This semester our church based adult study group has been studying the life and teaching of the Apostle Peter. In the process we've reviewed key passages in the gospels and Acts and have now turned to 1 Peter. The first two chapters of this letter are incredibly rich in both portraying Christ as a precious stone and the church, as the holy community, called to live, humanly speaking, in the full light of the gospel revelation. Our class discussion has focused on (a) the need to die daily in Christ as our due spiritual service (Romans 12:1); (b) the enormous gap between the holiness of God and our own sinful nature, and (c) the privilege, saving power and healing grace in opening ourselves to all that God is seeking to bestow on us in embracing the ever fresh revelations that God grants through the Holy Spirit in becoming the people of God who he intends and very much desires us to become.
At certain times and in certain "seasons" in our life such "turning," especially among those of us who have had a distinctively "born again" experience, seems so obvious and is, whether obvious or not, a seemingly essential phenomenon of a distinctively evangelical calling. Nonetheless, the realities we experience in our lives, both real and imagined can press on upon us so suddenly and sometimes so subtly that what seems obvious at certain times in our lives, the clarity and power of our faith, seems anything but so evident as we encounter pressures of many sorts, which call us in some way to transcend where we currently are at with them. For otherwise we can become (re)-engulfed in a sense of fatalism, resignation, fear, bitterness, anger, malice, guile, hypocrisy (the hypocrisy of saying we believe when we act as if we don't (James 1:5-8), envy and all evil speaking as Peter (1:2:1) depicts some of the daily temptations that beset us and certainly myself so easily.
Such experiences, the many temptations, large and small, that we face in our everyday lives at home, work, in our interface with popular and mass culture and in the interior depths of our heart, minds, soul, and spirit are not, so it seems, so dissimilar to what the early Christians experienced if we take the writings of the New Testament epistles with any seriousness. Thus what we see in all of these letters is inspiration through a re-telling of the image of the crucified redeemer in language that reaches to the mystical heights, yet which can at least be partially grasped through the means of faith via the indwelling grace of God's revelation. Thus, the power and most beautiful excellency of the indwelling grace poetically described in the first couple of chapters in 1 Peter, Ephesians, Colossians, chapters 2-5 in 2 Corinthians and peppered throughout Hebrews is both a natural overflow of the profusive grace that overwhelms the writer of each of these texts and a source of the most sublime and awe inspiring motivational stimulation in which writer seeks to communicate to reader than through nothing less than God's post resurrection intermediary, the Holy Spirit, the "deposit" granted to us by a most holy and awesome God in anticipation of the consummation of God's kingdom in new heaven and new earth when Christ returns the Kingdom back to God the father so that God may become all in all.
Regardless as to how literal or metaphorical one takes such language in grasping something of the ineffable mystery of God's ultimate purposes, of which we can only but grasp in part, and clearly in faith and not by sight, the image presented here of God in Christ reconciling the world remains very much a counter-image of so much of what we experience amidst the everyday realities. This seems particularly so amidst events or situations that press especially heavily upon us, during major crises, unanticipated change, or in some other sense where in one way or another we feel overwhelmed. It is here, in the midst of these challenges where the rubber hits the road; where if we are going to re-encounter the faith of the living Christ as a living presence we will have to do so in some fresh encounter with such events in a manner that somehow absorbs and transcends them, creating new life out of old fears or an overwhelming sense of cynicism or resignation in which "the world" gets the victory at least for a while.
Thus, we might hear some of the key texts in the first two chapters of Peter's first epistle in the light of our own hopes and experiences some 1900+ years later:
On the Glorious Mystery
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again as a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith through salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1:3-6).
"Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently...searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the suffering of Christ and the glories that would follow, to them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven--things which angels desire to look into" (1:10-12)
Therefore, to you who believe, he is precious, but to those who are disobedient, the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone and a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (2:7-8a).
"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may claim the glorious praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people, but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (2:9-10).
Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory in him, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your soul (2:8b-9).
Therefore, Gird up the Loins of Your Mind
"Now for a little while, if need be you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much moiré precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom you have not seen you love" (1:6b-8a).
"Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:13).
"Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world" (5:6-9).
No doubt our 21st century realities, especially in our various suburban enclaves are very much different than those the early church faced in the first century, which included persecution, martrydom, a deep belief in the imminent second coming of Christ, the incredible motivational dynamic of a cultural and religious movement in which new church communities sprang all over western Asia and Greece and Rome. We experience none of this in our current setting. We can practice our faith in safety and security. Most of us are not poised in anticipation of the ultimate consummation of God's kingdom, but largely focused in preserving our faith intact amidst the ebbs and flows of our daily lives. Thus, while declining as a vigorous cultural force, the Christian "movement" at least in its US middle class milieu, is gaining little alternative traction in its move to the cultural outskirts. While its very marginality holds an incredible potential for authentic renewal, enacting such a vision would require a tremendous act of religious countercultural imagination along with a willingness to live out its implications based on its foundational assumptions for which the biblical text via the small still voice of the Holy Spirit has the capacity to open up afresh.
As 21st century Christians do we have the capacity and the desire to respond to such promptings with ears that are at least willing to hear. No doubt, I am preaching to the choir in which I am choir member numero uno in which I as well need ears to hear in the very midst of my "unbelief."
Majestic One, grant us another entry into your vision afresh and give us the courage to embrace all you have for us, which both costs us and gives us our lives.