The Easter season continues. The high of last week’s celebration of the resurrection slowly transitions to a sobering question–“What now?” How do we take the faith we profess and understand in our heads and turn that into action to create a life that reflects that faith? Bridging this gap isn’t easy. Turning what we know into how we live takes time and practice. During that time, we’ll continue to face challenges that will test our resolve, but as FIRL discussed this week, trusting in the purpose and promise of the resurrection can give the strength to continue.
1 Peter 1:3-16 (NIV)
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11 trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.
13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
First Peter is a book I’m pretty sure I read in seminary but that was over 45 years ago. I was hoping we would be examining ‘appearance’ stories and we would be trying to address how is it that Christ lives. But the advantage (?) of following a lectionary (a scheduled reading of scripture) is that it sends me to places I do not normally go. So let’s examine the unfamiliar and try to discern why it is the first Sunday reading after the resurrection.
In our Lenten preparation we spent a lot of time examining Jesus’s ministry and the ways Jesus introduced a new way of seeing God. He contrasted the spiritual life with the earthly (born again), he inverted conventional understandings of ‘how things are’ to direct us to a life that cannot die. He taught us that he loved us. He taught us to rely upon God no matter how earthly circumstance threatened us. He taught us to love and that loving is what gives meaning and purpose to life. In the resurrection, Jesus the man became Christ, the savior of us all. His message of hope still echoes in our first Sunday after Easter. Peter is calling all of that to mind as he describes the ‘inheritance that can never perish.’
But the inspirational message of salvation and hope started running into real life. For the early church, the expectation was that Jesus’ second coming would declare a final victory within their lifetimes. The hardships of this world would end. It is hard to rejoice when you are being persecuted. It is hard to be hopeful when nothing seems to change. Peter’s ‘though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.’ (Vs. 6) continues to this day. Prejudice continues, arrogance prevails, children die, depression and anxiety are unrelieved, and cancers grow. What kind of salvation and new hope is this? That was the dilemma of the early church and it is the dilemma for us today.
New clients often experience the first few visits as disturbing but often hopeful. Clients gain new insights. They can frequently identify toxic patterns. That knowledge brings hope and the possibility of change. The problem, however, is that knowledge and understanding is not sufficient. New understanding is necessary but the slow grinding work of change is filled with adversity.
In ordinary life, this shows up all of time. Knowing how to act does not mean we can do so. I am currently seeing a 47-year-old man who I first saw seven or eight years ago. At that time, he was recently remarried and he was trying to find his place as a new stepfather. His need to be ‘respected’ and to exert authority was not well received. There was considerable conflict. Though he ‘was just trying to help’, he felt unappreciated and unsupported. It took a while before he could also see his intensity was born of his own need to be recognized. He needed agreement and approval. That knowledge helped him to detach a bit. A reasonably tolerable truce ensued. But the tensions remained. He couldn’t quite put his heart into what needed to happen. He continually tested to see if his wife would ‘back’ him. As a result, she was always on trial. He knew ‘the right,’ but he could not live out his knowledge.
It literally took years but he finally became less approval-seeking. He became more capable of offering his opinion without demanding agreement. Theologically he was able to trust his own ‘I am’. He could be curious instead of combative, he could be more responsive to other people’s needs. And perhaps most importantly, he could be assertive without issuing ultimatums. These are huge changes and his wife asked him why he didn’t make them before. She said, ‘We discussed all of this the first time we were in counseling.’ But knowing and doing are quite different. He could only do what he could do.
The same is true of our faith journey. We can hear and rejoice in the promise of God’s love but learning to live out of that love takes years of imperfect practice. Peter is seeking to remind his readers of the promise and wonder of God’s promises. It is important to remember them and it is important to see how they are made manifest—especially in times of adversity. We have not seen Jesus in his earthly form but we do see Jesus in his risen form—in the eyes, hands and feet of the people that love us. Jesus comes to us every day. He is present in the most ordinary exchanges at mealtime. He is present in kind words and straight talk. His second coming is here and now. Here and now, we are remembering and receiving God’s greatest gift—-the salvation of our souls. Just as photographs can bring our past experiences into our present, Peter wanted believers to remember Jesus to bring his love into the present. God’s gifts are more precious than gold.
Peter closes with an injunction to live like Jesus. “Be holy, because I am holy.” Holiness is defined as being ‘dedicated or consecrated to God ‘, Jesus lived his life dedicated to relying upon God. Jesus’ holiness resided in his commitment to rely upon God in the severest of circumstance. Jesus chose to be vulnerable. He chose to trust that no matter what happened to him, what mattered was his relationship with God.
We are called to do likewise. That is a very tall order—especially if we think of holiness as an achievable attribute. But Jesus’ holiness resided in his relationship of reliance. Most of us cannot tolerate ‘obedience unto death’ but we can remember the gift of our inheritance. We are loved. Loving matters and loving requires vulnerability. We can choose to be vulnerable. We can orient our lives to loving. We can remember how Jesus loved and remember that his love is alive today. Those are the promises of the resurrection life. They focus and guide us. They hold and sustain us. Our holiness resides in our trusting them. That is what Peter wanted for his congregations. It is what God wants for us.
May we remember, trust and feel God’s love for us. May we rely on God’s promises. Let it be so.