Always Be Ready!

“Always Be Ready!”

1 Peter 3:13-22 – May 14, 2023

            For years, I used to have a simply marvelous car mechanic. Omar was the absolute best! (Sadly, he retired some years ago.) His auto shop was in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and I have lived in Evanston for the past thirty years. Do you think that distance stopped me from going to Omar’s shop? Of course not! He was just that good and just that honest about fixing cars. And, I would tell everyone how awesome Omar was. Period.

            In our Bible reading today, the apostle talked about telling our story. In other words, telling others about our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s talking about how marvelous He is, and just that honest, too. What are we supposed to be ready to do? Tell our story! It’s as simple as that. And it’s as complicated as that. Peter says that we are always “ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”

            That’s the situation. Remember, we have been discussing how dangerous it was for Christians – believers in the Lord Jesus – to be honest and transparent about their belief in the one, true God who created heaven and earth. As I have mentioned before in past weeks, we have considered even today how dangerous and toxic many of the governments through the Middle East and North Africa (as in other parts of the world) are for these believers of a fragile minority religion.

            Let us listen again to the words from 1 Peter 3: 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience.”

            Why are there so many believers through the centuries who have been ready to tell their story and give an account of themselves no matter what, as the apostle says right here?

             “We aren’t often in danger of going to jail on account of our faith; we aren’t likely to lose our jobs or get kicked out of school, at least in most parts of the world. So, we look for opportunities to tell our story when questions are asked. When we are asked about our Sunday morning habits, [why we attend church] for example, or why giving is so important to us. Questions like these are great opportunities to share our faith and to tell our story, if we are prepared.” [1]

But, how are we supposed to follow that calling to tell our story, just like the apostle tells us to do, right here? Honestly, I know some people are hesitant or shy, or downright afraid of talking about our Lord Jesus.

One way you and I can practice telling our stories is by telling them to each other in worship. I have attended Sunday services where there is a regular sharing of stories, or giving testimony. “Testimony is a long-standing tradition in the life of the church and might be worth considering reviving in your local context. We need to hear from one another so that we can become more comfortable speaking to others. We may think our story isn’t dramatic enough for a testimony, or that we aren’t always confident in the motivations or reasons for why we do what we do.” [2] Isn’t following this command of the apostle reason enough?

Yes, speaking from the heart is incredibly effective for reaching other hearts. There is nothing like an emotional impact to get under people’s guard and make them think hard about the claims of this God who made heaven and earth.

But, let’s examine this verse more closely. Emotion only goes so far. An emotional appeal does not appeal to everyone. “Peter probably has in mind a formal defense of the faith in a law court, but his words apply to any situation where a believer is called on to defend their faith. We must be ready, willing and able to speak for Jesus. Peter actually uses the word apologia, a word meaning “a formal reasoned defense” – a reasoned defense of the Christian faith. What’s being asked of us is to know and understand the gospel and be willing and able to give a reasoned (logical) account for our reliance on Christ.” [3]

Whether emotional or logical, whether incredibly personal or ordered and reasoned, a testimony is a powerful thing. But, it is not for us to measure how many people are affected by our words, by our stories. “Not how many “souls we have saved.” Not the crowds we drew or the attention we gathered. In fact, it may seem like no one at all is responding, is turning their lives around, is making any change based on our words. That doesn’t matter in the least. Yes, of course, we hope to make a difference in the world around us; we hope to bring influence for the cause of Christ and to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.” [4]

But, in this, too, we run the risk of becoming puffed up. Are we doing this to put on a good show? Or, is our true purpose our faithfulness to God? At the end of the day, we are to be faithful. God will take care of the response. It is our task – our joy – to faithfully give testimony to what Jesus has done in our lives. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who sees the Godly hope within us.

Just like I was ready and willing to tell anyone about my marvelous car mechanic, Omar! Am I – are you – ready to tell others about Jesus? I encourage us all to consider what God has done in your life, and in mine. Be ready to give testimony to the awesome and daily power of our Lord Jesus Christ. As we trust God, let us share our hope! Be ready! Be ready to tell our stories of what God has done. Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/a-living-hope/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/easter5ae.html

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/a-living-hope/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/sixth-sunday-of-easter-year-a-preaching-notes

God’s People!

