Sunday after the Ascension (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sunday after the Ascension + May 28, 2017

Text: 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11

Just imagine that you are hearing this as a first century Christian, who has witnessed the horror of crucifixion.  It’s how the world knows that criminals are punished.  Now apply that to your faith, that you believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son and that He was crucified, died, and buried.  To add one more offense on top of that (in the world’s sight), you believe that He rose from the dead on the third day and that He comes again to judge the world.

 

This is what inspired one man in Rome to scribble a figure of a man with a donkey’s head, nailed to a cross.  At the base of the cross is another figure lifting looking up and lifting his hand in adoration.  The caption reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”[1]

 

It’s with this in mind that St. Peter writes, 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  Perhaps the sting of what it means to be a follower of Christ is deadened a bit when we don’t have actual crucifixions to look at on a daily basis.  But sharing in Christ’s suffering remains, even if we can’t visualize it.  Because we belong to Christ and are called Christians, we will suffer for that Name.

 

The natural reaction is to balk when people hate Christ and His followers.  We might think of the love and mercy which Jesus displayed toward all people and how He uses us in the world today to do the same.  They say Christianity is an excuse to hate people who think differently than us.  We remember how Jesus welcomed the little children and blessed them.  They say Christianity is a mind control program, and that we’re abusing children by teaching them the faith.  We respect the religious beliefs of Muslims, Jews, and Hindus who wear special clothing or only eat certain foods.  Meanwhile Christians are insulted because their conscience prevents them from supporting same-sex unions.

 

It causes doubts to arise in our mind whether we’re right.  If the whole world says Christians are stupid, hate-filled bigots, maybe they’re right just by popular vote.  But Peter casts our experience in a different light: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  When your name is dragged through the mud because you’re a Christian, this isn’t anything new.  Your Lord says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”[2]  When He blessed, He was cursed.  When He healed, they wanted to kill Him.  When He taught, they spread lies about His teaching.  But God vindicated the truth of what Jesus said by raising Him from the dead.  Your faith is not in vain, and God witnesses that it is true.

 

With all that stands against Christians, who would remain unless they were a masochist?  Who would choose a religion that is so widely opposed and which causes so much dysphoria with the world?  Peter answers, “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”   Even in the insults, you are blessed because you have the Holy Spirit.  He has called you believe in Jesus Christ and it is by His power that you remain in this Christian faith.  It’s really not about your choosing to follow Jesus, so much as it’s about what He’s done and how He called you to follow Him.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”[3]

 

There’s the strength and comfort to share in the sufferings of Christ.  To be a Christian is not to hold onto your life with your own strength.  “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”[4]  That’s the paradox, that we let go of our life and “entrust our soul to a faithful Creator while doing good” (v. 19).

 

Just as Peter steered us away from a personal “Why is this happening to me?” pity-party, he also turns our eyes from seeing the struggles in our lives from merely human eyes.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”  Everywhere around us we’re encouraged to seize opportunity and take control of our lives.  That’s a nice delusion that shatters against the reality that our live isn’t really in our own hands as much as we’d like it to be.  Go out and find a job that you can support yourself and your family, and do it today.  That chronic ailment you’ve had, go fix it.  The deep-seated pain you experience from loneliness, loss, and betrayal?  Just turn your heart around.

 

No, instead see yourself living by God’s mercy, the mercy of a loving Father.  You days and times are in His hand.  When the time is right, He will bring you out of turmoil and into peaceful haven.  So, instead of carrying worry, doubt, and dread yourself—as if it were all up to you—give it to Him.  Why?  Because He cares for you.  Not only do you worship a God who is victorious over the world and death, but you have a Father in heaven who loves you.

 

You belong to God.  He has called you to be His own dear child in the waters of baptism and continually in His Word.  Even though you experience suffering for a time, the glory of Christ’s resurrection is eternal.  Therefore, this promise is certain: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”  He will restore you when you falter.  He will confirm you when you doubt.  He will strengthen you when there is no strength in you.  He will cause you to stand firm, when your knees are ready to buckle.  Behold, this is your God whom you worship. “To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

[1] For more, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexamenos_graffito

[2] John 15:18

[3] John 15:16

[4] Luke 9:24

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