Saturday, June 21, 2014
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?
Homily from Btown Inclusive Eucharist on the 6th Sunday of Easter, May 25, 2014.
First Epistle of Peter 3:13-22
Today is the sixth Sunday of Easter. Due to my travels, it’s our final Sunday to gather together to declare the resurrection of Christ: the power of light over death and the rebirth of all creation in the dawn of the Paschal season. Most of us have moved on from the trumpets and fanfare of Easter Sunday. The shouting of “Christ is Risen” has become but a whisper in the foreground of our lives. The cherished “Alleluia,” which has been a hallmark of our liturgical worship since the Easter Vigil will be used much less frequently, after the Feast of Pentecost in just two weeks. Yes, the coveted Easter season is coming to an end in our liturgical rites but before you become to disappointed be reminded that truly each and every Sunday offers the possibility to experience the light of Easter, the hope of new birth and the destruction of death.
Many of us can look back just six weeks ago at Holy Week and we remember that all our cares seemed to vanish in those sacred days. Our earthly concerns were placed to the side or seemed to evaporate into thin air as we journeyed with Christ to the place of death and the place of everlasting hope. Perhaps this was because we were so in synch with the movement of the Spirit that we were no longer tied to our earthly concerns as we participated in Christ’s act of mercy. Or maybe it could be the fact Holy Week was so busy we were too exhausted to think about typical concerns. Regardless, those days have now passed on and I presume most of us have returned to the fears and cares of regular life. Life has become “normal” again, that is if one can ever use the word normal to describe the ultimate gift of God. Life has perhaps even become more difficult as we enter into the joys and struggles of the spring and summer seasons. They are full of changes, busy schedules and, often, family drama.
I think we can understand why St. Peter addressed the followers of The Way as he did in today’s Epistle reading. Peter is writing to Christians near the end of the first century, the historical moment of resurrection, regardless of how you believe it to have occurred, was long gone some seventy years before. Our Easter was only six weeks ago and yet it seems like ages ago. Just imagine how those first few generations of early followers must have felt at this point. They were bewildered, perplexed and likely fatigued.
Peter writes to them to encourage them in their faith and hope, reminding them that God’s love is everlasting and with them as much in their time as it was some seventy years before. It would appear the community was facing many struggles of their own. Not only was Easter long gone and Jesus wasn’t reappearing as they presumed he would, but they were also facing frequent persecution and hardships. Peter began today’s Epistle with the words, “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” This is a question that people of faith have been asking themselves for as long as we know. Today, we often rephrase it something like this, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Peter didn’t have the answer or if he did he refused to give it but he did go on to give them hope in the midst of their struggle. Peter tells the listeners to find blessing in their suffering, to not allow fear to control them nor to be intimidated by the arrows life sends their way. No doubt, the same is true for us today. Peter is a man of hope, a man that accepts that bad things happen but believes within every difficult moment of life, hope can still be found. I think many of us need to hear these promising words of Peter.
Often times when life brings struggles our way we want to throw our hands up in the air and say, “Why do I even try? It’s hopeless! I give up!” Peter is no doubt aware that some in the faith community are on the brink of giving up on themselves, their neighbors and their faith that has sustained and brought them so very far. Therefore we hear him encouraging them today to continue to do what is right even if suffering is experienced. He doesn’t deny the possibility of suffering nor ask them to pray it away or ask them to ignore it with some abstract idea of faith that denies reality. Rather, Peter makes a profound statement, when he says, “It is better to suffer for doing good.”
A realization that has become paramount in sociological fields in the past few decades is the understanding that in taking care of ourselves we need to also look beyond our small world and acknowledge that our every action has a huge impact on the world around us. In order for communities, states, nations, continents and our world to succeed and thrive there must be individuals who are able to maintain the course no matter the wounds or pains they endure. This isn’t a denial of the struggles but an understanding that life continues on and life is always a blessing. Yes, there are times that we want to give up. It seems we are damned no matter what effort we make but in that disheartening moment we have the choice to damn others with our refusal to actively engage life or we can be a vessel of hope in the moments of darkness.
Peter reminds the community of Jesus’s suffering demonstrated for both the righteous and unrighteous. Peter sends a wake up call, taking us back to Golgotha where we see the innocent Jesus suspended on a tree in an act of pure and undefiled love. Jesus endured all hardships that came his way and never once gave up on life, until his life had fulfilled its course. This too is our calling, to endure the hardships and struggles allowing ourselves to continue to engage life in its fullest, knowing the darkest moments never have the final word or verdict. Peter reminds us that Jesus was made “alive in the spirit” through his darkest moment and in this way Jesus was able to radically change the face of this world and the world beyond us. You and I too have this same ability. It isn’t easy. It asks everything of us. But if you and I will securely maintain our calling to love others no matter the arrows that come our way we can truly change the spiritual and physical climate of the places and situations we find ourselves in.
Yes, Easter is long gone. But Easter is still here and Easter is truly the gift of life found within us each and every morning that we wake up and seek to engage life. Each day that we choose not to be destroyed by our struggles or fear or the intimidations of life, we, in return, declare the power of resurrection and reveal it to others. In the midst of suffering, Peter promises the blessings of God are ours if we will allow our hearts to “sanctify” Jesus Christ. What does this mean? I believe it is quite simple and it happens both inside and outside of Christianity. It is a calling to set apart our heart, the innermost part of us that chooses the ways we live life. To set it apart to the incarnation of goodness, peace and perseverance. Jesus was the incarnation of God’s love in our midst. He was and is the icon of goodness, peace and perseverance. When we sanctify or commit our hearts to these truths, blessings will undoubtedly follow each of us and be birthed within ourselves.
Our calling as faith people is never easy. We would often rather be the ones who simply give up but we are called again and again to stand strong, to be of great courage and to let the sound of God’s praise be heard on our lips and through our deeds. The greatest way to honor the gift of life is to live fully. To accept the good with the bad, knowing it is all a gift and hope is never lost.
In this truth, in this acceptance of life, no matter how clean or dirty, easy or difficult, joyful or painful it seems, we are able to declare, “Alleluia! Christ is Risen!”