Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Coming to the Lord from . . . . wherever

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation-
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” I Peter 2:2 – 3)

This is a good verse when thinking about new believers – of any faith tradition really. The apostle Peter is talking about belief in Christ, and so our reflection is informed and guided by that. But all new believers long for good clear understanding of the faith they are entering into. Peter’s qualifier of “tasting” of the Lord sets his comments in Christianity. And from this point on, we educated in that belief system.

“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and
like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Verses 4 – 5)

Peter’s remarks and teachings not only instruct in new faith, but support the forming of a church, or at least a body of believers. Christianity is not to be lived out in isolation, although many times that is the case.

“For it stands in scripture: “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”
and “A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (Verses 6 – 8)

Peter also frames non-belief as a deliberate action; that is, knowing better but choosing not to belief. I am not convinced it as straightforward as that. Or rather, I make room for not knowing about Jesus and our Lord God in a way that makes it clear that it is a good choice. I also make room for devote sincere belief that may not be constructed and lived out in the way mainstream Christians may know and live it. In fact, it seemed clear to me many years back that some mainstream Christianity had already diverged from what I felt and believed that Jesus taught and exemplified.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (Verses 9 – 10)

I truly and strongly feel that there is a potential for a latitude in authentic and devote faith in the Divine. Coming from an Anabaptist background, I emphasis authenticity as opposed to “mere” motions and surface faith. Coming from a background on my paternal family side, I also have great regard and respect for authentic Judaism. There is irony there because Peter might well have been talking to Jews who had not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Or, he might have been talking to Gentiles who had no faith in a monotheistic deity. There is room in the family of God for many peoples to come in, from all sorts of backgrounds. And Peter certainly had a rough road of it coming to faith. That’s just one of the many reasons he is close to my heart.

May you, beloved reader, come to faith in our Lord God from whatever your background is. Selah!

Advertisements

Fourth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Peter points to the Great Shepherd

Unbeknownst to me, beloved reader, this week had/has a theme that I was not aware of – sheep and shepherds. It makes sense with the Acts passage that stands in for the Old Testament passage. The disciples/apostles were very much like shepherds for the new believers, guiding them and teaching them as Christ taught them. Let us read then what one of my favorite “shepherds”, Peter, wrote.

For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (I Peter 2:19 – 20)

Peter was beaten for his faith. He was also chastised by Jesus several times, but I do not think he is referring to that.

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (Verses 21 – 24)

When you think about the missteps that the apostle Peter made when he was learning from Jesus, the lessons have a special poignancy. Christ set an example for Peter, and the other disciples. When they were gathered around the lake after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus gave Peter the opportunity to pledge himself to Jesus Christ and his sheep not once, not even twice, but three times. To balance out the three times that Peter denied Christ. While Peter had a brief insight into the fact that Jesus was the Messiah, he did not understand the suffering that Jesus had to go through. Now, in this passage, Peter shows he has learned that lesson.

At the Last Supper, Peter did not understand why Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples. In portraying Jesus as willingly taking on our sins, Peter now sees rightly that Jesus was called to a servant role, even though he was the Master and Shepherd of us all.

“For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (Verse 25)

I like to think that Jesus Christ has as much patience with me as Jesus did with Peter.

We have two more days of scripture passages this week, and the sheep/shepherd theme continues. Until that next time, may you heed the words of Peter who learned how to best service and follow Christ. Selah!

Third Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going the distance with the apostle Peter

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways 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. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.” (I Peter 1: 17 – 20)

You know, beloved reader, I have great affection for the apostle Peter who is supposed to be the writer of I Peter (as well as II Peter). He as well as others believed that “the last” or “the end times” would come soon. And that soon would mean in the foreseeable future for his readers. Well, we know that is not true. Some biblical commentators feel that the apostles meant the world ending soon. Other commentators give more latitude in time span saying that it simply meant the age where God revealed the Divine through Jesus, that “this end of the ages” was the final age when God could be known clearly. It is a kindness, beloved reader, that the apostles were not held to the idea that Christ’s return was not something imminent in a relatively short count of days. When one’s world view is “small” (meaning in the geographical sense), one’s understanding of time in the future is bound to be short. So my affection for Peter leads me to a gentle interpretation of his meaning for what “the end of the ages” is. But I know, in my heart of hearts, he was thinking it would be soon.

“Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, 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.” (Verses 21-23)

But that does not lessen Peter’s message. It, in fact, strengthens if. If we, as his modern day readers, are to endure the unforeseeable time ahead that may stretch out yet as many generations as we are removed from Peter’s time, it is imperative that our trust in the God and in Jesus Christ is unshakable. It has to last not just a “short time” until the Divine’s return but throughout our lifetime. And we must pass that unshakable faith on to the next generations.

I have seen (although not remembered) as least 58 Easters. And while my faith may have been small and infantile for at least the first – who know how many years – it has endured. Through childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It was, is, and will be, founded on the enduring word of God – preached by many, taught by many, and exemplified by many spiritual forebearers. May you, beloved reader, stand firm in the same legacy and pass it on to the coming generation. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Substitute Old Testament Passage – Peter, another man after the Lord Jesus’ heart

[Beloved reader, sometimes an Epistle Passage is used instead of an Old Testament Passage on certain occasions and certain reasons. This week is such an occasion. Read it as if it were an Old Testament prophet, but testifying to a new reality. ]

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know- this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:14a, 22 – 24)

It occurs to me that Peter is making good on identifying and claiming knowledge of Jesus Christ. How far Peter has come in his beliefs. It is one of the reasons I hold him in great esteem. Not one to shy away from anything, when he knows what is truth he speaks it with no restraint or hesitation.

