A Living Hope Week 3
I pray you enjoy this message and God speaks to you through it. To listen to this message you can hear it on the Beech Grove United Methodist Church Podcast (podcast releases Monday mornings), or by clicking here.
* Sermon audio does not match the manuscript…sometimes the Spirit moves
19 For it is a commendable thing if, being aware of God, a person endures pain while suffering unjustly. 20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do good and suffer for it, this is a commendable thing before God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds, you have been healed. 25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls. — 1 Peter 2:19-25
I have often thought that his disciples are the greatest testament to Jesus’ ministry, and I am not just talking about “the 12.”
…I am talking about every disciple and saint of the church who has given their life in ministry to the faith. It is one thing to claim that you are a Christian, something many in our society today have even started to shy away from, because of the connotations the word “Christian” has in our world. However, it is another thing entirely to live as if the love and grace of Christ have truly transformed you.
The reason the writer here in 1 Peter talks about a living hope is not that he is trying to relay that Christ is still alive, in some human understanding. Rather to portray that the Spirit of Christ is alive in every one of us.
We are the living hope of Christ. How we live and serve in this world portrays the nature that Christ died for in the first place.
It is not lost on us then that as we live this life as beacons of the God we believe in, we would be seen as believers for how we live and interact with the world. Many have likened this understanding to,
“They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
However, such an ideology brings to our imagination the nature that humanity often responds negatively when it comes to suffering, or even how we understand and perceive suffering, to begin with. This is especially true within certain manners of suffering such as suffering related to castes, classes, races, and even genders. As white protestant Christians, we often reap the benefits of privilege that are not afforded to other classes, many of which we take for granted and do not even consider. When others talk about their suffering, we often think that their suffering has to fit in the context of our worldview.
When we talk about a living hope, we are seeking to be brought deeper into this nature of suffering, and what it often means and looks like to suffer. Comparing suffering and the level we may feel we suffer is a futile effort. However, there is something at the base of all suffering: pain. It may be futile and unhealthy to compare suffering, but what suffering does bring about is an empathetic understanding of what pain is. This idea of empathy bases itself on our understanding of God, namely as we see in this passage the suffering that God endured creates a deep understanding and connection to our suffering too.
Empathy is part of this living hope that we hold on to as disciples.
My pain throughout my life does not make me an expert on the pain of people who have experienced generations of systemic injustice, but in my pain, I have come to understand how uncomfortable any type of pain is. It has opened my eyes to the true pain in others, and it has given me the ears to be able to listen to other people’s pains. Listening then has given me the comfort to be able to sit with and understand their suffering more, to ask questions, and to hopefully be a part of finding healing and ultimately reconciliation for the pain that has been inflicted in their life.
At the heart of it, is what we read here in the closing verses of 1 Peter 2. Peter is presenting this as a matter of faith, and in this matter of faith, it is connected to our nature as human beings both in a community with God and one another.
Many Christians try to read passages like this one before us today as justification for suffering in the world. “We suffer because it builds our faith,” as some may say. However, I think that understanding is misguided. Instead, it appears the writer is naming the nature of suffering in its connection with God. It is made clear that God does not cause suffering, but that it is our recognition of God’s presence in our suffering that leads to a life of fullness, and conveys this living hope that we are called to embody.
Namely, we can proclaim, suffering of all kinds builds our relationship with God. We don’t go seeking it nor do we often expect it. Instead suffering is a byproduct of a broken world. It is something that occurs because we have distorted God’s image across creation or we stray away from God’s desired nature of love, grace, freedom, and mercy. When we look towards God’s example of living and loving, it is unfortunate to name there will be suffering. We place ourselves in positions to experience hurt and pain, but we do so knowing that as Peter writes,
“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls”1
We know that in our suffering we are not led astray, but our hurt and pain in this world leads us into the arms of God. I love the phrase “guardian of your souls.” The Greek word there for guardians is the same word used for Bishop (episkopohn). It was a phrase meant to capture a sense of overseeing something. God is overseeing our souls, our very essence of being. God feels our pain, and it is in that pain that the living hope is portrayed, and it is that living hope that we carry ourselves.
This is not done in a comparative sense but in an understanding one. God understands what it feels like to be in pain, and we have a physical example of this in Jesus Christ. It allows us to empathize with others because we know suffering. We don’t know their suffering (that is for us to listen and learn about) but we know the pain that suffering entails. Our hearts become softened to experience and help in understanding the suffering of others. It builds a nature of communal and creational existence with one another. Peter even conveys this sentiment as he compares the nature that we suffer as humans to an understanding of Christ’s suffering.
“For to this, you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.”2
He goes on to unpack this example of what Christ truly did for us, so that we may know that God knows the nature of suffering. As Peter is talking about suffering he is calling us to both individualize and communalize our suffering. We are called to understand it within our narrative of life and faith. It also feeds this communal understanding of suffering to help us understand what pain feels like in general terms and gives us the understanding in the community to engage with the suffering of others.
Because Christ suffered he sits with us, God sits with us, and we are afforded the space to process our suffering with our Creator, Savior, and Lord.
As we process through these experiences with God and others around us we move into a space of healing. We move beyond it or we learn what it means to live in a new reality. Healing looks different in different situations, and healing sometimes can take lots of time. However, it is sitting with God during pain that begins the healing process. The lessons learned become a living testament to Christ for others.
As we consider our relationship with one another in this work, we consider how we can play the role of the listening ear of God for others. We can sit and hear their pain in the name of Christ, and create space for true healing and reconciliation in the world.
This is what we are bad at.
We want to compare suffering, and yet our suffering cannot compare. Peter looks at the suffering of Christ as the connection to the divine, not as saying Christ suffered worse therefore we should “suck it up.” Many disciples in those early days were being executed and martyred in similar ways to Christ, but the suffering builds us up because it helps us understand our connection to God in our pain. What got us through? What helped us?
And it allows us to listen more empathetically as we do God’s work in the world.
I return to the suffering of generations of people under racist ideologies and laws. A subject that many of us in our privilege may be uncomfortable to confront, because it may highlight our sins. However, have you ever listened to the pain of black people? Have you ever just sat down with a black person and listened to their story? Don’t try to retort with your own experiences or make excuses. But sit and listen?
God does that for you. The people of God have done that for you. Your pastor, many of the folks in this congregation have done that for you. We don’t try and fix, but we try to listen, then we can amplify that voice and hear from them the nature of healing that can occur. What would healing look like for them? Will it make us uncomfortable? Sure, but healing does that. Our healing was uncomfortable, I am sure. It can be messy and it may mean sacrifice, but look to Christ, who sacrificed in his suffering. Ultimately giving of himself in his suffering to seek to heal the sins and evils of humanity.
My mind harkens to the 23rd Psalm, one of the most known psalms (let alone passages of scripture). We often hear it at funerals, as we discuss death and loss, and there is a reason that it has developed into that role in the history of the church. As we read through it one can hear and see that it is a psalm of empathy. Within David’s words are feelings of hurt and pain, and yet an abiding comfort of the one who is there for him.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”3
These are words of comfort amid affliction. They are not words that solve a problem (even the problem of suffering), but they are words to begin the process. They are words that rest at the heart of the eternal presence of God. If only we could all have the eternal presence of comfort of Psalm 23, of God, of Christ.
Let’s Hear Your Thoughts…Comment and start a conversation.
1 Peter 2:25 NRSVUE
1 Peter 2:21 NRSVUE
Psalm 23 NRSVUE