Peter and Paul - Martyrs

St Peter and St Paul share a special feast day towards the end of the month. You will remember Peter, the fisherman, whose name was originally Simon; Jesus renamed him Peter (Rocky would be a modern translation!) as he was the strong, firm, foundation on which the Church could be built. He was martyred in Rome, crucified upside down on the site of the great obelisk in St Peter’s Square. Paul, previously Saul, possibly the greatest writer and evangelist the Christian faith has ever known was also a martyr for his faith – beheaded by the Romans.

The tragic thing is that people today are still martyred for their faith. I think it is true to say that in every one of the world’s major religions there are fundamentalist hotheads who believe that killing those with whom they disagree is “what god wants” (and I’ve deliberately used a small g, because I don’t for a single moment think that God wants that.)

Organised Religion is both a blessing and a curse. Christianity has produced some of our country’s most glorious buildings – oases of peace and calm, places of prayer and pilgrimage. The music of the Church of England is unrivalled. The pastoral care exercised by those who are members of the Church, and their contribution to their local communities is of huge significance.

Sadly the structures, the headline grabbing statements by “spokesmen”, and the misreporting in the media, give a slanted view of what religion is about. Too often Christians are perceived as out of touch, fuddy-duddy, unfair to women and gay people, not interested in anyone who is not white or middle class. Sometimes quite rightly we are accused of being “the bland leading the bland”. We have lots to try to put right. Our organised religion is not yet perfect.

BUT, my faith in the God who loves me without reason and without end is what sustains me in my daily life and work; what helps me begin to make some kind of sense of world events that are “unfair”, and enables me to face the future, knowing what is inevitable, with more than equanimity – with real hope and joy. Thankfully I don’t think I will be likely to suffer persecution because I am a Christian – I might encounter a bit of apathy, and occasional sneering rudeness at the worst. Around the world there are millions of people who are persecuted; who cannot openly worship, or read the bible; who risk physical harm by mentioning the name of Jesus.

You and I are very fortunate – very blessed. I hope and pray that things will remain that way; and I pray for those not as blessed as I am. Meanwhile ALL the church doors are unlocked – why not sneak in when nobody’s looking and have a quiet moment with God?

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