“For David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will live in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One experience corruption. You have made known to me the ways of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’ “Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.’ This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” (Verses 25 – 32)

For the rest of his life, Peter spoke of Jesus, spread the word about his life, death, & resurrection, and did not fear the consequences of it. He clearly followed the path that Jesus Christ lays out for all of the Lord God’s followers. May we do so also. Selah!

Second Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – After Resurrection Lessons

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (I Peter 1:3 – 5)

Writers are often told “Write what you feel” and I have tried to follow that advice. Time and time again I have written what I felt, how I responded, and what thoughts/feelings scripture has invoked in me. And what I feel from this is the apostle Peter writing fervently to his readers about what he has experienced – everything he experienced as a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ when the Messiah walked the earth.

There was this pivotal moment when Jesus the man the disciples listened to and lived with for three years changed into the risen Lord who ascended into heave to become again One with the Almighty Lord God. And in that moment, the man who was their friend and teacher turned into the Divine that is in Heaven – large capital “H”.

“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith–being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (Verses 6 – 9)

“ . . . .even though you do not see him now, you believe in him . . . “ This sounds so much like the lesson learned when Jesus appeared to the disciples and especially to Thomas. Peter saw Jesus, yet when pressured he said he knew Jesus not. A hard lesson learned there, but a lesson that taught Peter something about holding tight to believe. And Peter passes on that lesson to his readers. As we move through the season that comes after Easter Sunday, may we learn and retain the lessons that we have learned. Selah!

Holy Week – Saturday: The Gospel, Epistle, and Psalm Passage – Being at the In-Between Times

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:38-42)

This is where things were when Good Friday came to an end. By late Friday afternoon preparations were being made for Sabbath. And expediency took priority over planning. And grieving was folded into worship of Yahweh. Let us also set aside this scene and look back at some things I had deferred, namely Peter.

It is in John chapter 13, verses 36 to 38 that Jesus foretells Peter’s betrayal of him. The lectionary does not pick up this passage during Holy Week, for whatever reason. Each of the Gospels is pretty consistent in the account.

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

Interestingly, the gospel of John does not chronicle Peter’s reaction to the cock crowing; the other gospel speak of his anguish. There are several streams, it seems to me, to consider in the disciples’ reactions to Jesus arrest, trial, and crucifixion. First I want to say that the gospel of John focuses on Jesus’ Divinity and does not have much narrative on what the disciples did. So we must look to the other gospels. We know from the gospel of Matthew that Judas killed himself when Jesus was sentenced to death. He felt remorse for what he had done and tried to return the money. But his guilt would not allow him peace, so he took his own life. If it were the previous lectionary year, I would say this is a failed attempt at confession,penance, and forgiveness. Would have Jesus forgiven Judas? Is there a sin so great that Jesus our Lord God would not forgive it? I hesitate to say, but I think Judas’ answer to that question would be yes. Let us not, beloved reader, make the same assumption.

And we know that Peter felt guilt and remorse when he denied three times in a short period of time that he was part of the followers of Jesus. However his guilt did not drive him to injure himself. In fact, it inspired to deepen his faith, and strengthen his believe. We know this because of what we read later in the New Testament.

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.
But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does. The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:1-8)

There is not just a little bit of questioning as to whether it was Simon Peter who wrote I & II Peter. In any case, Peter seems to have taken up a position of leadership in the early Christian church that bespeaks to a maturing and deepening of faith. I like to think that the travail he went through at Jesus’ death forced him to dig deeper into his own soul and spirit. But I suspect we are getting a little bit ahead of ourselves. Let us look instead at the psalm passage that was written for times of stress and difficulty.

In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.” (Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16)

Words, prayers, petitions, and intercessions fervently and sincerely made will give good results. Let us remember that at this in-between time. Selah!

 

 

Transfiguration Sunday: The Epistle Passage – Listen to my “old friend” Peter

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (II Peter 1:16 – 17)

I have made it no secret how much I look to and admire the apostle Peter. And if the writer of II Peter (and I Peter) is the apostle Peter, than it explains why I like these two letters also. Paul has admiration and respect. Peter has my love and gratitude. How can one not love a man who stumbled his way to understanding Jesus Christ and emerged as one of the founding builders of the Christian church.

“We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” (Verses 18 – 19)

We will hear later in the week a more first hand account of the Jesus on the mountain top with Peter and others. It did not go quite as smoothly at the time in comparison to Peter’s hindsight. But he does well to draw his reader’s attention to it.

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (Verses 20 – 21)

I take very seriously his advice. I have discovered over the years that what I have written does not stem purely from my own understanding. There have been too many times I have looked back at what I wrote and thought, “Now how did I come up with that reflection/commentary?” There have been times I have stumbled through writing on scripture and can clearly see my human efforts at exegesis or explanation. And I blush at the simplicity of it. Other times I have no explanation as to how I thought of it, and can only conclude as Paul concludes, the glory and boasting is of God. And if you think I am bragging about me . . . well, you need to take Paul’s perspective as seriously as I do!

But Peter, he knows it is not through human will or understanding. He says clearly it is the movement of the Holy Spirit. Because Peter knows his limits, as I know mine. So we both commend to you following the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. May you find your understanding there. Selah!