter caught into the blessed arms of salvation many, many people who otherwise would’ve stayed lost, and he knew whom to thank for it as well. Between those two words, I can’t imagine how much they must’ve talked about, must’ve shared, must’ve said to one another. Peter remembered it all, or most of it, and told what mattered most, what Jesus had done or said, wherever, I think it might’ve been in Capernaum, maybe Bethany, I don’t know. All I know is he said it, healed that guy whose leg didn’t work or who had seven demons eating him up on the inside, and told us how to live before he showed us how to die, and then showed us that even that wouldn’t undo him,
Epistle and Gospel; gospel and epistle. Our faith would be diminished were either of these missing, but with their richness, we have the inheritance of the saints in light themselves, and can bear robust and honest witness to a God whose name is Love, and what love really means.
For several reasons, not the least of which is keep them at the same level of precedence, the church celebrates their feasts together. Lore has it that they both died as martyrs to the faith they did so much, and so differently, to establish, though none avers they died at the same time. Peter, by legend and perhaps in fact, was crucified with his head pointing down, since he considered himself unworthy to die upright, as Jesus had. Paul was beheaded, one presumes – the quick and easy way for a Roman citizen – judicial murder, but with respect. Let the menial provincial expire slowly and in great pain. It was during Nero’s persecution, AD 64, 68 – Nero, the emperor who famously fiddled, or perhaps tweet-stormed, while Rome burned, then blamed convenient, though innocent, suspects whom people had already begun to despise. Some say he, or his agents, set the fires themselves to clear the way for grandiose building projects. He was not the first Roman or the first ruler to kill, as it were, two birds with one stone: get rid of inconvenient, hated real estate and then blame an inconvenient, hated minority for it and get rid of them too, or at least try. As we celebrate this feast of these two major saints in Christianity, let us not forget that we celebrate the feast of two martyrs to one of the most despotic, deceitful, cruel, and ineffective regimes ever to exist.
No, Peter and Paul never reconciled, or not in a way that anyone ever wrote down. It would’ve been nice had they retired from being apostles and lived side-by-side in the country, Peter working on his fishing and tending his nets, maybe getting back to being the husband, father, and eventual grandfather he became, secure under his own vine and fig tree, Paul writing his magnum opus, the theological compendium of how the Hebrew Scriptures predicting the coming of Christ in Jesus of Nazareth and how that made all other forms of worship and religion redundant – the sort of book that other Christian scholars would eventually create. But that was not their fate. They died in the prime of their lives and ministries, murdered by a tyrant, but saved by a God. Do not forget, neglect, or diminish the power of their witness or how they changed the world. We know of God’s love in Christ, and God’s salvation through Christ, because of what these two apostles did, and because of how they did it differently. May they rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7–11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for Healing
God our healer, whose mercy is like a refining fire: by the lovingkindness of Jesus, heal us and those for whom we pray; that being renewed by you, we may witness your wholeness to our broken world; through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Collect for Ss. Peter and Paul
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Mission
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
A Litany of Healing
Let us name before God those for whom we offer our prayers, either silently or aloud.
God the Father, you will that all people be healed and made whole;
We praise you and thank you, O Lord.
God the Son, you came that we might have life, and have it to the full;
We praise you and thank you, O Lord.
God the Holy Spirit, you make our bodies the temple of your presence;
We praise you and thank you, O Lord.
Lord, grant your healing grace to all who are sick, injured, or disabled;
Hear us, O Lord of life.
Grant to all who seek guidance, and to all who are lonely, anxious, broken, or despairing, a knowledge of your will and of your presence;
Hear us, O Lord of life.
Mend our broken relations, and restore us to soundness of mind and serenity of spirit;
Hear us, O Lord of life.
Bless physicians, nurses, and all who tend the suffering and seek to cure, granting them wisdom and skill, sympathy and patience;
Hear us, O Lord of life.
Grant to the dying peace and a holy death, and uphold by the grace
and consolation of your Holy Spirit those who mourn them;
Hear us, O Lord of life.
You are the Lord who does wonders:
You declare your power among the peoples.
With you, O Lord, is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.
Hear us, O Lord of life:
Heal us and make us whole.
May God’s love make you whole; may the light of Christ guide your footsteps; and may the presence of the Holy Spirit fill your hearts and remain with you, this night and evermore.
About Episcopal Worship and this Service
Holy Eucharist, or Holy Communion, along with Holy Baptism, lies at the center of the church’s sacramental life, and has of late become our main form of worship as a community. In times of contagion and quarantine, however, the community may not gather together in person, as such liturgies require. What are we to do?
Fortunately, we have other worship resources suitable for online worship: the Daily Office. It consists of Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline (an end-of-the-day prayer), as well as Daily Devotions, for use by individuals and families. Each office, as they’re called, offers worship of praise and thanksgiving by means of word and song.
In addition, Healing Prayer, like prayers of supplication and penitence, have for many years helped the church face difficult times. When we or those whom we love suffer or are in times of danger and uncertainty, we might feel alone and unsure. Particularly in times when our health requires us to keep at physical distance, gathering as best we can for prayers of healing can help sustain us and reduce our feelings of isolation and fear. The service often makes use of an ancient, and now reviving, tradition of understanding Christ as mother.
Vespers (Evening Prayer) is particularly well-suited to Healing Prayer. Evening is a time of reflection, a time to take stock of the day that is ending, be thankful for its blessings, be mindful of the chances and changes of our lives, and remember that even when we are most alone, God is with us, and we with God.
Healing Vespers opens with a call to gather in prayer to recognize our needs and give thanks for those whose are called to be healers. We sing songs and hear readings that remind us of how God has saved people in the past, and that they (we) are always in further need of God’s grace. We offer a statement of faith and a song God’s love, appropriate collects (prayers), a Litany of Healing, and a final blessing.
Tonight’s Healing Vespers is blent with our worship for the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, apostles. This leaflet is designed for you to use on your own, in addition to being a guide to worship online. Feel free to adapt it as best suits your and your family’s needs.
The readings for this service, and the prayers you see, come from The Book of Common Prayer and from Enriching Our Worship 1, 2, and 5. You will find links to these free resources below. As of the date released, any website links given above were accurate.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2,
Enriching Our Worship 5,
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online Bibles.
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.