As timeless as scripture is, we still encounter times when relating with the text becomes challenging. We lack the context of the contemporary environment in which the text was written and, while the words on the page may seem plain, the depth of their relevance to our time feels distant. What does the gospel-writer’s message say to us today? Faith in Real Life’s Vernon Gramling updated Peter’s first letter to more closely reflect the struggles of today and to underscore the importance of our calling and the challenges it presents.
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
4:12 Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 3 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
5:6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. 7Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 8 Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
This is the last Sunday of the liturgical season of Eastertide—the weeks following Easter. It has been a time to struggle with the promises of the resurrection in the face of real life opposition and suffering. The Messiah has come. Shouldn’t new life—-or at least relief from mortal suffering, ensue? Not so much. In real life, this new hope came bundled with misunderstanding, unjust criticism, ostracism and out right persecution. Those images, however can be hard to relate to in a society in which, at least nominally, we are the majority instead of the minority. So I am going to try to write a pastoral letter for our day that reflects the timeless struggles of faith in the ordinary space of day-to-day relationships.
Dearly beloved, we are joined together by the incredible promise that we are loved. In a world of comparisons, righteous indignation and divisiveness, we believe that God’s love saves us from a never- ending need to ‘prove’ ourselves and calls us to a life that has purpose and meaning well beyond our lifetimes. Remember your joy when you dared to share that hope.
Hold fast. Loving is hard and it is hard to feel loved when the world’s values reject you. Do not be surprised when you are not received. Some will call you weak and spineless. Some will say your hope is naive and founded in wishful thinking. Some will think you are sanctimonious and think you are better than them. None of this is new. Many did not follow Jesus. Many called out to him, ‘save yourself’. Many thought he was arrogant when he said “you have heard…. but I say to you…” If the one who taught us to love could be treated so, do not think you will escape.
Every single person you would love has his or her own worries, insecurities and fears. And especially when people are afraid; when people do not feel safe in the embrace of love, we can get crazy. We take everything personally. We lash out or sullenly withdraw. We respond in kind. It is all too ‘natural’. It is the way of the world. But our Lord calls us to a more excellent way. When we trust his love, we can listen, we can be curious. We do not have to retaliate. We are not bound to “fight-or-flight” ways of living. Freed from the ways of the world, we can seek new life. That is the promise and call of our Lord.
So do not be afraid to be humble. Do not insist upon your own way. Do not be coercive. Your life does not depend upon the agreement or approval of others. Your life is secure in the mighty hand of God. Notice when you get defensive or insistent. You are probably afraid. It is embarrassing to acknowledge how needy and vulnerable we are. Confess your fear and turn to God. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. You do not need to hide from his knowing you.
Work at this. Discipline yourselves. Find ways to be intentional. Learn from the Word. Look for ways to share your true heart. Look for ways to respect and cherish. God’s way is not our way. We can find a thousand reasons not to follow. Resist. Temptation is always around you. Even on our best days, we will fail. It is the direction not the achievement that matters. If you ‘succeed’ one in twenty times, your experience of God will grow. And if you persevere, you will come to know and trust the promise of God’s love. No matter what happens to you, God loves you.
Every person of faith has hungered for and sometimes distrusted this promise but the saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, “Jesus came into this world to save sinners.” That means you and that means me.
He will “restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” Let it be so.