May 17, 2020, Living In A New Reality: Hope Always, by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
I Peter 3:13-22, King James Version: And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:
By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a-preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
Living in a New Reality: Hope Always
At some point in my life, I learned that being a vegetarian does not make you safe in field with a bull. This is a poetic way of saying what would seem like an obvious truth. I hadn’t thought consciously otherwise, but my Christian background had made me believe that if I was a good person, if I did the right things and acted well toward other people, nothing bad would happen to me or at least not too bad.
Our passage for this morning makes this kind of error in the first line and then immediately corrects itself. “Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?” and then immediately, “But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed…” Clearly I Peter is written to a community which is experiencing some problems with a bull - a. bull of discouragement in the field, a hyper-sensitive bull of the empire that will charge if they make themselves known.
Peter is trying to get them to stop hiding, to be brave enough to listen to God and to live out their faith even though that puts them at some risk. He is trying to get them to face the truth with the hope and faith of the Living God backing them up. As you know, this is one of my favorite passages, because of this line in the middle of the passage: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”
We print it every month in our newsletter and I use it as a prompt in my life - to always know what gives me hope no matter what the situation. Isn’t that a good discipline, to be able every day to say what gives you hope? So let me ask this question of you today in the midst of the Pandemic, in the midst of staying at home and a world turned upside down, and a looming wicked recession. Today, during this season, what gives you hope? What brings you alive and makes it possible for you to not just get through this, but to thrive and know that God has this, that God will use this experience in us and through us and that we will come out the other side better people for it?
That’s some hope right there. I don’t think it’s cheating to say my hope is that God has this - but it’s almost cheating. It’s reminds me a little of the bottom line hope in the Black congregations, where testimony almost always includes, “God got me up this morning on this side of the living.” That is not cheating. That is real hope - to notice that we are breathing, to notice that God is in our heartbeat and in our food and in our family and in our health, our being able to get through this. That’s not cheating, is it? You can feel the hope in that. God has this.
What else gives you hope - even if you are sick, even if you have losses in your life during this time? Hope can be a little slippery. We can have trouble hanging onto it when times get tough like this..
I’m hoping and counting on us getting testing for everyone, so that we can get back to work and back to school. I’m hoping and counting on us finding and implementing a vaccine and/or effective treatment for Covid - 19.
Think about it - what gives you hope? Some other things that give me hope probably count for you too. Sam England and Lindsay Burrill graduated from Villanova Law School on Friday and are ready to take on the world. Lindsay and Chelsea are getting married later this month and taking on the world. And both Lindsay and Sam are going to take the bar exam here in our region in September - so we are going to be seeing some more of them!
And Mindy has confirmed she’s going for a Masters in Public Health at Yale this fall. And then she plans to go to seminary after that - at Union in NYC, my seminary. That gives me hope.
In the Inquirer this morning there was another story that lifted me up. A retired farmer in Kansas named Dennis Ruhnke found 5 masks in his house. He decided that he and his wife needed 2 each, so he had an extra. He sent that one mask to Governor Cuomo in New York. Cuomo accepted it and thanked Mr. Ruhnke with tears in his eyes. Kansas governor Laura Kelly heard about the gift and, presiding over graduation this week at Kansas State University, awarded a diploma to Dennis Ruhnke. He had been 2 credits short of graduating 50 years ago when he had to leave to take over the family farm when his father died. Gov. Kelly emphasized that this was not an honorary degree, not just for show. The state awarded the degree for Mr. Ruhnke’s experience in agribusiness and for his Inspiration for the country at a time when we sorely need it.
I gotta tell you something else I learned as a community organizer that relates to this passage. It was and is a hard learned lesson that I’m still working on. I Peter cautions the Christian community to be prepared to suffer for their hope - to make their hope reality. Sometimes we Christians get lazy and expect that God is going to do all the work for our hopes and dreams.
What I learned as a community organizer is that there are a lot of people out there organizing for their own self-interest who do not have a sense of hope for the broader community. They are willing to work just for themselves and they don’t care if it hurts somebody else. We need to organize for the common good just as hard and build power for the whole. That can be hard - but it is a way of living out our faith and our hope - to make our hopes real. It can feel almost cynical to work with other groups and compromise to build power to make the best that can happen, happen. I had to learn that a principled stand that doesn’t have power behind it loses. We don’t give up on our principles, but we build coalitions and we build connections to make good things happen toward our understanding of God’s purpose in our lives.
As I Peter says, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.” The Spirit moves us and our world toward fairness and righteousness, and we have to be part of that movement. We can’t just let it go where cynical worldly or even religious leaders want it to go. we have to listen for God’s voice and God’s direction and work for the will and way of the Spirit.
The last thing I want to say about this passage is about this kind of strange reference toward the end of the passage about those who ‘did not obey’ God. The word obey has practically fallen out of favor in some of our circles because it has been misused to get people to obey authority even when it goes against their conscience. This passage is clearly talking about obeying God and the word in Hebrew and in Greek for obey means ‘to listen closely,’ to listen closely to God.
One of the things that gives me hope is through this crisis, we have people moving toward listening more closely to God, not to the bull of discouragement and hopelessness that threatens to run us down. In taking time to slow down our lives and stay close to home, we are making bread and granola for each other, making music and art, playing games with each other and eating together, and being a baptized people, an Easter people, a people listening closely to God and ready to take on our fears. “Fear of death can no more stop us from our pressing here below. For God empowers us to triumph over every foe. Alleluia, Alleluia, on to victory now we go.” Every day to us is Easter, with its resurrection song. when in trouble move the faster, to our God, who rights all wrongs. Alleluia. This is God’s good news.
Responsive hymn 304 Easter People, Raise Your Voices