“God’s People!”

1 Peter 2:4-10 – May 7, 2023

            I had an amazing time in Egypt! Our wonderful and knowledgeable tour guide often called our group together during our time in Egypt, saying “My people!” in his resonant baritone voice. Often, at museums, libraries and archaeological sites where there were many other tour groups, our group of 19 soon learned to listen for our guide calling out, “My people!”

            I can just imagine the apostle Peter considering the same thing. He wrote this letter to a group of scattered Jewish believers in the Messiah Jesus (our Lord Jesus Christ) all throughout Asia Minor. Peter does not say exactly “My people!” to his scattered believing friends, but that is very much his intent.

Listen to verses 9 and 10: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

            The situation of these scattered believers, sprinkled far apart throughout the area north of Palestine, was a sadly common one. No matter where these first-century believers lived, very often they were persecuted. They faced becoming social outcasts simply for believing in and obeying Jesus Christ as Lord.

            As I have said in past weeks, the current situation of many believers in Jesus, in large parts of North Africa and the Middle East, is also one fraught with dangers and persecution. Believers can lose their jobs, lose their families, even become social outcasts simply by letting it be publicly known that they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord. This is a very serious thing, indeed. And, not relegated to way back when, in the first or second century.

            The apostle tried to encourage the hearts of these scattered Jewish believers! He starts off the letter by thanking God for such great salvation! He encourages his believing friends to continue to live holy lives, as is pleasing to God. In other words, we all ought to pattern ourselves upon our Lord Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith.

            Do you know what a cornerstone is there for? Why a cornerstone is placed on a building? The cornerstone is often a fancy stone, with carving or words placed (or carved) on it. The cornerstone is “the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” [1] The cornerstone has very great importance to the rest of the whole building!

            Peter knew quite a lot about stones. He had received a new name from the itinerant Rabbi Jesus during the three years the disciples followed Him around Palestine. Formerly Simon, now called Peter, or “the Rock.” I would imagine that Peter considered himself as a follower of our Lord Jesus to be a part of that heavenly Temple, that spiritual building, a Rock positioned, set in place following the Cornerstone called Christ.

            Can you see how Peter meant those words about our Lord Jesus, Him being a Cornerstone, to be an encouragement and comfort for these scattered believers? I can just see these timid believers, gathering in houses on the first day of the week, blessed by the words of this letter that was copied and circulated throughout Asia Minor!

            And the capper for this part of the letter is that these believers are God’s people. “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I can only imagine how encouraging that was to these dear persecuted followers of Jesus!

            Not only are they – we – silent stones, placed in the building of the heavenly Temple built by our Lord Jesus. But, they – we – are also God’s people. All of us are! We have been chosen, on purpose. Not just leftovers, not just the remainders, but God’s special chosen people! God’s special possession! Praise God, can you believe it? Plus, you and I are not simply static stones in the foundation of a building. No! We are much more than that!

            How does it feel to be one of a royal priesthood? A holy nation? In fact, God’s special possession? Because, we are! We all as believers are something to be celebrated, for sure!

            A key part of this Bible reading is the enormous difference that is not due to anything that you or I did. We did not work for it. “It is what God did for us! We didn’t become the people of God by trying hard. God chose people, all people, as God’s people. God chose us. We didn’t become holy because of something we did right. We became holy because God forgives us and chose us as special treasures. It is our responsibility, then, to live a life that honors what God did for us. It is a “God thing” that we are chosen! [2]

            May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I will be highlighting mental health on the third Sunday of May, May 21st. Whether we as believers face suffering and rejection from others or deal with suffering and mental illness from within, we can all be encouraged by these good words of great hope! Jesus Christ is our Foundation and Cornerstone, and we are all – every believer, throughout the world – are called to be God’s people! God’s chosen ones.

