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
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges impartially according to each person’s work, live in fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile conduct inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your trust and hope are in God. 22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual affection, love one another deeply from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. – 1 Peter 1:17-23
Sometimes I wish I had paid more attention in some of my college and even seminary classes. It’s not that I checked out completely, but I definitely often took my education for granted. I was bad at managing my ADHD and therefore, struggled to focus, do work, and oftentimes even absorb the knowledge. I very often find myself going back and listening to lectures and reading notes from my time in seminary, taking another chance at it. I have also been going back and reading several books I read in seminary, and whether it is knowledge gained in second readings, or reading with deeper intentionality beyond just education I find myself enjoying it so much more.
One of the books I pulled up (on my Kindle) recently and tagged to re-read is a book by Saint Oscar Romero, who was martyred as the Archbishop of San Salvador while presiding over Mass. However, I remember one quote that has always stuck out to me from my first reading of the book. He writes in his book, “The Violence of Love”
“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work.” 1
Romero is often seen as one of the leaders of what became known as the Liberation Theology movement. Liberation Theology is a section of theological understanding that seeks to place the oppressed of the world in the context of God’s liberating work of the world through Jesus Christ. It tasks the church with overcoming oppressive structures and being the leading advocate for justice and equity in the world.
This important distinction does not diminish the lives of those who exist in a privileged class, but instead calls on them to recognize the oppression that exists in the world and to seek to work against it. Liberation theologians will often cite the liberating work that occurs by nature of God’s relationship with creation and thereby the acts of Christ in his birth, death, and resurrection.
Romero worked and testified against a federal government that oppressed and silenced the poor, taking advantage of power to keep the poor poor. He called for a change to help end these oppressive regimes and called it his God-given calling to do so. It is a call that finds its place in the hope that is offered through Christ’s resurrection. There is much discussion across the global church about how to view something like liberation theology and its impact on how we minister to the poor and live in a community with one another.
A Living Hope
However, when we dive into this nature of a living hope that we are seeking to unpack in this Eastertide worship series we begin to see the draw from the early church to recognize the role we play as followers of Christ and believers in his resurrection. That is if we are to profess the basic tenet of our faith, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we believe that it is by his example that we live our lives, and by his death and resurrection that we witness and know truly the nature of God, how could we not empathize with the oppressed? How could we not advocate making society more equitable?
There is this nature of freedom that is expressed within this ideal of living hope, but we often misplace this understanding of freedom. We think of freedom selfishly and inwardly, thereby often portraying a nature of freedom that is only free for some and oppressive to others. Our nature of freedom is communal. I am not free because Christ died for my sins. We are free because Christ sacrificed for all of us…not just the people we agree with, but everyone (even the people we try to condemn to hell).
The idea of living hope that was introduced in week’s text was this nature of joy that fills our lives. As we are filled with it, we are called into that manner of Kin-dom living we have discussed in the past. In understanding the joy we receive, we begin to live into that nature of sanctification (or work) that restores within us the nature of the God we are created in.
As we are working our way through the letter of 1 Peter, we recognize this living hope that is offered, through Christ and thereby through God. There is an ideology that calls us towards that redemptive work, and as we see from an example like Romero, it is in the very nature of God to bring us into a sense of freedom by loosening the bonds of evil from around us, but only if the people of God are willing to play their role in the Kin-dom in the here and now. We see it expressed in the scripture before us today in this nature of freedom and new birth.
The writer here in 1 Peter is beginning to put these pieces in place. We are being called, not only to look to God for guidance but to understand the role that we play in this great theology of faith and life.
These are not thoughts and ideas that begin with Peter, or even Jesus. These are classic Jewish tenets that find their way down from how God has sought to be in communion with humanity since creation. The Jewish people long looked to understand and witness the innate nature of God. The people of Israel long cried out to be loosed from the chains of evil, oppression, injustice, and ultimately the sin that kept them in these unending cycles.
