Text: I Peter 1:3-9, Title: hope

On Tuesday morning, I awoke to the sound of birds outside my window. It was the first time in days that they had pulled me from my slumber, and I knew what it meant, blue skies. My wife was already up, and I could see the daylight peek through the blinds in our bedroom. In a sleepy flash we were dressed and ready for a walk. It was a beautiful morning; the sky was changing from the pre-dawn blues, pinks, and oranges to that deep rich blue that reminds me of lazy summer days and hiking in the mountains. This was a day where God was easy to see.

Like all people I have a routine, I shower, shave, dress and then eat breakfast in front of the morning news. Usually, I sit in the corner of our living room on the La-z-boy eating my bowl of Cheerios, and this day was no exception. I tuned in to Good Morning America and they were doing an interview with a person from Denver, Colorado. I am not sure what is newsworthy about a woman who saw it fit to bring slips of paper with bible verses written on them into a jury room and pass them out to other jurors. The verses written on the paper were things such as “an eye for an eye…” and other such judgment phrases. The person they were deliberating over got the death penalty. She said it was her Christian duty to do what she did, and she wouldn’t change a thing. As I listened, I could feel a little vein on the side of my head begin to throb rhythmically, but I had it under control.

Then Good Morning America previewed their upcoming stories and the first one they mentioned was an interview with the maker of “His Essence.” Apparently, someone has come up with a candle that, when you burn it, it is supposed to smell like Jesus. I could feel the vein on my head stretch the skin as it expanded, an audible moan escaped from my mouth. Great, I thought, feeling the sarcasm well up in the back of my throat, just what the world needs, a candle that smells like a first century itinerant preacher who walked everywhere he went and whose only recorded bath was his baptism at the age of about thirty.

Exasperated, I began to flip channels, looking for something that could soothe my soul. I landed on another station, hoping for some cartoons or a preview for Seinfeld, just looking for something benign. What I got was a televangelist who proceeded to tell me how I could gain favor with God. Just follow these simple principles and God will bless your life and give you the riches you deserve. That vein my head? It grew to cartoonish proportions before I could turn the television off…

I can only guess what you are thinking right now. Maybe it is: what’s the big deal? Or, why get so worked up about what other people are doing, we’re pretty normal here? Maybe even I’m with ya brother; or, WWJSL, what would Jesus smell like?

So, what is the big deal…? Well for starters this public face of Christianity has turned something that we believe, into a blasphemous carnival of a religion. When I hear preachers on television who tell hurting people that if you just trust Jesus more then you will have a perfect life, because I know how God works and these seven principles from the Bible will tell you how to get God to love you more…

When I hear preachers abuse peoples’ faith, I weep for what we have become…

When I hear someone proof-text the Bible, that is pull one line of scripture out of context to support a particular point of view, when I hear people proof-text the Bible in order to support positions that are contrary to the canon as a whole…

My heart breaks for the faithful people who are hurt by someone else’s blindness…

When I see people use faith as a tool to hock their wares on the Internet or television…

I am reminded of the time Jesus went into the temple and in anger destroyed the tables of the moneychangers.

When I see these things they weigh heavy on my heart, there seems to be nothing real about it, everything is fabricated and fake; the methods and outcomes feel manipulated and hurtful. There is no room for the fact that sometimes life is hard and it has nothing to do with how faithful you are, or what Christian paraphernalia you own.

I would be lying to you, if I told you that being a Christian is a great thing all of the time. I would be lying to you, if I told you that when you are baptized everything from that point forward would be easy. I would be lying to you, if I told you that all you need to do is show up on Sunday, follow along in the bulletin, say your prayers, and God will make sure that your life is a piece of cake. If only being called Christian was as simple as waking up in the morning and smiling at the sunrise.

This is the message that the author of First Peter is sharing with a community that is struggling. In a bold attempt to shore up their faith and give them hope, he writes as plainly as possible, being faithful means life isn’t going to be perfect; being faithful means that others will not understand your motives and your actions; being faithful even means that you will not fit in, you will not conform to society’s standards, and you will not always be liked by those around you.

This is the message that is lost in our era of feel good Christianity.

How much we struggle has nothing to do with how faithful we are. Part of the message of First Peter is that you struggle precisely because you are faithful. There was no promise of an easy lifestyle or wealth or special blessings according to your faith. There are only two promises and the first one is that being faithful means that you will struggle, mostly because you will see the world differently.

This quote from Pheme Perkins, one of the authors of the Interpretation series, re-iterates this message, “… no Christian seeks the ‘testing’ of his or her faith. Nor does God set up such trials as an obstacle course or entrance exam. But Christians have known from the beginning that no genuine faith will exist without them” (Perkins, Interpretation, p.30)

There is a second promise in this message though. That is you have something that others will not, you have hope. Hope that God is greater than your trials; hope that the community of the faithful around you will love and support you; hope that God will remember you and offer you the safety that comes from the peaceful assurance of God’s presence in your life.

When I think about today’s public version of Christianity, hope is not the first thing that comes to mind, but it should be. Hope is what we are about, it is what the resurrection is about, it is why we admit our sins, sing songs of praise, worship God.

When we hope there is compassion, not aggression. When we hope life is authentic and real, not plastic or fake. When we hope life becomes about relationships with one another, not about personal gain or isolation. When we hope we live the lives that God calls us to live.

Today, we will share a meal together, in remembrance of the hope that we have been given. Communion is about a hope that is sufficient to strengthen us when we struggle. It is a reminder to live your life, individually and together, in a sacramental hope that allows you to embrace a hurting world.

I think this is what the author of First Peter calls us to do. He calls us to look at the reality of life around us, see the struggles, the pain, the hurt. He calls us to notice the events of our community and of our neighbors. This author calls us into an understanding that we are to see the world differently, that we are to find the hope in the struggles around us and not tell people about it, but instead be the beacons that can guide people through the darkness that surrounds them. If we can see both the reality and the hope then we begin to live sacramental and whole lives in the midst of whatever surrounds us.

Just as Jesus offers himself in the last supper, we are also called to offer our presence in hope to the world around us. The sacraments are meant to visible signs of an invisible faith and grace. They are meant to mimic the joy and sorrow of living faithfully in a broken world; they are guides that allow us moments of respite so that we can remember who we are and whose we are; they are gifts given to the people of God enabling us to go out into the world be the faithful hopeful people we are called to be.
As we partake in communion with one another, receive the gift that has been offered to you, but know this, it is not a gift that is meant to be kept; it is a gift of hope that is meant to help you live and move and breathe as the people of God in a world that struggles; it is a gift that is meant to be shared with the world.

grace and peace



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