The apostle knew that these scattered believers needed to be encouraged! Sometimes, we need to be encouraged, too. “Peter was keen to energise these small bands of believers, to empower them to change the world one community at a time. And to do that, Peter knew, as Jesus knew, that our identity needs a rock-solid foundation.” [3]  

            We can go out into the world with confidence. We know who we are! We are God’s people, built on our strong Foundation, Jesus Christ. We can go forth with hope, with joy, with confidence, because we are indeed God’s people. Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] Wikipedia, Cornerstone – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/a-living-hope/fifth-sunday-of-easter-year-a-lectionary-planning-notes/fifth-sunday-of-easter-year-a-childrens-message

[3] https://churchofscotland.org.uk/worship/weekly-worship/monthly/may-2023/7-may-5th-sunday-of-easter

Don’t Be Frightened!

“Don’t Be Frightened!”

1 Pet 3-14 don't be afraid

1 Peter 3:13-17 (3:14) – September 9, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Do you know anyone who talks straight? Comes right to the point? Doesn’t pull any punches? Sometimes, a person who speaks this way can be refreshing. So unlike other speakers or politicians who sugar-coat problems or sometimes sweep difficult matters under the rug.

Except – I am not sure whether we might say the same about our New Testament scripture reading for today. Suffering and pain are not exactly the favorite topics of most Christians in the 21st century. Yet, the apostle Peter is just such a man as I just described. A man who talks straight, comes right to the point, and does not pull any punches. We ought to listen to him, a man who was loved deeply by our Lord Jesus Christ, and a man whom God appointed as leader, the person in charge of the band of disciples after our Lord Jesus ascended.

No one enjoys talking about suffering, pain and harm. But, what do we find here? Peter tells his fellow believers in Christ that suffering, pain and harm will surely come. We do not want to hear that. None of us do! Yet, let us listen again to the words from 1 Peter 3, once more: “13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.”

Peter does not mess around. He comes straight to the point. Christianity is not a safe religion. Of course, the first century was not a safe time to live, either. One of the commentaries mentions “the situation referred to in 1 Peter 3:13-22 could range from mild abuse and mockery at the hands of the families of these new Christ-believers, to open, official, harsh persecution by Roman officials under [the emperor] Domitian (81-91 CE).” [1]

Christianity at the time of the apostle Peter was one of many religions, and a brand-new one, at that. It was closely related to Judaism, but the Jews were not high in the regard of the Roman Empire, either. As far as the Roman government was concerned, this new sect or religion called Christianity was nothing but a headache. Imagine, people running around, saying that there was only one God, instead of many gods and goddesses. How demeaning! How insulting to their families and the towns where they live, which all have patron gods and goddesses!

And, not wanting to, even demanding not to bow down to any other god, or call anyone else their Lord except this one particular God? Why, that was treason, pure and simple. On top of everything else, there were rumors that in the Christian worship services, there was cannibalism. They actually ate and drank the body and blood of their God. Imagine that!

If you and I step back from our current understandings of Christianity and try to see this brand-new religion in the same way that the Roman government of the first century did, we might get a little insight on the way that many others—both Jews and Gentiles—viewed this strange band of religious converts. Ridicule and open jeering at least, and harsh persecution, even death, by officials of the Empire. That means soldiers busting down doors in the middle of the night, dragging people into the streets, throwing them in prison. Maybe there was a trial, and maybe there wasn’t. Uncertainty, fear, pain, suffering.

Do you understand what Peter was talking about now? “Clearly, identifying one’s self as a Christ-believer in the first century CE was not something as common and mainstream as it is in certain places of the world today. Christianity as one of the leading world-religions did not yet exist as such.” [2]

Not only from the New Testament, but from other historical writings, we can see how persecuted the early Christians were. Peter had guts, I’ll say that for him. He did not have an easy life. Peter kept on the move, spreading the message of the Gospel, the Good News. He introduced people to his Lord and Savior, the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.

And yet—and yet, he told his fellow believers in Christ to “Be Not Afraid!” He knew very well what could (and quite possibly did) happen to some of them. Yet, he had the faith and assurance to write these very words. Don’t be frightened!

What is the next thing he says? Listen to Peter’s next verse: “15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” We need to stand up for what we believe, and who we believe in. Gently and respectfully.  

