SERMON PREACHED AT CHRIST CHURCH,
MAY 15th 2011
(FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER)
1 Peter 2.19-25
When we turn to the letters bearing the name of Peter we are given a glimpse of the life of the early church community of which some aspects are as pertinent as at any time since. (For those who know the author’s recommendation of the subjection of wives to their husbands’ authority – more often attributed to Paul but here narrated in Peter’s name – those are not the passages to which I refer). This author’s instructions to a generalised Christian community, unlike Paul’s, which were written for specific communities facing highly topical issues, were written to a world in which Christianity was an unimportant sideshow, a minority perspective, quaint to the most of the masses, downright subversive and destructive to others.
Our community has many similarities to that of our author, whether that author was Peter or someone writing in his name. We too are increasingly marginalised, parodied or ignored, trying to find voice and identity for ancient wisdom in a changing world. As part of his attempt to establish security amidst change, Peter (for such I shall call him, though I suspect these letters were written some 30 years after the death of the Fisherman of the gospels) reaches back and anchors his message in the scriptures we know as Old Testament. Peter knew only one Testament, for our “New” Testament was not yet compiled: he knew, though, the importance of written testament, of story, and he anchors his instruction deeply in that bedrock.
Peter challenges his audience to live exemplary lives in the community, shunning the standards that were coming to dominate his world and which he felt were objectionable to God. We, too, need to look at our world and see what within in is likely to be incompatible with the aims and purposes of God. Many Christians however, having said that, tend to major in the minors, dwelling on the obvious matters of difference between the speaker’s life and the lives of the various designated sinners. It is so much easier to use the gospel as a platform for minority-bashing, picking on ethnic and behavioural minorities than it is to look at the hard questions more frequently addressed in the scriptures (old and new). Only yesterday in Adelaide a group of Christians stalked a gay pride march, allegedly waving banners berating the marchers with declarations of God’s wrath against gays, lesbians, transgendered people: was this a proclamation of the values of God’s reign, or public out-workings of private and collective phobias? The protestors, possibly after some less than peaceful corrective directives from the marchers, were taken away by police.
Even if just a statistical analysis of biblical references is used, it would appear that God is far more concerned at those who cause division and strife and jealousy and social iniquity than with those who don’t follow the hetero-sexual “mum, dad and the kids” models of family living. This is not to say that God approves of family life in which a child knows nothing of his or her biological whakapapa, of families in which partnerships are swapped as often as many of us change our shirts. Broken lives, broken families, substance and emotional and financial and sexual abuse deeply grieve the heart of God, now as then, now as two thousand years ago. But dedicated love can appear in forms not imagined by the New Testament world in which women were property and children an investment commodity.
Our author, Peter, was expecting the imminent return of Jesus, Christus Victor, striding as it were across the heavens to set history to rights. Perhaps, despite those pundits who have decided that next Sunday is to be the day of the Second Coming (!), we are less likely to see the parousia and the end of time in these terms. We are called to live our lives in the shadow of judgement, but to place our lives before God, to be the subject of that judgment, rather than expecting the wrath of God to fall on those whose lifestyles differ to our own.
As the gay, lesbian and transgender marchers of Adelaide encountered their Christian antagonists, they were confronted by declarations of God’s hatred. As one of the marchers, Uniting Church Minister Sue Wickham said, any placard beginning with the words “God hates …” is unlikely to have been written in the Spirit of Christ.
Peter’s expectation of the imminent triumph of God and end of history gave him a sort of anti-revolutionary perspective, cajoling slaves and wives and others to remain acquiescent in their social place. By and large I do not believe in revolutionary interpretations of the Gospel, those proclaimed by the more radical liberation theologies: political triumphs tend to breed new forms of political oppression or neglect, as the Egyptian populace may currently be discovering: with the tyrannies of Mubarak gone, they are faced with the realization that military rule is no utopia either. Instead I believe we are called to revolutionise our own lives so that we stand out, even if at great personal cost, in contrast to anti-divine standards and practices in our world: die to sin and live to righteousness. This, as the charismatic movement of the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s reminded us, is something we cannot do in our own strength, but only in the strength of the Spirit of God. It is arguably much harder than the grind of overthrowing governments, though perhaps I say that only because I would probably never be brave enough to stand in protest against an armed Syrian government. I thank God I get a chance to overthrow governments peacefully every few years, though I often lament the detail that those who control and manipulate the media and therefore popular perspectives will not always lean address the concerns of the social underdogs.
To allow ourselves to be opened up to personal revolution by the scrutinizing gaze of God is to participate in the process of what John and Luke in our other readings call ‘being saved’. The language of salvation is often translated as though it were a solitary event, getting saved. Only the other day I was in a conversation with a friend who asked when I ‘got saved’. I was tempted to answer ‘two thousand years ago’.
For the only way in which salvation is a solitary event is in the moment of the Cross, and even that is not altogether event, but process. It is that great process of Incarnation that culminates in what that John calls the ‘lifting up’ of the Saviour. That saving event is a unique passage, standing alone in God’s dealings with humanity. For those of us who are the sheep of the shepherd there is a life-long process of what the Orthodox call divinization, and what Protestants traditionally called sanctification, the long slow process of becoming what we are called to be. It is to that process that we are invited by the Shepherd. To that process of healing and transformation of abuse and of the ordinariness of being fallen humans in a fallen world we are invited by Jesus, and in that process we are shepherded by Jesus, known to us in the Spirit of Pentecost. By submitting to that transformational process we can be the advertisement of resurrection hope that we are called to be in a resurrectionless world. Jesus called it ‘having abundant life’, and showed that for those who ‘abide in him’ it can be possibility for us and for those we love and live amongst.