February 21, 2021
1 Peter 3:8-22
Our second reading today is from 1 Peter chapter 3… and the lectionary has us starting at verse 18, but I want to back up the reading today to verse 8 and begin there. I think it gives us a better grounding on this first Sunday in Lent. Continue to listen for God’s Word as it speaks to you.
READ 1 Peter 3:8-22
I think I’m in the mood today to keep widening the perspective… because I actually want to start with a part of Mark’s gospel story that is both a part of and not a part of last Sunday’s story of the Transfiguration. Can’t get away from the Transfiguration. Anyway… last week’s reading began with the words “Six days later…” So… although… it is not officially part of the lectionary for that day… whenever we get to the story of the Transfiguration… I’ve always got to go back to what happened six days earlier… which is Jesus asking his disciples those two important questions… Who do people say that I am?... Who do you say that I am? And if you remember, it is Peter who stands up and declares that Jesus is the Messiah. I always imagine Peter being quite proud of himself in the moment… but that moment doesn’t last as Jesus then begins to tell his disciples what is going to happen when they get to Jerusalem. Jesus tells them about the rejection that is to come. Jesus tells them about the crucifixion that is to come. He also tells them about the resurrection that is to come… but Peter’s ears can’t seem to get that far… they are too full of the words of suffering and death… not what Peter imagines as the way of a Messiah… and so Peter takes Jesus aside and he rebukes him. And we all know how then Jesus does a counter-rebuke of Peter… “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Today on this first Sunday in Lent our reading from Mark occurs much earlier than this scene between Jesus and Peter. The later rebuke Jesus gives Peter… is not really directed at poor Peter… it is to the ongoing temptations Satan is putting before Jesus. This setting the mind on human things… that’s the twist of the temptations in the wilderness as well isn’t it? Mark’s telling of the wilderness temptations doesn’t spend any real time on the actual temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness… but from the other gospel stories… from the other stories we hear temptations that would very much appeal to the humanity of Jesus.
Now at this point I need to make something clear about the temptations Jesus faces in the wilderness and beyond… they have to be real temptations for him. I know we kinda like to move him through these temptations fairly quickly… right? Almost as if Jesus is only going through the motions of being tempted… as though Jesus can’t really be tempted by Satan or that he might have human weaknesses like the rest of us… weaknesses that he is able to overcome. The question we have to answer is like the one Jesus posed to his disciples… who is Jesus in your faithful imagination? What is his experience of this gospel story that we journey through with him year after year? Is Jesus detached from it all? Always above it all in your imagination? Teflon Jesus. Do these things… the events of these stories… do they really touch him? Temptations? Does he suffer in anyway or is that somehow also an illusion? Maybe it’s gotten to where we’re strangely ok with a physical suffering… but internally… emotionally… spiritually… Jesus is never touched. In that way Jesus stays pure from being fully human. Temptations being real… temptations being real in your mind… in your faithful imagination… temptations being real means that journey of faith that Jesus is on… it is a struggle… it has real cost… it is not a smoothing out of the rough edges so that his passage can be easy and as blessed as possible. Maybe that’s more what we wish for ourselves and our own journeys of faith. That that cross will be light and easy to manage. That instead of presenting us challenges as we try to stay true and focused on divine cross principles… God will bless us by taking away all difficult experiences… make sure the angels keep us safe and protected at all times… even if we were to say… jump off the pinnacle of the Temple that once stood in Jerusalem.
That’s what our wider reading from 1 Peter is telling us… encouraging us… choose the good. Temptations surround us at all times. It’s not a few here and there and then easy street the rest of the way. Choose the divine things over the human things. Have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Saints… think of our faith journey from the first Sunday in Lent last year in 2020 to today. Want to see real temptations from the devil at work? Want to see where we failed and set our minds on human things? Then look how when the way of good was challenged… when it wasn’t easy… look how instead of unity of spirit… unity of purpose… we instead dialed up our divisions to eleven. Love for one another was replaced with contempt and fear of our neighbor. Tender hearts were mocked. Might made right. And over the top assuredness in our know nothingness made us all experts in all things. We embraced the self-delusional over the common good. Fighting each other over the selfish exhibitions of rights while a virus who cared nothing about any of that did its work… especially among the least of us. I mean… you can’t make this stuff up. And between this first Sunday in Lent and the first Sunday in Lent of next year… how hard are we going to work at pretending none of it ever happened? We are in the wilderness and we keep failing at these temptations. Lent is supposed to help us recognize that. Lent is supposed to remind of the truth of divine things… and help us reset… and reorient ourselves towards God.
