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A Lenten Look at Suffering

February 22, 2015

A LENTEN LOOK AT SUFFERING

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

February 22, 2015 (First Sunday In Lent) 

 

1 Peter 3:13-22

13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but 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;

16yet 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. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.

18For 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, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who 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.

21And 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, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

 

We have entered the Lenten season.  From now until Holy Week (March 30 until April 4) we will ponder the disciplines of suffering, prayer, repentance, and their relationship to being people of God in a world where people are determined to set up their own empires.  

 

The epistle of 1 Peter is named after that colorful follower of Jesus who was a leader of the early Christian community after the ascension of Jesus.  New Testament scholars are reasonably sure that Brother Peter did not write our lesson.  The Greek is much more scholarly from what one would expect for the Galilean who quit his fishing business to follow Jesus.  The situation described in 1 Peter points to a time after Peter’s death during the last decade of the first century in the Christian era.  Scholars believe 1 Peter was written in Peter’s name to bolster confidence its teaching was in line with the religion of Jesus.

 

1 Peter is a “pastoral letter,” written to instruct and encourage people described as “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.” (1 Peter 1:1-2)  These people once lived according to the dominant value system of their communities.  But after they became followers of Jesus they were abused, criticized, and socially marginalized.  

 

The suffering mentioned in 1 Peter didn’t involve such things as illnesses, natural disasters, and other common troubles that befall humanity.  The people addressed in 1 Peter were suffering criticism, abuse, and ostracism because their obedience to the values of Jesus put them out of step with the social and cultural outlook where they lived.  Unlike the oppressive culture around them where human dignity and worth was based on social standing, power, privilege, and wealth, the people addressed in 1 Peter were struggling to obey the teachings and example of Jesus that emphasized unconditional love toward all persons.  

 

 

1 Peter shows that the attitudes and values that produce injustice in family, employment, commercial, social, and other relationships are so different from the values of Jesus that followers of Jesus will be unpopular, unwelcome, and even subversive and dangerous.  For the writer of 1 Peter, living according to the gospel of Jesus was worth suffering “for doing what is right” (1 Peter 3:14).  The writer then gave some specific guidance.

 

Follow Christ courageouslyBut even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord (1 Peter 3:14-15a).  Living according to the gospel of Jesus requires the courage to face unpopularity, criticism, and even mistreatment.  When followers of Jesus shy away from living with that courage, we are not treating Christ as Lord.  

 

Courage is the moral attribute that leads people to do what is right even though doing so is unpopular or unwelcomed.  Jesus is the example of courage for people who say that Jesus Christ is Lord, because Jesus was willing to endure unjustified suffering in obedience to what pleased God.  Following Jesus requires the courage to live according to the love and justice values of Jesus.  

 

According to the Entertainment Software Association, people in the United States lead the world in buying and playing video games and spent almost $25 billion on video games, gaming hardware, and related accessories in 2011.  Roughly 70 percent of Americans (that’s 7 out of 10) play video games. That comes to about 165 million people.  

 

Some of the most popular games people are playing on PlayStation, Xbox, Microsoft Windows, and other gaming platforms seem hostile to the values of Jesus. Call of Duty is a video game that simulates combat—yes, killing people.  Grand Theft Auto simulates committing crimes while evading government agencies.  It says a lot about a society where millions of people are spending so much time and money fantasizing about killing and committing acts of mayhem.  Do we, as followers of Jesus, have enough courage to live differently?

 

Taxpayers in the United States are now paying more than $10.54 million every hour for the wars our nation has waged since 2001.  We’ve spent over $1.6 trillion on wars since 2001.  Do we have the courage to follow Jesus as peacemakers in a world driven by “national security” obsessed politicians, profiteers, and fear-mongers. 

 

Do we have the courage to live as followers of Jesus concerning income inequality and wage theft?  Will we admit that there is something very unlike Christ where Walmart--the largest retail company in the world—refuses to pay employees a living wage?   

 

Will we stop shopping at Walmart to show solidarity with those workers?  Or are we so addicted to personal convenience and financial status that we aren’t willing to boycott Walmart because of its anti-union and anti-worker practices and policies?  

 

Would Jesus side with Walmart stockholders such as the Walton heirs or with Walmart workers?  Will we?

 

The courage to live as a follower of Jesus is a call to suffer with Jesus to save the world for the glory and honor of God.  Let’s unpack what that means for our time.

 

Whoever wrote 1 Peter dared to believe that it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be for God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, order to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:17-18).  For whom are we suffering in obedience to the example of Jesus Christ?  

 

Are we suffering with Christ to deliver people from oppression from greed and the ravages of opportunistic business practices?  

Are we suffering with Jesus to deliver marginalized people who are gay, lesbian bisexual, or transgender from the terrorism of bigotry and discrimination that is often done in the name of religious liberty?  

 

Are we suffering with Jesus to deliver people in Palestine from government-sponsored terrorism by the Israeli government in the name of Zionism, and to challenge politicians in the United States—including President Obama and whoever runs to succeed him—about the wickedness and dishonesty of pretending to be blind about the racism, land theft, and rampant inequality practiced by the Israeli government?

 

Are we suffering with Jesus to deliver people of color from government-sponsored terrorism disguised as a “war on drugs” and “war on crime” designed, led, and carried out by fear-mongering politicians and a law enforcement culture that glorifies and condones brutality?

 

How can we suffer with Jesus Christ—who came preaching about setting captives free—and deliver victims of mass incarceration and their families from political, social, and economic bigotry and discrimination? 

 

How will we suffer with Jesus to humbly and lovingly confront people who—whether they call themselves ISIS, Hamas, Boko Haram, the Family Research Council, the Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association, or something else—use religion, economic theories, political philosophies, or anything else as reasons to oppress others?

 

We have been baptized into the value system of Jesus Christ.   There is a reason we sing songs such as “Down At The Cross” and “Must Jesus Bear The Cross Alone.”  We sing those songs as followers of Jesus Christ who suffered the physical agony and moral and psychological horrors of a public hanging to save humanity from itself.

 

We are followers of the one who placed people above property, profits, and personal privilege and comfort.  Jesus!

 

We are followers of the one who endured criticism, persecution, and even state-sponsored and religiously orchestrated execution in obedience to God’s love and truth.  Jesus!

 

According to whoever wrote 1 Peter, we’ve been called and baptized as followers of Jesus into a faith that requires having the courage to suffer for what is right in a world where doing so will be unpopular, even dangerous.  That involves a lot more than refraining from eating sweets for a few weeks.  We’re called to follow Jesus in everything.  We’re called and committed to risk and endure suffering to save humanity and the creation for the glory and honor of God.  

 

So here’s the big question.  How are we suffering with Christ to save the world?  Or is the world suffering the wickedness of injustice because so many people lack the faithful courage to suffer in obedience to the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? 

 

Amen.

©Wendell Griffen, 2015