Psalm 116 and 1 Peter
In the passage paired with this passage in the lectionary, today is Psalm 116 where we hear expressed,
“O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.” 2
The basic nature of freedom exists in how God has created us and works within us even when we do not recognize or understand.
Peter records this same sentiment by saying,
“You know that you were ransomed from the futile conduct inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.”3
We are offered freedom in Christ, in our belief in Christ, and in the nature that we live in Christ’s example. This freedom frees us from the nature of earthly selfishness and calls us into an eternal Kin-dom community that looks toward the needs of others. If our bonds from evil, sin, and selfishness are loosed then what is this eternal nature of community imply?
The writer of 1 Peter says,
“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual affection, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”4
This idea of “new birth” as a connection to faith is something that has traveled throughout the ages of theological insight. Many theologians have posited this ideology and have tried to understand more deeply how we live into this understanding. Not a physical re-birth as we may envision (and see in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus), but a spiritual reawakening. Our minds are freed from what the world has tried to teach them about humanity.
This freedom that is experienced is not done through any sort of punishment that was offered upon Christ by God, but by witnessing this loving nature through the death and thereby resurrection of Christ. The people of God seemed lost, they seemed in this never-ending cycle, and they needed a message of freedom. Freedom from persecution, something that was greater than them, and something that would call the greater society to a higher moral living guided by love, as not only Peter says, but is witnessed in the very testimony of Christ. We want to say that Christ was punished in our stead on the cross, but what if Christ was born into a humanity that could not handle this nature of love?
The Bible is an inherently political document, and Christ becomes an inherently political figure. We very often hear politicians proclaim freedom. They talk about restoring freedoms or creating freedom. However, many times they miss the nature of true freedom because we think that freedom involves being free to do what we want to do. The nature of Jesus’ day, the bonds that captivated the Judean people were chains often of their own making. They were chains of a lack of communal care and compassion. They were a lack of love and grace in their communities.
However, they wanted a warrior leader who would overthrow the Roman Empire. Now we look for a Savior (Or rather have created a Savior) who gives us exactly what we want. A Savior who gets us out of hell, a savior who takes away our sins so that we could be worthy because we have been conditioned to think that we are worthless…even in Christ.
Instead, we got a Savior who loved unconditionally, loved to the point of execution. We got a Savior who saved us not from the evils of hell, but the evils of not living in the Kin-dom that God is bringing to earth. The problem is inherent, this kind of savior often doesn’t sacrifice for us but calls us to sacrifice ourselves. It means looking at our lives and considering how we play a role in systems that create bondage in our society. If we are to have our chains loosed then we are also called to help loosen those of others.
Freedom for us is meant to be freedom for all, not at the expense of others.
This is something we have lost sight of in our society. It’s where the church has lost the reputation that it gains through Christ. We have found ourselves loosening our own bonds and tightening those of others. We offer freedom by responding to our faith in the way we are called towards in verses 22-23. It is that nature of genuine mutual love for one another. This is meant to be a global understanding. We are called to look at our neighbors, and without even knowing who they are we recognize that they are still a part of God’s creation and that they deserve to be loved and experience the great love of God.
We are left to consider the role we are called to play. The Living Hope that we live into, that living hope that Rev. Shappell began to explore last week was good news for us. However, we also recognize that it becomes good news for others in the same breath because it frees us from the manners that we think we need to live in. It frees us from the hierarchies that perpetuate harm and oppression. It calls us to look at the past and see ways that we grow closer to God’s Kin-dom. We do not long for days of old because they were “better days,” but we move forward knowing that the past is imperfect, and the future and continued living in Christ offers the true hope of salvation to the world…the whole world.
Where is Christ calling you beyond yourself? What chains has Christ loosed in your life? How has Jesus opened your eyes to the work that is being done across creation?
It is Christ’s work, let’s play a role in it.
Psalms 116:16 NRSV
1 Peter 1:18-19 NRSVUE
1 Peter 1:22-23 NRSVUE