Peter knew that even if his friends gave a respectful defense for the Lord they believed in, persecution would come. “Peter wants his readers to understand that, although they may act in a good and right way toward others, they may still suffer. Suffering for doing right is something we may all have to experience.[3]

I am reminded of Olympic runner Eric Liddell, the man called “the Flying Scotsman.”. The movie Chariots of Fire was made about him and his story at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Liddell was a devout Christian. He refused to run in a race he very much wanted to run—the 100 meters—because it was scheduled on Sunday. Liddell believed that playing sports on Sunday was disrespectful to God. So, he calmly announced that he would not run in that particular race.

Eric Liddell’s decision was not popular, at all. “He had to be brave because lots of people got really angry with him.  He was however gentle.  He didn’t scream and shout about how wrong the officials were to schedule the race on Sunday.  He simply said that he would not run because much as he loved racing, he respected God more.” [4]

I would like us to imagine that we are overseas, today. In parts of Afghanistan, Myanmar, Pakistan, or Thailand; in Algeria, Iran, Sudan, or in Saudi Arabia. Christians are less than 7 percent of the population of these countries, especially in Saudi Arabia. Let’s close the blinds and put out the lights. Shh! We can’t be too careful! The police are looking for people who go against the government, and the small minority of Christians are often arbitrarily persecuted. Several pastors and church leaders have recently been thrown in prison, so we need to be really careful and keep a low profile. No public church services! Keep quiet about meeting for bible study. And, make sure to hide your bibles!

In 1924, Eric Liddell still faced a great deal of opposition for his decision not to run. Imagine how much more difficult the apostle Peter and his fellow Christians had it, in the first century, with widespread persecution and suffering?

In the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus tells us “blessed are the ones who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  What is another way of saying this Beatitude? To be righteous, to practice righteousness, is to be like our Lord Jesus. What would Jesus do? We need to do that. Show others the Gospel through our lives and words. Be like Jesus. Love others, with kindness, gentleness, and respect. Always. And, do not be frightened, because Jesus will always be right by our sides. No matter what. Peter would certainly agree.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=938

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A), Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=938

Commentary, 1 Peter 3:13-22 (Easter 6A), Valerie Nicolet-Anderson, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.

[3] http://www.lectionarystudies.com/easter5ae.html

“Raised to Life,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources.

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/04/year-the-sixth-sunday-of-easter-may-25.html

Worshiping with Children, Easter 6A, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Healing of the Nations

“Healing of the Nations”

Rev 22 leaves of tree

Revelation 22:1-5 – May 1, 2016

When some people take trips, they often take tours. Large tours, with a large group of people, or sometimes a small, intimate tour. When you go on a trip to a different town or an exciting place, don’t you enjoy tours? When I went to Washington D.C. last May to see my daughter, we went to the National Cathedral. We went on one of the behind-the-scenes tours there, and were in a small, intimate group that went through the cathedral from top to bottom. Fascinating information! And such a gorgeous, awe-inspiring place, too!

We can think of today’s Scripture passage in that light. John was on a tour of the new heavens and the new earth. He was getting a personal tour from an angel, showing him all the awe-inspiring highlights of the new-created Holy City.

This new creation is going to be great! Just from the short description here, I can sort of, almost imagine how intricate, how detailed, and full of splendor that new Holy City will be. Can’t you? Reading from the end of Revelation 21: “22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.”

This City is not only full of glory and splendor, but, wait—there’s more. Much more!

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse.” Did you hear? The river of life, and the tree of life, with leaves for healing of the nations.

Let’s start with the river of life. That life-giving river is free for any to draw from. We can follow the allusion to the river or water of life, throughout the Bible. In Genesis 2, a river watered the Garden of Eden and made it fruitful. In Ezekiel 47, the prophet spoke of a river flowing through the Temple. Zechariah 14 mentions “Living waters shall flow out of Jerusalem.” And in John 7, our Lord Jesus says, “Out of the heart of the one who believes in Me shall flow rivers of living water.”

