Sermon for May 14, 2023 Stay Engaged, Gently


Job’s response to his first set of calamities

Job 1:20-22   Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head fand fell on the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”

In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.

1 Peter 3:13-22
3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  3:14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,
3:15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 3:16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.  3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.  3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 3:19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 3:20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.  3:21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you–not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 3:22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

Sermon May 14, 2023, Mother’s Day

Suffering for Christ is not a big theme in American Christianity. If anything, we have seen in the not-too-distant past health and wealth televangelists and the latest version is ‘name it and claim it’ I don’t think Job is in their Bibles.   It can be called a heresy.    For many years the church in America has in one way or another enjoyed dominance which always was far from complete, and it becomes less by the year so some attention this matter of suffering and our response to it is useful.  Peter talks about how to react to it in this passage.

When the apostle Peter wrote this, Christianity was very far from being a socially approved faith.   By all reports there were periodic persecutions in the area to which he wrote so at least one part of the suffering was literal: assault, loss of property and possible imprisonment even loss of life.  There was also the suffering caused by alienation from relatives and neighbors because the life being lived as a Christian was different and incompatible with the life they had led and the life these neighbors and relatives still led.   Ridicule may be in the mix.  In chapter 2 Peter called his readers exiles. This is the suffering that is most likely to fit us.  It is not required: see verse 3;17  ‘if it be Gods wil’ aside from the fact that I like to avoid suffering of all types, this passage gives notice that it is also not to be solicited, if it happens it is somebody else doing.

3:13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?  This verse can either be read as an assurance that ultimately the world can do nothing to us, they can kill the body but not the soul.   Or, as I prefer, it can be read as a rhetorical question, the answer to which Peter’s readers knew.  In today’s terms it is the guy down the street who resents anybody not living at his crude level and seeks to tear down any appearance of holiness and deny any repentance.  For such a person once a sinner always a sinner.  We have met these people. We should not be intimidated by them.   We are blessed as Jesus said in the beatitude- Matthew 5:10   Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The natural response is to withdraw from trouble, to look inward. Peter however teaches us a different response, be ready to give an account of what and why we believe.  This requires that we stay engaged with the world around us, gently, and not ceasing to worship Jesus.     The passage from Job illustrates this: Job had it bad, really bad yet his response was to worship God.  Another example of this is Joseph who was sold into slavery in Egypt, even in slavery and later in prison, even to Pharoah he continued to honor the ways of God in his heart and speak of them to his owner and to fellow prisoners.    We are not to declare ourselves to be the victim and check out from society and from engaged life.  We don’t honor Jesus this way.  We honor Jesus by living as we should, worshipping and speaking about Him.

Peter is clearly talking about the suffering that comes at the hands of other people, but we don’t honor Jesus by withdrawing any more than we must because of medical problems.  If you can’t do something don’t but what you can do, do.  Same response: honor Jesus.

Peter says give account gently.   Exactly what this means probably depends on the situation. Some characteristics are: Speaking with love rather than hate, truth not slander, no put downs, and directly saying what should not be and should be done.   Saying ‘do not’ by itself is harsh; pointing the right way relieves the harshness.

3:17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil echos other letters and the gospels.  This is a lesson you already know. It is a significant theme in the New Testament. Pastor Carol addressed it a couple weeks ago no need to go over it again so soon.

3:18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all,…… this passage for Christ also suffered   Here Peter says we in these situations are doing the same thing as Jesus and so uses Christ as an example to follow here. My first reaction is to say Jesus was so special that no comparison is possible.   But on some reflection, it makes sense; Jesus emptied himself to be on earth and became fully human.   Part of being human is to be limited in knowledge, we need to take much on faith because we can’t see the future or for that matter much of the present.   For us, even reading the morning paper requires a faith that the reporters are reporting truth.  By contrast God needs no faith, he can see past present and future much the same way we don’t need faith to know there is a ceiling in this sanctuary, we can see it.   If Jesus could see the future past the resurrection, the cross would be only a painful 9 hours, instead it was pain and forsakenness to the point that he said He said ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me?’  If he could see to Easter morning, he could not have said that.  We certainly do this, the pain of a medical procedure is more tolerable to us than a lesser undiagnosed pain that seems to have no end in sight.

Jesus did perform miracles which were done only as the Father allowed, as Jesus says in John. 5:19   So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  Jesus was not superman in disguise.

So in suffering because of righteousness, we suffer with Jesus and with Jesus as an example.    Where Jesus gives account is to the imprisoned spirits, which is where He was until Sunday morning.

I went into this because it would be easy to ignore the teaching about giving account message because it would be easy to read the Jesus comparison and shrink away from the whole passage leaving the ‘give account gently’ lesson un-learned.  If a comparison to Jesus is too much for you, use Joseph as an example.  Be ready to give account for our faith, gently.

Join me for prayer after the sermon:

Jesus, help us to follow your ways in all that we do particularly in this matter of keeping going even in opposition, for your ways are eternal life, the best life.    Help us to give account with the gentleness of spirit that you showed in your walk on earth so that we can show your glorious love.  Amen