The 2nd Sunday of Easter (A)
Today’s lesson from I Peter begins with verse 3 of chapter 1. I am going to read the first two verses of chapter one because it is important that we understand to whom this letter is written:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
To the exiles of the dispersion. Or, to put it another way: To those who are living scattered around Asia Minor as strangers in strange lands. These people were not part of the “in” crowd; they were not the powerful and influential. In fact, it is almost certain that many of them were slaves. Added to their low social status and lack of power, they were Christians. They claimed Jesus Christ, crucified and risen and because of that they were people who underwent additional suffering and hardship. They lived in the middle of everything and yet they were set apart.
What does all this mean for us? For us who have never been enslaved, it may seem as though these writings have nothing that will help us. As people who have not been under the threat of physical harm for our faith, we might wonder how seriously we should take these writings. But if we consider what it is like to live as people whose allegiance is first to God and not to the emperor, we may begin to look at these texts as guides for living as Easter people. Had Christians been willing to swear allegiance to the ruler and other Greco-roman gods, they might have enjoyed a persecution free life, at least in those early years. Had they been willing to go along in order to get along, those early Christians would have kept themselves under the radar and safe. I Peter is a letter about life in the empire, to a people whose way of life is contrary to empire-living; to a people who needed to be reminded that they were God’s people, and that because of Jesus Christ, their lives were marked by abundant grace and peace. These are important words for us, and if we look at I Peter in this way, then we surely can find words of encouragement and instruction for our time. As Christians in America in the 21st century we, too, are called to live contrary to the reigning ideals. We are torn between allegiance to a way of life that the world says is just fine and a life that inspires some radical notions. Crazy ideas like looking out for others before looking out for yourself, or believing that the amount of money to be made is not the best determination of the right thing to do, or the idea that relationships are more important than the borders we keep building around ourselves. We are continually under pressure to just go along with the ways things are in order to get along with the world.
In this first reading for I Peter, there are two themes that I want to draw attention to today. The first is faith in the Resurrection, and the second is the idea of a living hope.
The recipients of this letter are people who, like us, are not eye-witnesses to the Resurrection. They, like us, are making a bold claim about Jesus Christ. And they, like us, declare their belief based on faith. We actually have more support for our claim than they did because we have the benefit of the testimony of the Gospel writers and the sermons of the Apostles, such as Peter’s, that we heard in our Acts reading. Perhaps that is why this letter of I Peter was written: for encouragement and reassurance in the face of doubt and fear. It is not always easy to proclaim the Resurrection. To hold onto life when death is all around.
Last week we celebrated the Resurrection. We believed in Jesus and we rejoiced in Christ’s victory. It’s been a week, now. Are we still believing and rejoicing? Is our faith in the Resurrection as strong today as it was last Sunday? Or did we get side-tracked by the trials and sufferings of the past six days? Does our faith still seem genuine, or have we already returned to the days of ho-hum living? Have we been swept away by the mundane?I Peter 1:8
“Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…” This letter is a reminder for us that we have more to celebrate. Easter is not over! Even as we are faced with all the problems that life brings our way, we are people with a living hope!
A living hope. What does a living hope look like? Living hope is life-giving hope. Hope that breathes new life into that which was once dead. To live in this kind of hope is to move from habits and actions that hurt and kill to making choices that heal and restore. Are we making choices that reflect a living hope? Choices about our personal lives, choices that affect our neighbor’s lives, choices that impact the created world, choices that reach far beyond the borders of our own country?
Living hope is not full of false pretenses or superficial words. Living hope looks at the present as a response to the future. We don’t look forward in hope because we desire a return to the way things were—those were the days that brought us to this difficult time. Those were the days when we did not understand what Jesus was all about. We look forward in hope because we desire a changed world; one in which God’s message of peace and love is overcomes war and hatred, one in which the weak and the forgotten are the first ones we care for, a world in which creation is cherished and valued as a gift rather than a commodity. We look forward in hope because we know that Christ is Risen. And this is not frivolous hope. This is deep, life-changing, eye-opening, choice-influencing hope.
And it is our hope.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Charlane Lines
418 W. Main St.
Sidney, MT 59270