John mentioned the tree of life here in Revelation. There are not as many allusions in the Bible to a tree of life, but there are two. The tree of life is found in the Garden of Eden, in Genesis 3. And, in Ezekiel 47, the prophet describes the tree of life at some length. So similar to the description here in Revelation!

This healing aspect of the tree of life really intrigued me. Yes, in the time of the new heavens and the new earth, we will receive life from both the life-giving river and the life-giving tree. But, healing? Who doesn’t need healing, in some way, somehow? Especially now, in this fallen, imperfect world. Individuals need healing in many important ways. Physical healing, yes. But also psychological healing. Emotional healing. And, spiritual healing.

We are not in that time of the new heavens and new earth, though. We are still in the in-between time. Sometimes today, certain churches and ministries teach the children of God that God our Heavenly Parent actually makes us sick.

According to these churches, God has given us diabetes, cancer or depression to teach us something. Or, God allowed, even orchestrated neglect, trauma or abuse to take place to somehow make us a better Christian. As if God would ever do such a thing!

In the Bible, we learn about God healing various people. Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus heals individuals in body, mind and spirit. Just like the tree of life, with leaves for healing. Healing, upbuilding leaves. When we enlarge that healing to groups of people, of nations, there can be healing of relationships, healing of resentments, healing of hatred and animosity. To reference the book of Isaiah, God will settle all disputes, and see that every sword is beaten into a plowshare. No one will ever need to fight or go to war anymore.

This is just one aspect of group healing or national healing. But, there is more! I am so appreciative of the point of view of a commentary I consult from time to time, The African American Lectionary. [1] In it, Reverend Michael Lomax gives a short background and history of healing services. How these services over the years have allowed and provided African Americans hope; “hope to endure racial discrimination, economic exploitation, and emotional trauma, debilitating physical illnesses, death, and ruptures in relationships.”

Thank goodness that—in many places across the country—conditions have improved. Not only African Americans, but all people of color are often able to, in the words of Rev. Lomax, “have access to various modes of physical, mental, and emotional healing, including advanced health care and various kinds of counselors. Still, healing services continue to be a mainstay in African American congregations, where worship leaders invite the community to look beyond problems to catch a glimpse of God’s plan for restoration.”

Here we are, in the in-between time. We are not yet in the time that John talks about in this passage today, the time of the new heavens and new earth. We cannot see the crystal clear river, or smell the sweet, medicinal odor of the leaves on the tree. Not yet!

However, God has given us promises. God has given us a plan. God’s plan for restoration.  In the here and now, in the in-between time, God does heal, in any one of a number of ways. As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s healing may not include a cure of our immediate ailments. Instead, God’s healing may provide resources for us to press on in spite of our ailments. In healing services, God awakens the hope that allows us to live with grace and dignity in the present, even as we await God’s ultimate transformation of our brokenness in the future.“

What do we hear from this passage today? This word picture of a life-giving tree that bears fruit every season and is fed by a crystal river that flows out of the throne?  Sure, we have an abstract message about the fullness of eternal life. Sure, it is a complicated picture of life. However, the world will be transformed. It is completely as God intends it to become.

We can ask a follow-up question: how would this picture of the end of the world help Christians who are having hard times now? I think this picture would give believers hope. Hope in God, and praise for hope in God’s name on the foreheads of the redeemed.

As Rev. Lomax says, “God’s ‘healthcare plan’ provides equal access to wholeness and does not simply favor those who are already powerful and privileged. The healing leaves that God offers in this scene are as accessible as the river that flows. The healing supplied is not only an individual experience but also a communal experience because the leaves are “… for the healing of the nations” (22:2).”

Yes, this visionary tour of the new creation by our angelic tour guide gives us hope for the present. Hope for provision of strength. Praise be to God! God’s healing is here and now. And, God’s healing is something we all can look forward to!

God willing, may God’s healing come on earth as it is in heaven. Alleluia, amen!
[1] Michael R. Lomax, Guest Lectionary Commentator, Associate Minister, Fifteenth Avenue Baptist Church, Nashville, TN,  http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=4

(Thank you to Rev. Michael Lomax and to the African American Lectionary for their excellent insights into Revelation 22:1-5.)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)