When working with a set of texts for any given Sunday sometimes the preaching possibilities seem scant and elusive. One can abide with all four texts and have so little come to heart and mind. It can be deeply frustrating. Other texts are like trying to drink living waters from a firehose. Multiple sermons gush out with no seeming end in sight. The appointed 1 Peter text for this weekend is much more akin to the firehose.
May we be blessed and may some spiritual thirsts be slaked as we draw near that text this week.
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, 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; 16 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. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you 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 a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
We are taking kids to Las Vegas this summer to do mission work. We have taken as our theme verse for the trip 1 Peter 3:15:
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.
We are invited and called to let Jesus be Lord in our heart—in the seat of our being. This means allowing God to drive from our hearts others things that would take Jesus’ rightful place. This means allowing Jesus to continue to transform our hearts and our ways so that we are drawn more fully into him. Sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts means allowing God to sanctify us—to make us holy. Not talking here about sinning no more. Not talking about walking without stumbling. Talking about letting God help us press more deeply into that place where God has called us. As we do we find hope and peace and joy. When people perceive those things and ask us about them we should be prepared to testify to why we have hope. We do it with gentleness and respect—like one beggar pointing another to food—but we do it. When we get so deeply immersed in Christ we can’t help but share water with the thirsty souls we encounter.
The question is not “Will suffering come our way?”—it will. The question is not “Will I be free from all manifestations of sin and struggle in my life once I start following after Jesus?”—you won’t. The question becomes much more like “When suffering and sin set their fangs into me how will I respond?” Will our suffering be more from becoming more Christlike? When people and circumstances bring us harm will we seek to be faithful even praying for those who have brought pain and suffering? Will we choose the better path of suffering over the more expedient path that is fraught with evil? Will we let the one who was bitten by suffering and sin on the cross show us how to engage those things when they come after us?
We are immersed in Christ in baptism. We are joined to his suffering and death and called to take up our own crosses in baptism. As we draw near baptismal fonts we are reminded by their octagonal shape of the eight who survived the flood in Noah’s time. Noah, the boys and the four wives are the only ones who were saved. God has opened up the ways into the kingdom to so many more than eight. As we are baptized we are saved. As we go through the fiery baptisms of suffering and sin in this life we can testify to that salvation. We can share with gentleness and reverence. We may be maligned and abused and put to shame. We may even be put to death.
The good news is that even though they maligned and abused and shamed and killed our Lord Jesus he couldn’t and wouldn’t stay dead. Because he lives we can live more fully today. Because he lives we know that we too shall live no matter what comes our way. Because he lives even our deaths will not be our end. Thanks be to God.
God we long to be spared from suffering and separation but we know they will come. Give us good hope and faith and courage knowing that Jesus has already done what is required. Use us to testify and give account that others, too, might know the good news of the empty tomb of Easter. Amen.