“Live for Righteousness,” 1 Peter 2:19–25, May 7, 2017, FPC Holt

“Live for Righteousness”
1 Peter 2:19–25
May 7, 2017, First Presbyterian Church of Holt

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Have you ever been reading the Bible and you’ve thought, “I’d really like to cut that part out?” Or, “following God would make so much more sense if we just skipped over this verse.” If so, this passage which says God approves of enduring suffering unjustly, would certainly be on the chopping block.

In the case of Thomas Jefferson, this was quite literally what he did.  The Smithsonian reports, “Jefferson was devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ. But he didn’t always agree with how they were interpreted by biblical sources, including the writers of the four Gospels, whom he considered to be untrustworthy correspondents.

So Jefferson created his own gospel by taking a sharp instrument… to existing copies of the New Testament and pasting up his own account of Christ’s philosophy, distinguishing it from what he called ‘the corruption of schismatizing followers.’” Being a very pragmatic man he cut out anything that seemed “contrary to reason,” including miracles and even Christ’s resurrection.

“Jefferson produced the 84-page volume in 1820—six years before he died at age 83—bound it in red leather and titled it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.’”

And then theologians throughout time immemorial rolled over in their graves. Or so we can imagine.

Interpreting scripture can be a very dangerous thing if we, like Jefferson, take away every bit that makes us uncomfortable to we manipulate the text to cater to our own biases and presuppositions.

This passage in particular is a dangerous one as has been used time and again to silence victims and to embolden abusers. There are some who have twisted these verses to mean that domestic abuse is something they simply have to endure, a byproduct of living the Christian life. I want to say upfront that that is not what this text is about.

Seminary professor, David deSilva writes, “I must especially stress that domestic violence and abusive marriages are not ‘sanctioned’ in some way by this text.. [it] has led to such problematic applications, with the result that some pastors or other Christian friends will advise a spouse to remain in an abusive relationship because this is God’s will. Physical abuse between spouses, however, was not sanctioned even by Greco-Roman statutes, and so persevering in an abusive relationship cannot have been an aspect of the witness to the unbelieving spouse…

the author is speaking very specifically about suffering endured for ‘doing what is right’, for ‘doing good,’ ‘for the name of Christ,’ and for ‘bearing the name’ of ‘a Christian.’ Suffering ‘in line with God’s will’ is quite explicitly limited by this author to suffering encountered because of obedience to Jesus’ call.”

In 1 Peter there are two different Greek words for used for suffering. One of them is path’-ay-mah. This word speaks of the things that happen to us, a trial we have endured. In our particular passage today the word for suffering is paschko. Paschko is slightly different. It refers to our experience, “a sensation or impression.”

The suffering of pain is apart of the human condition, but our vulnerability to fully experiencing suffering is more deliberate. Path’-ay-mah is inevitable, paschko is not.

Paschko, the suffering highlighted in our scripture today, is the type of suffering that stays with us, that makes us able to give and receive compassion. It is the beginning of empathy.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, best known for the five stages of grief she describes in her book, On Death and Dying, writes, “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

This call to enter into the suffering of Christ, is a call to become beautiful through vulnerability. Every one of us is shaped by the pain and suffering in our lives. We can choose to shoulder the burden, stuff the hurt inside and never let it see the light, allowing it to embitter us. Or, we can invite the peace that Christ embodied, even and especially, as he surrendered his earthly life on the cross.

Parker Palmer wrote about this in his book, A Hidden Wholeness. He says that there are two kinds of broken hearts: the first is one that is “an unresolved wound we carry with us for a long time, sometimes tucking it away and feeding it, sometimes trying to “resolve it” by inflicting the same wound on others.” The second is a different way to consider what a broken heart might mean. He says, “Imagine that small clenched fist of a heart ‘broken open’ into the largeness of life, into greater capacity to hold one’s own and the world’s pain and joy.” He then shares a Hasidic tale where a disciple asks the rabbi, “”why does Torah tell us to place these words upon our hearts? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rabbi answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks, and the words fall in.”

It is not a comfortable thing to know that Christ died for us, that Christ’s pain brought about our freedom. Right after speaking of Christ’s suffering we are told by the author to follow in Christ’s example. This is not a call to sadistic self-depreciation, but an invitation to embrace the reality that Christ died for us, Christ rose for us. Christ reigns in power over us and Christ prays for us. That there is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace, but everything we can do to respond to this great sacrifice.

This is the call to discipleship: knowing to our core that God cares so deeply for us, to allow that love to fall into our broken hearts, and then to live as the loved and liberated children of God we are. Amen.