In one of the other gospel stories, Satan tempts a famished Jesus in the wilderness by simply encouraging him to take a stone and turn it into bread. For me, it’s the most nefarious of the temptations. Not just because of the obvious… being famished after fasting for forty days… so hungry that you would do almost anything for something to eat. Your whole physical survival is on the line. Every human thing about you is crying out for food… drowning out any sound that might be made by the divine. Turn this stone into bread. What to me makes this temptation so nefarious is that… who would it hurt? What would it matter if this stone became bread and I satiated by ravaging hunger? It’s just a stone. I’m not taking anything away from anyone else. I’m not hurting anyone. If someone were there with me, I could turn a stone to bread for them. Feed their hunger as well as my own. Give them something that they needed in that moment. If I could turn this stone to bread I would be doing a good thing. Wouldn’t I? See how easy it is to justify the temptation? To fall into temptation? Satiating hunger while in the wilderness. And for a suffering Jesus, that would make everything easier. No need to make this journey of faith difficult. Here’s a way to stay above it all… to not have to hurt.
Turn this stone to bread and ease your path.
This makes me think about another hunger in the wilderness story... an Old Testament story. Moses leads the people out of Egypt… through the Red Sea… into the wilderness. And it doesn’t take long for them to start to complain… very human complaints. They are thirsty. At least back in Egypt… they may have been slaves… they may have been disconnected from God… but they didn’t lack for water… or maybe even something better than water to satiate their thirst when it came upon them. Anytime they were thirsty there was something there for them to drink… but not here… not here in this wilderness. What is freedom… what is being a called person of God if I’m going to die of thirst?
And what happens to those who complain in that wilderness? God provides water again and again. No one dies of thirst in the wilderness.
Yet you know that’s not the last of their complaints because soon they are hungry. Hungry. Oh… oh do you remember the fleshpots back in Egypt… how good they smelled… how we were able to keep our bellies full. We may have been slaves. We may have been disconnected from God. But we weren’t hungry. We weren’t starving like we are now in this wilderness.
And God responds once again to their complaints. What does God provide? Manna. Bread from heaven. Maybe not as flashy as turning the stones to bread, but still a pretty impressive miracle. Enough manna for them everyday so that they won’t go hungry. Their appetites will be kept in check. Except they aren’t. The complaint changes from being hungry to being tired of having to eat the same thing every day. Manna from heaven got old real quick. Jesus could have turned every stone to bread. Whole mountains turned to bread. No one would know hunger. For a while. But appetites aren’t ever satisfied. How soon would the complaint come… the human thing? I’m tired of stone bread. Everyday it’s stone bread. Can’t you do anything else but stone bread? And then… there’s also the fact that there are a limited number of stones. At some point the stones are going to run out… but hunger never stops coming. Complaint always rises up. There is never satisfaction because the bottom keeps moving deeper and deeper. That hole will never be filled.
Manna from heaven. Enough water. Stones turned to bread. Voices in the wilderness would still rise up… if God were so good… then why doesn’t God take away all the problems in the world? If God were good no one would ever be hungry… there would be enough bread for everyone. If God were so good… then… God would serve our appetites… our never satiated hunger. It takes an all-powerful eternal being to service our never satiated hunger… and our hunger would still win in the end.
The devil said to the famished Jesus, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
And Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
The Divine said love your neighbor as yourself. And the Divine spoke through Paul who wrote to us… “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all…”
And the same Divine Spirit spoke to the writer of 1 Peter. “Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”
Saints, I again invite you in the name of Christ, to observe a holy Lent by self-examination and penitence, by prayer and fasting, by works of love, and by meditating on God’s word… remembering these words we have heard today… and setting your mind on divine things. Amen