April 19, 2020
Our reading today comes from the beginning of 1 Peter… a letter written to a Christian community that is experiencing some suspicion and perhaps outright persecution from their neighbors who don’t understand and probably fear this odd foreign religion that has appeared among them. At this time Christianity is still new and different… and Christians are a minority. The core advice of the letter is simple… Christians are to put on Christ, meaning they are to lead exemplary lives that would not only give glory to God but dissolve the fear of the unknown by their neighbors. They are to defeat fear through doing good. Listen for the Word of God as it speaks to you today.
READ 1 Peter 1:3-9
On Easter morning we gathered at the empty tomb only to hear the message that we aren’t to linger there. The tomb is empty. There is nothing here to be held onto. Death has lost its sting. The message is to go. Go out into the world and tell the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Go out into the world and be the good news of Christ’s resurrection. Decades later, we see what that looks like in our reading from 1 Peter. We see the revolution of resurrection at work. And it is quiet… and it is every day. Put on the resurrected Christ and live into this living hope. The words are bold and daring sounding. The actions are much simpler. Meet the world with acts of love. Show your dedication to God in Christ through acts of kindness to your neighbors. Make the world in which you live better because you serve others according to the basic moral tenants of your faith. Let your faith in Christ inspire you to dream… to risk… to step out in a faith that empowers the world to live towards this higher vision of the kingdom of God. If you are met with suspicion or fear… don’t return with like action. If you are persecuted, remember how Christ was also persecuted unfairly but never veered from the path of righteousness. You must live out the old lesson, love your enemies.
What others do or say… what does that matter? Why should that cause you to fear? Remember the story… the story of how Christ could have called down legions of angels to set him free from the Romans… but did not. Remember how those in fear of losing their power told lies and manipulated the crowd into chanting for crucifixion… calling for the release of Barabbas and embracing his ways in the world… the ways of death and violence? Remember how people eagerly embraced filling graves with the bodies of others? Remember how the people tempted him, calling Jesus to prove himself by coming down off the cross… but Jesus did not. It sometimes gets lost in all the excitement of the day… or in the complexities of our later theology… but Christ’s resurrection is a result of such righteousness. Although he would have preferred the cup to be taken away… although he struggled internally and prayed feverishly… Christ stayed true to the path of God. Remember… remember these words from Philippians… how Jesus emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” Such obedience is righteousness… and such righteousness should be at work in all who follow this Christ. These are not just stories to share… they are the stories that are to shape our choices… shape our actions.
Now, we may not particularly like that word “righteous”. It carries with it lots of baggage, but don’t get distracted by the word. Look at what it is pointing to. The living hope of resurrection is simple and powerful. Again… to use the words from Philippians… “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.” Or look at the example of the righteous from Matthew 25… they are the one’s described as doing nothing more than giving food and drink to those who hunger and thirst, or welcoming a stranger and giving care for their needs. Visiting the sick… or those who are in prison. None of these righteous acts require great or miraculous powers. What is needed is a heart touched by grace and a spirit aligned by the goodness of God. Resurrection reveals that this manner of righteousness definitively is the way of God. Anything else… any other path is not of God.
Jesus did not appear to his disciples and put them on a path of perpetual victimhood… telling them how good they were and how everyone who did not agree with every theo-political litmus test of theirs was against them and was bad and was to be fought and feared. Jesus didn’t arm his followers with powers to crucify and vilify others falsely as he had been. Coming out of the tomb, Jesus did not call for self-righteous revenge… nor did he give the hope of the power that comes through the sword or legislation… that the way to the kingdom of God was through top down dominance of the culture. The disciples were not sent out into the world armed with spiritual arrogance and ignorance.
These paths are not illumined by resurrection.
