“Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land. Live in this way, knowing that you were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb. Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God. As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.”
Last Sunday we began taking a look at the First Letter of Peter. We saw how Peter encouraged believers to offer enthusiastic praise to God. We talked about believing in Jesus even though we have not seen him. We realized how important it is for us to show people how we love God so they begin to love God as well. Peter was writing to believers living in communities where Christianity was not the majority religion. Sometimes these people faced persecution that ranged from name-calling to physical violence. Christian believers lived among Greco-Roman pagans in these communities where they were expected to participate in the pagan worship practices around them. Confessing a faith that was exclusive to one God made the Christians look like pretty intolerant and stubborn people…This put them at odds with the pagans who worshipped many gods. Christians were scorned because they only believed in Jesus and they shunned people who did not agree with them. It is important that we realize who Peter was speaking to and that he was trying to offer them hope.
There is much in this letter that should speak to us today; we find ourselves living in a culture where Christianity may not always be the majority opinion. Christians are often viewed as intolerant and exclusive and stubborn. There are plenty of intolerant people out there speaking in the name of Christianity who do not speak for all of us. The purpose of this letter is to encourage its audience in their Christian living. Peter presents a vision of Christian living that is based in God’s saving action through Jesus. He reassures them that their salvation is certain because of their belief in Jesus, no matter what their culture tells them. He reminds them that with salvation comes hope that the promises made to Israel will find their fulfillment in the Christian community. He brings all of that up so they will know that it is now their responsibility to live a life of integrity – even risking persecution and alienation – so that their Christian witness will be transparent. “Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land.” In other words, if you truly believe in a God who treats everyone equally, then you better live your life as a faithful believer so you will be judged differently from the world around you. This letter tells us that our actions must conform to the call to holiness that is implicit in our faith. We have been transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus and our lives must demonstrate the change. LOVE is the authenticating SIGN of a transformed life.
Today we hear Peter talking to believers in exile…We need to think about what that means. “Exile” may or may not be about being forced to live someplace that is not your home; it may simply be a matter of living in the midst of unfamiliarity or change. How many of you were born in Sand Springs? Raise your hand if you have moved more than three times in your life. Even if you live in the town you were born in, things may seem to be changing all around you. “I don’t know any of these new hymns.” “Who are all these new people?” “Why doesn’t everyone speak English?” Change is difficult and it can seem as if you are in exile in your own neighborhood or community, even in your own church. What I want us to notice in this letter is that it does not speak only to those First Century believers in exile. This is an “Easter letter” passed down from generation to generation, shining the bright light of hope far beyond the empty tomb. This letter tells us that, no matter what changes around us, no matter what people may say about us, nothing can take away the salvation given to us by God through Jesus Christ. As the original audience of this letter embraced the hope Peter offered them they were able to spread the Good News to their community. The influence of Peter’s words spread from these people to others and then others and the message began to transform whole communities. It is like the spreading of a wildfire where a tiny spark soon becomes a flame that spreads as the flames are fanned.
I think that is how Easter is supposed to work. The light of Christ, the light of the resurrection is supposed to spread outward from the empty tomb…that’s a familiar image. The resurrection cannot be contained any more than Jesus’ body could be contained in the tomb. The Easter story began to spread almost immediately as the women ran to tell the disciples. The power of the resurrection light is heard in the familiar Road to Emmaus story when the disciples said: “Were not our hearts burning within us while [Jesus] was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32) Even the Roman guards spread the news when they reported what had happened to the Chief Priest. Nothing – not unbelief, not malice, not grief – nothing could stop the news from spreading. The Good News of the resurrection spread like wildfire from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the very ends of the earth.
The news continues to spread today because believers are still living in various forms of exile and are hearing the hope offered in God’s Word. Those who hear and believe the good news about Jesus are being changed in profound ways. From then until now those who are new to the faith have questions…What do I do now? How should I live now? What does it mean to be redeemed? And, as this part of Peter’s letter comes to a close, we come to the most important question of all: How can we have “genuine mutual love” (v22) for one another? How can we love those with whom we disagree on basic core issues? How can we love those who hurt us? How can we love ______ (you fill in the blank)? Only when we can love as Jesus did.
“As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.” If we genuinely love other people, regardless of our differences and our disagreements, the life-giving word of God will have the power to transform the world. Jesus sent his disciples out to spread the news; today he is sending you out…Start spreading the news! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.