“Our Turn Now;” John 17:1-11; June 1, 2014, FPC Jesup

“Our Turn Now”
John 17:1-11
June 1, 2014, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide02There are times when the events in the world line up so incredibly with the lectionary scripture that it’s impossible not to notice God’s hand in things. When Maya Angelou passed away this past Wednesday her son, Guy B. Johnson, confirmed the news in a statement. He said: “Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.”[1]Slide03The official day celebrating Jesus’ ascension was Thursday. There is something powerful and unsurprisingly poetic about Maya Angelou’s son employing the language of the hope of resurrection and ascension granted to all of us through the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

Slide04 The ascension of Jesus Christ is a story that is often forgotten in the larger narrative of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. After Easter we tend wrap up the story of Jesus’ live on earth and slide quite comfortable into what the church calendar calls, “ordinary time.” But, as many liturgical nerds will remind you, Easter is not just one day, but fifty! The official church season of Easter doesn’t end until Pentecost, which we will celebrate next Sunday in worship.

Slide05Ascension is a strange sort of day to acknowledge, because if we really think about it, it’s rather frightening. After Jesus’ death and resurrection Jesus comes back to be with the disciples; he comforts them in their sorrow, he demonstrates his grace. But then when the time comes for Jesus to rejoin God in heaven, that means that Jesus leaves this world in our hands.

SLIDE 6 - Ascension Holy Spirit The good news is we are certainly not alone. Jesus leaves us with the Holy Spirit. Our scripture on Sunday two weeks ago affirmed this promise. In John 14:15-17 Jesus says to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

Slide07The Holy Spirit remains with us so that we may do all that Christ has commanded, and live into the joy and the promise of unity with God. In our scripture today we read Jesus addressing our creator God in John 17:11, “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Slide08Christ prays to God for unity, so that we may together serve God’s people. How is that working out for us? Our world today is filled with division after division, limiting us from coming to a full knowledge of God’s love for all of us. In John 17: 3 Jesus says, “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” When we stop acknowledging the others in our world as fellow created children of God, we limit ourselves from experiencing God’s grace fully.

Slide09As is befitting this scripture lesson and this day, I will quote Maya Angelou once again with a quote I posted to our church Facebook page this week upon the news of her passing. She said, “While I know myself as a creation of God, I am also obligated to realize and remember that everyone else and everything else are also God’s creation.”

Slide10Christ’s ascension leaves us as caretakers of this world. With all of its flaws and beauty, or as John Legend would put it, “perfect imperfections.” We are created in God’s image and commissioned to serve God’s people, or in other words, everyone.

If you want to overthink the whole thing, feel free to look up philosophical discussions of paradoxes of perfection, but one that stuck out to me was the baroque esthetic of art which says, “the perfection of an art work consists in its forcing the recipient to be active—to complement the art work by an effort of mind and imagination.” We are perfect in the way God intends for us when we respond to God’s presence in our lives, God’s desire to be active in this world through our activity: taking up Jesus’ call to discipleship.[2]

Slide11In our scripture today Jesus says to God, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”

Slide12Could we still say that this is true about us? Do we seek to know God through Christ? Do we seek to serve this world as caretakers of creation and of one another?

We affirm in our recitation of the Apostle’s Creed that Jesus “ascended into heaven,” but we are not and will never be alone. We have the Holy Spirit working in and among us, and together may we be bold enough to work towards bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/28/maya-angelou-poet-author-dies-86

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfection#cite_note-TatarkiewiczSu1980p120-16

“God’s Words, Our Mouths”; Jeremiah 1:4-10; August 25, 2013; FPC Jesup

“God’s Words, Our Mouths”
Jeremiah 1:4-10
August 25, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

SLIDE 1 - BibleSometimes when I preach it’s hard to find a unique word to bring to you. The texts that form our Bible as we know it know were formed over hundreds of years, and all along and ever since hundreds upon thousands upon millions of preachers, prophets, humorists, poets, and lyricists have all thrown in their two cents about what God’s word has to say to us today, and then again this day, and now at this very moment. In this buzz of conversation we can get lost in trying to stay current with prevailing theories on authorship of the different texts or which translation is the most accurate or which pastor has the best things to say about all of it.

SLIDE 2 - OceanLike ocean waves we keep pushing off from shore and getting pulled back towards the constant promises of God. The nature of God’s promises is this persistent repetition, this lapping of waves on sand. Over and over in scripture we hear: “I created you,” “I will deliver you,” “I am with you;” “I created you,” “I will deliver you,” “I am with you;” “I created you,” “I will deliver you,” “I am with you.”

SLIDE 3 - Trinity In fact, these very promises of God form our understanding of the triune functions of God: “I created you”: God the creator, God the father, God the beginning; “I will deliver you,” God the redeemer, God the son, God the present; “I am with you,” God the sustainer, God the Holy Spirit, God the always.

