Psalm 16, 1 Peter 1:3-9
Sometimes the lectionary suggests passages that don’t seem to make a lot of sense. We’re just a week after Easter. You would expect that we should still be in celebration mode, shouldn’t we? You would think that we should still be shouting “Alleluia!” and rejoicing in the risen Lord. You know, you’re right. We should be.
But instead we have Peter writing a letter about suffering and holding on to hope and waiting it out. That’s not very celebratory, is it? Holding on to hope is what Washington Capitals fans do when the team goes to yet another overtime against an eighth seed. It’s what you do when your candidate is losing the election but there’s still one or two states yet to come in. It’s also the reality of our world after Easter.
Peter’s writing to new believers. Not new Christians in and around Jerusalem, but new Christians all over the world. We didn’t read verse 1, but it says that the letter is from Peter “to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” This would be an area of around 300,000 square miles.
Richard Jensen suggests that 1 Peter was designed to be read at baptisms of new believers. If that’s true, and I genuinely don’t know if it is or not, but if it’s true then having this reading come right after Easter makes sense. Christianity is about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Until his resurrection, Jesus was no one’s savior. Lord – yes, rabbi – yes, teacher – as Jenn talked about last week – yes, but until the resurrection not a savior.
Once the resurrection happens, though, things change. Jesus isn’t just a small l “lord”; Jesus becomes our Lord. Jesus isn’t just another guy who said he was the Messiah; he proves he is the Messiah. He becomes our savior.
What changes is our relationship to the world. All of a sudden, the world is suddenly not such a welcoming place. All of a sudden, we don’t take our cues from popular culture or from political leaders or from “common sense,” which is just another name for the wisdom of the world. We take our cues from our risen Lord Jesus, and that means that we are going to be at odds with the world around us.
Not only are we going to be at odds with the world around us, the world is going to give us a hard time about it. Here in the United States some Christians think it is persecution if a department store decides to say “Happy Holidays” or if a private church school doesn’t get the same kind of government funding as a private secular school. There may be a measure of injustice in that last one, but that’s not persecution.
Persecution is what happens to Christians in Nigeria, where the EYN continues to face violence and where many of the Chibok girls are still missing. Persecution is what happens to Christians in Egypt, where Coptic churches have been bombed and believers killed. Persecution is what happens to Christians in many, many places that is beyond our own imagination as citizens and residents with the privileges that we have here in the United States.
Persecution is what those people Peter wrote to would face. Persecution, including torture and death, is what awaited many of them. Persecution, including torture and death, came to Peter himself at the hands of the Roman Emperor Nero.
That’s why Peter talks about holding on to hope. That’s why Peter talks about looking forward, looking ahead to a salvation that is going to be revealed. Our new birth is into a living hope. Our inheritance isn’t something that we receive right now this minute, but it is kept in heaven for us awaiting either our arrival there or Jesus’ return to earth.
There are times when looking forward in hope means looking backward. You see that in the Old Testament a lot. The Jewish people would be facing some enemy of some sort, and Moses would say, “Hey, remember when God brought you out of Egypt? God can do that kind of thing again!” Later, in Jesus’ time, the Jewish people would look back to King David’s time when God raised up a mighty king who led Israel to great success. That’s why we read Psalm 16 today, to think about David and how it was that he prospered personally and professionally besides his many sins and failings.
David writes that he has nothing good that is apart from God, that it’s not the wealthy or the wise, but the holy who are truly the ones who are noble. David recognizes that he must keep the Lord by his right hand if he is to thrive, and that in God’s presence he can rest secure.
That’s very similar to Peter’s message, although Peter doesn’t directly reference King David. Peter knew David’s story, though, and it’s very possible that he has David in mind when he writes that his readers “are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
We do that here at Washington City. Those of us who have been here a while think about and remember the example of people who came before us. Some folks think about Mike Byam or Warren Hoover. Others think back farther to Duane Ramsey. When I was at Woodbridge a woman there who had been a member here at Washington City talked about how much she learned from a previous pastor – I think it was DeWitt Miller, but don’t hold me to that.
All of us are a part of the history of this congregation. Some of us are a more recent part, and some of us have been here for many years, but all of us are a part of the story. All of us are here, in the present, but at the same time we have been a part of the past of this place and it’s ministry.
Some time someone is going to look back at the history of this congregation and talk about how much they appreciated Bob Hoffman and Dale Penner. Today is a day that we are taking some time to do that specifically after worship, but they’re a part of our history and always will be. The same is true for me, and for you. David is a part of Jesus’ story, and Jesus is part of Peter’s, and Peter is a part of the stories of those he is writing to, and it has all carried down to us today. Each of us individually, and all of us collectively.
The Kingdom of God is now. The Kingdom of God is also yet to come. The Kingdom is now, and the Kingdom is then. That’s a hard place for us to be sometimes. While we don’t face the kind of persecution the Christians that Peter was writing to did, and we don’t face the kind of persecution that Christians in other parts of the world do, we still face hardships and troubles. We still have doubts and fears. And although earlier I minimized the kinds of things that many Christians in the United States call persecution, that doesn’t mean that there is no persecution of Christians in the US. It’s not necessarily as overt as it is in other parts of the world, and it’s not typically as dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it may not be real – particularly for individual Christians at times that are particular to each of them.
Susan Skinner is the rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado. She wrote this poem last week, and it spoke to me about the resurrection as something that has happened and is yet to come, as something that is now but also something that also is then.
I saw resurrection late today
As I walked the dogs
And with every passing block
Got ever more drunk
On the rich purple lilacs
Flinging their perfume into the evening breeze
I saw resurrection on the lawn
Of the home of a man
Who is hated by his neighbors
He never speaks but to complain
About everything and everyone
Of all the tidy streets of curated and tended yards
His is the dry grass, and unkempt
Like a dream conceived, then withered
His the planters barren of any flower
His the tree slowest to bud and leaf in spring
But in that tree today
I—drunk on lilac—saw resurrection.
It was surely not his doing.
Resurrection never is.
God—a bird—had chosen his leafless tree
Out of all the lovely trees
In which to build a perfect nest,
A home in which to raise its young
I would not be surprised
If the grass now begins to green
And flowers blooming appear in the night
And people sit on the empty porch chairs.
Resurrection is like that—once begun
It has a way of catching on
And cannot be stopped;
For that let us be glad.
Indeed, let us be glad. Amen.