Shape of Text and Suffering


Shape of Text and Suffering

1 Peter 3:13-22

Nathan Hosler—May 25, 2014


We are shaped by many things: language, region, area of work, and perhaps a dialect. While living in Pennsylvania Dutch country Jenn started mimicking some of the sounds and ways of speaking. This pronunciation shows its face in many ways but I will demonstrate two. One is Jerry and the other—very similarly—is the fruit, cherry. In PA Dutch country (which is actually a variation off of German or Deutsch rather than the Dutch of the Netherlands), rather than “Jerry” and “Cherry” it’s “Jurry” and “Churry.” So, Jenn, the cosmopolitan person she is was starting to imitate some of these words and ways of speaking. She did it enough times that occasionally, without thinking about it this came out unintentionally. On one glorious occasion Jenn was in my parent’s kitchen looking in the refrigerator trying to find something to eat. She spied—that fruit, the aforementioned fruit which rhymes with our beloved chairperson—Mr. Jerry O’Donnel. Jenn, quite enthused by the discovery of this fruit—exclaimed oooh churries!

As people get in shape, our language and dialect is shaped by our region, and a meadow is shaped by the constant flow of water—so too is our body, the corporate body, the body of Christ, shaped. We as a body are shaped by a text—and as we will see in our 1 Peter passage, we are also shaped by suffering.

While I personally may like the sound of a life of books—and as such recognize my bias– I don’t think it is a stretch to say we are people who are, or should be, shaped by a book—by a text. We are a text shaped people.

We will see in our text, and heard last week that we are a suffering shaped people. Last Sunday Jeff asked “who would like to be a martyr?” He quoted Dietrich Bonhoffer, the pastor and theologian slain by Nazi’s, saying “The call to discipleship is the call to come and die.”

We are, it seems, a suffering shaped people—a community that follows one who suffered, who was crucified.

The text will shape this sermon and—God willing—the text will also shape or our lives.

The sermon title is “Shape of text and suffering” so the sermon will not only follow the passage in 1Peter but was also written with the on the ongoing suffering of our sisters and brothers in Nigeria on my mind.

The passage starts with a somewhat off-putting question:

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

The writer is speaking to those who have suffered, are suffering, or fear immanent suffering. Not only this but they follow Jesus—the crucified one. This is similar to in Romans when Paul, as he is in prison, says the government will only punish you if you do wrong. What could be the point of this? Later on we will see that suffering may indeed come because one does good. Perhaps this is rhetorical—who will harm you? Everyone….?

It should also be noted that in this passage suffering is linked to good or not-good deeds. It is not suffering from a stubbed toe, running too far and being sore, or being sick. While these sufferings are real—and constitute their own sort of trial, one in which we are challenged to remain prayerful and thankful, this is not part of this passage.

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,[a] and do not be intimidated,

If suffering is as a result of your doing good then you are blessed despite the appearance otherwise—how does this work? Where is the blessing? Is it a future blessing? A sort of store it up in heaven blessing? Even though the suffering ones are blessed, Peter exhorts them not to fear or be intimidated. The blessing must not be immediate—minimally the blessing is not the evacuation of the suffering one away from the location of suffering.

13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?

14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear,[a] and do not be intimidated,

15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;

Sanctify? Who says sanctify? Set apart? Determine that Christ—is Lord. Lord being the one who determines how you live. So in spite of the suffering—in spite of that which should bring you down, create despair, leave without hope—in spite of this the hearers are instructed not to “have hope” but to give an account of the hope that we in fact have. The assumption is that hope is present and it is present in such a way that folks will ask you about it. They will demand that you explain how you can be so hopeful.

When I first heard that girls were kidnapped I was shocked. When I heard they were EYN, Nigerian Brethren, I was almost sick. Now this isn’t because I think others would be less important but because of the emotional attachment to this family of ours. A few days later a Brethren pastor from a church in Arizona emailed and then called—clearly in state of great agitation he asked—“What can we do?” he continued “I don’t want just something that will make me feel better but something that will actually make a difference.”

In the past few weeks I have met with and communicated with a wide range of people on the broader situation. In these conversations it has almost invariably ended up with “what can we do?” I must admit I have struggled with not only not knowing what we should be but having hope. This was not a one-off incident after all but a long drawn out extremely violent conflict in a location in which regular life is challenging enough due to poor governance and the resultant poor infrastructure and lacking basic services.

The question posed by this passage is how do we defend the hope we have? –it is assumed we have hope. What if we don’t have hope? Or our hope wavers? Is this an automatic failure? The writer doesn’t seem to entertain this question but immediately goes about describing how this defense of hope should be conducted.

16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence.[b] 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.

This “yet do it with gentleness” is relating back to the “defend.” When we hear defense we think of force perhaps the Department of Defense—which used to be the Department of War—or at least a vigorous, probably heated, argument. The defense here is in gentleness and reverence. It is no violent preparing for conflict or really even a training in argument so as to crush the opponent.

17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

Not all suffering is the same. Certainly not all suffering is the same in severity but it is also not the same based on its context or cause.

18For Christ also suffered[c] for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you[d] to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for[e] a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

We know of baptism—that it pertains to water. We also probably know Noah which also has a great deal of water but we most likely would equate them. Noah. It isn’t just Noah but Noah and the ark. Baptism, unlike our bathing in the river was not for the removal of dirt, we read but “as an appeal to God for a good conscience.” Baptism—the passing through the water to new life is through the resurrection of Jesus.

22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him

In the face of suffering—Christ conquers death and suffering and sits at the right hand of God—an indication of power and authority. He reigns over the wielders of death. Those who trumpet fear. We do not respond with violent retaliation but with steadfast confidence that the suffering Christ is also the risen Christ and seated at the right hand of God Christ.

There is a fine line between asserting confidence in Christ’s conquering death and imposing this on others. A fine line between encouraging other and grieving with them in the grief they experience. There is a fine line with trusting God and sitting in inaction assuming we don’t have responsibility other than trusting God. Though parsing these differences abstractly or even in our own situations is too subtle a process for now, I note that this takes a great deal of spiritual discernment and psychological insight.

The text—which I hope we are shaped by—raises important questions.

  • Why does suffering occur?
  • Why do those who do good and follow God suffer?
  • How should we respond to suffering—especially when this suffering is inflicted by other because of one’s good deeds?
  • How do we respond when it is others who suffer and not us?

The shape of text and suffering begins to appear in our body—the corporate body—as we follow the one who suffered but yet sustains our hope in the face of suffering.

Rev. Dr Samuel Dali—the President of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, our dear brother Samuel once said why is it that when one part of the body hurts the other parts don’t feel it? As we, however, continue to hear of the suffering—feel in a small part the suffering—we are indeed beginning to be shaped by both the text and the suffering. The shape of suffering is that of our Nigerian family. This shapes us.

My dear brothers and sisters the morning for which we yearn—the morning we ache for is not yet upon us. Our body still hurts. Our sisters and brothers still cry. We do not yet know what to do or even how to pray.

Our text—which shapes us—leads us from the incomprehensible suffering of those who do good to the already victorious Christ seated at the hand of authority of the throne of God. This victory does not yet right the wrong. It does not yet heal the wound but it leads us on in the hope for which we give an account. This hope is inexplicable. This hope may just waver but the hope in the God who has suffered with us coaxes us on. It carries us on.

It is for this hope, the hope in the face of suffering, for which we are to give an account.


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