Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

In May, as a part of my continuing education, my wife Janna and I visited the city of Rome.  My summer sermon series in the Footsteps of Saints Peter and Paul is based on that visit.  Two weeks ago, I began with the theme All Roads Lead to Rome.  Last Sunday we turned to St. Peter’s Basilica. This coming week, on June 29th, the city of Rome will celebrate her patron saints, Peter and Paul, and that is what we will meditate upon today.

There is an old French saying, “Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour,” Rome wasn’t built in a day.  To which the English playwright John Heywood added, “but it burned in one,” which is not exactly true.  The great fire of Rome of July 64 AD burned for six days, before it was brought under control, but before the damage could be assessed, the fire reignited and burned for another three days. In the aftermath of the fire, two thirds of Rome had been destroyed.  Peter and Paul may not have known the French saying, but they quickly knew John Heywood’s revision. As leaders of the fledgling church in Rome, they were blamed for city’s destruction.

For seven centuries, the ancient Romans had been fascinated by the story of the founding of the city. According to legend, Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of Mars, the god of war, were abandoned by their parents, as babies and put into a basket that was then placed into the River Tiber. The basket ran aground, and the twins were discovered by a female wolf. The wolf nursed the babies for a short time before they were found by a shepherd. The shepherd then brought up the twins.  For most of us that, that is the end of the story, but not for ancient Rome.  Romulus and Remus grew up to be natural born leaders. Seeking to establish their own settlement, the two returned to the place on the Tiber River where they she wolf had found them. The twins wandered across the seven hills looking for the perfect place to found their city. Remus wished to start the city on the Aventine Hill, while Romulus preferred the Palatine Hill. A disagreement ensued. Romulus began to build a wall on his hill, which Remus decided to jump over. Angered by his brother’s action, Romulus killed him.  Hence the name of the city, Rome.

Now contrast this to the re-founding of Rome after the great fire of 64 AD, through the spread of Christianity by Peter and Paul. If Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither could it be rebuilt in that measure.  Paganism, brutality and immorality were deeply rooted in Roman. life. It was an acceptable characteristic of the imperial ethos.  Besides, Peter and Paul had struggles of their own. If anyone in the early church had cause for mistrust, was these two. Paul, after all, had once been the chief persecutor of the early Christian movement known as the Way which was led by the Apostle Peter. They had different priorities in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Peter focused his passion and interest on proclaiming the good news among his own people, while Paul was enthusiastically proclaiming the gospel among the Gentiles, proselytes and Godfearers. These two apostles had little in common. Peter learned all he knew from Jesus, while Paul had studied theology at the foot of the great scholars in Antioch.  Peter was a common fisherman, while Paul was a privileged Roman citizen.  It took the divine action and encouragement of the Holy Spirit to make these enemies into brothers.  But they were also no longer young.

15 years earlier, Peter and Paul were doing missionary work in the same territory of Galatia in central modern day Turkey. The two apostles were fighting over the issue of circumcision among the Gentile converts.  Peter argued that all new followers of the Way, regardless of their ethnic background, were obligated to follow the Mosaic law, while Paul offered an historic compromise that it was not necessary for those born outside the Jewish faith.  In what is known as the “Incident in Antioch,” Paul called Peter out on the issue.  Previously Peter had stated that the Gentiles had no need to follow Jewish custom, and that the new covenant was open to all. However, under pressure from others he stated that they were not “real Christians unless…” In his letter to the Galatians Paul passionately wrote how he “opposed Peter, to his face because he clearly was wrong.” You can hear the exasperation in his voice, but along with the exasperation, you can hear love. Paul was not calling Peter out for the sake of pointing out his spiritual brother’s mistake, but rather for the sake of the Church and Christ, whom they both loved and preached.

In the end, a church council was called in Jerusalem by James the Just, Jesus’ brother to discuss the issue. The ensuing apostolic conference listened to arguments and drawing from historic precedence in the Noahide law decided the issue in favor of Paul and the Gentile Christians.  From that time onward, Gentiles were no longer bound by the Levitical ceremonial regulations of the Mosaic law. It was a landmark decision agreed upon by the Council. Some feelings and memories, however, were hurt and not quickly forgotten- not even among the saints. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Now, 15 years later, and 15 years older, and well into their 60’s Peter and Paul, found themselves together in the city of Rome working together for the sake of the gospel when the great fire of 64 Ad destroyed the city.

The Martyrdom of Sts Peter and Paul reminds us that brothers can be born from unlikely sources. Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire nor played the fiddle while it burned. He was actually an accomplished lyre player and composer. He did, however, actively use the disaster to his political advantage. Nero did not like the aesthetics of Rome and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire. According to the Roman historian Tacitus, Nero had the Christians covered in wild beast skins and torn to death by dogs at the Circus of Nero.  Peter was executed around the 67 AD in the circus of Nero. Unwilling to be crucified like Jesus, he asked to be crucified with his head down. He was then buried outside the wall on the Vatican Hill on the site where St. Peter’s Basilica stands today. As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right to a less painful death. He was beheaded at the three wells outside the city walls.  Today the tomb of Paul still rests beneath the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

The commemoration Rome’s two patron saints begins with a vespers service on June 28th in the Basilica of St. Paul’s and ends the following day on June 29th in St. Peter’s Basilica.  If you manage to be inside the basilica for the service, you will discover that the statue of St. Peter next to the main altar is dressed in papal vestments. The day in Rome is capped off with a fireworks display known as La Girandola. The tradition of the fireworks dates back to Michelangelo, who supposedly engineered the first fireworks for St. Peter and St. Paul in 1488.

My friends, remember the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”  Peter and Paul would have understood the meaning of that phrase.  They also understood that everything could be burned down in a day- in a fight. in a word. They knew that it takes time to create a great work-even in the church.  It may take time and energy to rebuild broken relationship as well.  But we do because of our love for Christ and one another. He has made us all as close as twins in their mother’s womb.

The New City of Rome was founded on brotherly love. As we celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, let us look to their model of brotherly correction and mutual love as we work to spread the Gospel message in our own lives.  It will be achieved with continued persistence and prayer and by God’s grace. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.