This past Sunday I shared a meditation based on 1 Peter 4:12-14 & 1 Peter 5:6-11. What follows is an adapted form of that meditation for this venue.
I think a lot of the problems people are experiencing as faith communities could be addressed if people came to understand that faith should look weird. We’ve grown rather comfy in this culture, so much so that a good many Christians have concluded that we really are the baseline of this country–and it’s everyone else who is weird.
Let me disabuse you of that notion.
I can only speak from my religious tradition, but there isn’t anything “normal” about it. We believe in a God who made all things, deemed to take on human flesh, died, and rose again. And we claim the resurrected Jesus is ruler over everything–despite the continued demonstrable presence of suffering, oppression, and dehumanizing evil all around us 1. We get up on most Sundays and read words which are thousands of years old, sing songs praise, and practice rituals which seem to the uninitiated as though they come from another planet. We are supposed to cross cultural barriers, offer forgiveness toward those who hurt us, and call folks to follow the ways of a kingdom whose rules make zero sense in this world.
If faith doesn’t look weird to folks, than we are probably doing it wrong.
That is the suffering Peter calls blessed in 1 Peter 4:12-14. It’s a suffering which occurs when Jesus’ disciples call people to something beautiful, but which also so totally alien folks may feel threatened by its vision. That’s the way of the cross. And, sometimes, as we seen in the stories of the Christian martyrs throughout the history, it can lead to the same earthy outcome as the cross–Jesus’ disciples have been known to die for their faith. We call that suffering, “persecution.” And, let’s be honest, it’s often perpetrated by other folks who claim the same savior.
I am hearing a lot of complaining nowadays about government overreach, first amendment violations, demands that churches are “essential,” and warnings of persecution from folks who steadfastly refuse to close down their church buildings during a global pandemic. These folks feel that, by standing up and refusing to budge, the backlash they are experiencing is the same suffering with Christ about which Peter writes. It certainly looks weird to folks, so I can see why that might confuse people, but I’m not tracking with them. Mostly because staying open for worship isn’t about serving in the way of the Kingdom at all. It is, rather, about projecting power.
Let me be clear. Churches are not closed. Every Sunday during our worship stream I throw up “Sorry We’re Closed” sign, but all I mean is the building is closed for gathering 2. Churches are still serving. Churches are providing connection points for people through internet spaces. Churches are staying in touch with people through cards, email, social media, texts, and phone calls. Churches are providing help to those in need, be it financial assistance or through food banks or by the balm of a drive-by visit. Jesus’ people are teaching the message of Jesus through blogs, online conference calls, and in interactions with our neighbors 3. We’re working for peace when we try to diffuse the false information over which people are raging, and showing patience when we’re standing in line at the food store. We’re learning as we meditate on Scripture, and lifting this world up to God when we pray. And you know what? The fact that churches are still trying to do all these things when the world looks like it’s gone completely wonky, looks weird. And that’s a wonderful thing.
No mayor, no governor, no president can “close” the church by mandate. Just as none of those people can ever “open” it. All they can do is close buildings. And, in a time where opening our buildings can literally put people at risk, why on earth would we rage against that?
What we need right now is to steer into the oddness of faith and exhibit what Peter calls disciples to in 1 Peter 5:6. We need to live in humility before God. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know when our buildings will be open again. We don’t know when it will be safe to be out in crowds again. We don’t know when school campuses will open, or mandated working at home will end. We don’t know when we’ll have a proven treatment, or a vaccine, to halt this virus in it’s tracks.
Our unknowing creates all sorts of anxieties, which we can both see around us and feel inside us. But instead of directing those anxieties outward, which sweeps people into our maelstrom and often leads us to lash out with anger and resentment, let’s direct them upward. Toward the God who cares for us. And in so doing, whatever happens, we will experience the sort of peace which will lead us to show love through service–the way of the Cross. This is the way forward.
If we go another direction and decided throw our anxieties sideways, however, Peter warns us the Devil is prowling around like a lion and will pounce all over it. And when the devil devours our anxieties we don’t experience peace, we experience greater agitation. And when the devil devours us we don’t offer service to this world, we wind up demanding to be served. When we cast our anxieties the wrong way we hurt this world, and we proclaim a kingdom different than Christ’s.
Folks, we are the Church. And we have love to show this world, through power and grace of the one who rules all things. Let’s keep showing it.