SLIDE 4In our scripture today we hear this formula in the context of Jeremiah’s call. In verse 5 we read “before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” This is the call of God the creator, God who knows us intimately, even beyond our own consciousness or our own decision-making. There’s something God knows about Jeremiah from his very beginning fibers of being-ness. God has designed Jeremiah for God’s own purposes and needs Jeremiah’s heart, mind, and voice to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

SLIDE 5 - Jesus handsIn verse 8 we read, “I will deliver you.” This is the promise of Jesus Christ, who came to earth and lived among us God’s people to save us from the consequences of sin. More than 600 years before Christ came to this earth for the first time through the person of Jesus, Jeremiah carried this promise of God’s deliverance with him to the people of God. God knew that the life of a prophet would not be easy for Jeremiah, and that he would receive much opposition. In verse 10 he was tasked with “plucking up and pulling down, destroying and overthrowing, building and planting.” By repeatedly pointing out the foolish and harmful ways of God’s people, he was able to bring correction and redemption. Jeremiah went into all circumstances with confidence of God’s power to save him from his current opponents as well from the pain of earthly life.

SLIDE 6 - Holding HandsAgain in verse 8 we read, “I am with you,” this is the promise of God through the Holy Spirit, the divine surrounding presence of God. God promised direct inspiration by putting out a hand and touching Jeremiah’s mouth and saying, “Now I have put my words in your mouth.” The Holy Spirit speaks through Jeremiah, using Jeremiah as a conduit for enabling God’s work on earth.

Beyond the familiar themes, this passage also has familiar phrases, echoing a scriptural foundation. The phrase “before I formed you in the womb” comes from Psalm 139. Let us read this together, from verses 13-18

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.”

By referencing this passage while describing Jeremiah’s call we see how scripture comes to life in personal story. Even while we strive to understand this passage in its’ particularities, we can feel comfort from the familiarity of these words. Coming to know God through a familiarity with scripture’s promises and words equips us to speak those words of God into the world.

In verse 9 we read, “Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.’”

Through knowledge of scripture we have God’s words in our mouths. When we hear these familiar phrases it reminds of how God’s word seeps into our lives.

Biblical commentary writer John T. Debevoise wrote “Scripture is written over time on our hearts and in our consciousness…this familiarity becomes a part of the heritage of faith, indeed, the treasury of faith shaping our lives.”

In Hebrew 8:10 we hear God’s promise that God’s word is put in our minds and written on our hearts. We come to know God through familiarity with scripture, through the many repetitions of God’s promises. And as we learn them in both our minds and in our hearts, we become equipped to speak them to others. Through the reading of scripture and the preaching and teaching of fellow Christians, God’s words are put in our mouths and we too are tasked with speaking God’s promises. God gives us the role of Word bearers, tasking us with speaking God’s word into this world.

SLIDE 11 - Law and GospelBut as Jeremiah will quickly reveal, the word of God is not simply a calming and joyous presence, it also challenges us. Martin Luther said that the word of God comes to us as “law and gospel,” and that both need to be held together for God’s word to be fulfilled, saying that the Bible speaks words that accuse and condemn us, revealing our human brokenness and showing us our sin. AND that the Bible reveals words that comfort and save us, healing our brokenness and conveying God’s grace. While our sin pulls us away from God we are ever brought close by the dependability of God’s promises.

It is all too easy to skip ahead to the promises of God and forget that we are in need of correction as well. This is a harsh word to have put in our mouths as well. It is bitter to the taste, being tasked with confronting the injustices and problems of this world. Bitter as God’s confronting and correcting word is, and reluctant as we may be to offer it, our hesitation or even outright refusal does not exempt us from speaking the words God places in our mouths.

SLIDE 12 - MosesWe can find all sorts of reasons why not to follow God. Moses doubted his ability to speak God’s word, four times over in Exodus, beginning in verses 3:11-14: “Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”  He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”  But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Continuing in Exodus 4:1-3: “Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake”

Then in verses 10-12 we read: “But Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.”

In a last ditch effort, in verse 13 Moses says, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”

SLIDE 13 - IsaiahEven Isaiah, known for his willingness to follow God’s call, doubts his worthiness in light of such a mission. While in the midst of angels and in the presence of the Lord he cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

In our scripture today we heard of Jeremiah’s reluctance to speak this word, saying, “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”

SLIDE 14 - TruthIt can be a daunting thing to be tasked with bringing God into this world, yet that is what we are called to do. Martin Luther once said, “truth is more powerful than eloquence.” When we work to speak God’s word into this world we needn’t worry so much about having the perfect words, only about whether or not we are willing. May we forever open our hearts to receiving God’s promises and our mouths to speaking God’s truth. Amen