The tomb of Christ stands empty because the tomb is the receptacle of all unrighteousness. When Paul says that “the wages of sin are death”… he is not talking about biological death… any more than we are talking about biological life when we talk about resurrection. Sin is that which divides us. Sin gives others power over our fears. Sin gives us perpetual victimhood where we get lost in the darkness of our own negativity. Where shame and guilt weigh us down and causes us to lash out at others. Where we refuse to be accountable for our own lives while demanding nothing but accountability without mercy in the lives of others. Here in the unrighteous tomb we fear pain and challenges and setbacks. With our faces twisted by anger we search for scapegoats. We drag others down into death through our scarcity perceived, grudge-filled lives where we are too impatient to seek truth… where our own sense of entitlement is the mirror image of our own feelings of powerlessness. Roll the stone in place, because no one gets out of the unrighteous tomb alive.
This crooked and perverse generation… it is every generation. Apply pressure… put under stress and sit back and watch which path people will choose. You are different. You are foreign. What’s your angle? Why don’t you have the stench of the tomb on you? That’s what was meeting the Christians of 1 Peter.
And they were told to counter such trials with… be mindful of Christ. Let the righteousness of Christ be seen through you. Love others as Christ loves you. The guidance is as good today as it was back then.
In this pandemic we are under pressure. We are under stress. What path will you choose in moving forward? How will this experience deepen your faith… not what you believe… I’m talking about that everyday new birth into a living hope faith. Meet the world with acts of love. Show your dedication to God in Christ through acts of kindness to your neighbors. Make the world in which you live better because you serve others according to the basic moral tenants of your faith. Let your faith in Christ inspire you to dream… to risk… to step out in a faith that empowers the world to live towards this higher vision of the kingdom of God.
Even as the voices from the unrighteous tomb are getting ramped up and louder already… it’s been nice to hear voices of living hope. Hearing people talk about how priorities have shifted as their day to lives have had to change. Values easily get out of whack in the busyness of life. I mean, how nice has it been to hear simple stories about neighbors taking care of one another. I’ll go out and take the risk so you don’t have to. I have more than I need… here let me be of help to you. Driving around this week, I saw people having picnics… not just one picnic… I saw multiple picnics. There is just something so right about that… a picnic on a weekday! Symbolically it says so much to me. Social distancing has strangely helped some come to value the relationships in their lives again.
How simple is it to value other people? Isn’t that the kernel of truth in the good news we are supposed to be going out and spreading? Jesus was a healer of others. He found people who had been lost and revealed their value to eyes that didn’t care. That’s the way Christ showed love. What does our faith now have to do with the people whom we might have before looked down our nose at… or ignored altogether… people whom have had their essentialness rediscovered. Early on the point was being made that a virus has no respect for our political and cultural tribalism… or our racial divisions… or our socio-economic divisions… but a virus does reveal what we try so hard to blur and forget… that such divisions do matter in how we value one another… that they do matter in how we exercise our power and shape one another’s lives… and that the wages of our separation is death… physical for some… spiritual for so many more. There will always be differences… there will always be those who have more… there will always be those do the underappreciated but no less valuable work for our society to be as it is… don’t you think that resurrection means we don’t have to make it harder for people… that maybe… maybe we can give to one another the same level of dignity? Maybe poverty wages aren’t the way to go forward. Maybe losing everything because of the cost of an illness isn’t the best way to value another’s life. Maybe it isn’t so bad to have it so everyone can afford a roof over their head and food on their tables. There has to be more that we could do to help relieve the daily burden of survival for so many essential human beings… if we are going to let our faith in Christ inspire us to dream… to risk… to step out in a faith that empowers the world to live towards this higher vision of the kingdom of God.
I’m reminded of the words we heard from our recent readings from John’s gospel… words of Caiaphas, the high priest… “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” Seems like I’ve been hearing variations on this statement being said again and again here lately… especially with the talk about returning to normal. But I’m not so interested in returning to a normal that easily sacrifices and puts some in the grave so that the nation of others won’t be destroyed. That’s the way that led to the cross as an instrument of torture and death. That’s the way that led toward filling the tomb with the spiritually dead. In resurrection, God took away the power of that cross. In resurrection, God rolled away the stone opening the tomb… taking away the impediment that would keep us in such darkness.
We’re going to hear from 1 Peter again in a few weeks, but I think I’m going to end today with some words we won’t be hearing from this first chapter. “Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” Amen.