A sermon on 1 Peter 3:8-18 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on May 17, 2020, Sixth Sunday after Resurrection of the Lord.
Introduction: A Dream of a Passage
As we continue on in our “Fifty Days of Resurrection Hope,” I continue to feel and to know that God has given us the gift of 1 Peter (right in our Lectionary readings!) as if to say to us I’ve got this. Here’s what you need.
Right now, we’re all thinking about coming back together. Some of you, I’m sure, wish that we would meet in-person sooner. Surely, I burst some balloons by delaying our coming together until June 7. You might be wondering, What is he thinking!? Well, as I mentioned in my response to the lifting of the Stay-at-Home order, I believe that we need to be focused on not so much what will change as much as what God is doing in that change.
And I’ve got my dream passage to help us do that right here! Today, as we consider “Lessons on How to Share Hope,” from 1 Peter 3:8-18, the Lord is going to meet us and show us 1) the internal attitudes we need to have to make coming back together work and 2) the external attitudes we need to maintain an effective and open Gospel witness to our community.
Five Marks of a Resurrection Hope-filled Community (v.8)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
Unity of mind (homophrōn) & Humility of mind (tapeinophrōn)
The word Peter uses here for unity of mind means to be likeminded and harmonious. How do we do that when there are so many divergent opinions on how to move forward? Well first of all, we have to be willing to honor those God has placed in authority over us. This includes our Governor and our Bishop. I think there is a reason that these marks begin and end with our state of mind – the list begins with unity of mind and ends with humility of mind. You cannot have one without the other. In order to have unity of mind, each of us, including myself, has to have the humility to defer to others and take council.
Secondly, if we want to have unity of mind and humility of mind, we have to remember that we must prize essentials over secondary matters, especially in the time we’re in. To put it mildly, some folks are fired up right now! Fired up over masks, fired up over temperature taking. And don’t even get me started about the conspiracy theories!
Brothers and sisters, we must be centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Both for the sake of our own soul and the souls in our community. The further we move away from the Gospel, the more fractured we become. The closer to we move together under the cross of Jesus Christ, the greater unity of mind we will have.
Lastly, we remember that this mindset we’re talking about, belongs, above all, to Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.” (Philippians 2:5-6)
Sympathy (sympathēs) & a Tender Heart (eusplagchnos)
These second and fourth words both carry the sense of having compassion for one another. The second word, “tender hearted,” literally means “having strong bowels” and is related to the word used to describe Jesus’ compassion upon the crowds he ministered to. It carries the sense of deep, sympathetic, emotional love.
How do we in the church continue on together when we disagree about how to respond to the Coronavirus? Quiet simply, we love each other. We can disagree. And we can continue in fellowship as we disagree. That’s the mature thing to do in Christ. Of course, we have also have to have a plan when we come together corporately, and that’s what Vestry is praying over right now. They need your prayers – I need your prayers. And we all need a tender heart toward one another.
Brotherly Love (philadelphos)
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes, “In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
Our fellowship as brothers and sisters in Christ bears the marks of his having chosen us – and chosen us to love each other as family members in the body of Christ.
So let me pause here and return to the question What is God doing? For one, he is forming these things in us. By his Holy Spirit, he is causing us to bear good fruit. In the last two months I’ve seen people in this church love each other in ways I’ve never seen before. I’ve seen you share things with each other that you’ve never shared before. I’ve seen you pray for each other in ways you never have before. The Lord is refining the quality of our fellowship in Christ. I trust him to continue that as we approach June 7th.
Honoring Christ … With Gentleness and Respect (Vs. 14b-15)
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.
Three things from these verses.
First of all, we are to have no fear. Here, Peter is referencing the possibility of persecution from outside the church. And here I say, we are to have no fear, not only of them, but IT! We do not cower in fear over the Coronavirus. We are not trying to create a congregation of germaphobes! That’s not our goal! And we’re certainly not going to give way to those who will criticize the church for regathering.
No, but rather, secondly, we will honor Christ the Lord as holy. We will set him a part as the One we give allegiance to. We will gather to worship him and declare the “excellencies of [him] who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) We will declare that he and he alone has defeated death and has given us new life in him and a hope like no other.
But, thirdly, says Peter, we must do so with gentleness and respect. Let our conduct in this time pave the way for our Gospel witness, and let our conduct be consistent with the Jesus we speak of. We want to communicate gentleness and respect as we come back together.
During the outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in 16th century Europe, Martin Luther gave this advice:
You ought to think this way: “Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly offal. Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God. (Martin Luther, Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague)
Let me put it this way, Being a Christian in this time should not make us careless, nor overcome with cares, but, rather, full of care.
Let me end by coming back to the question What is God doing? once more and focusing on it externally. I believe that one of his other purposes here is to expand our Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting ministry. We might not all like the fact that we’re going to be permanently live streaming services, but it will give those who are unsure about visiting more of a glass door to look through than an opaque one.
I believe that more people are going to drawn into what the Lord is doing here because of our thoughtful and care-filled response. I believe that disciples are going to be built up here. I believe that new faith is going to be fed here. I believe that families are going to find a home in the Faith here. I believe the Lord is building us up in the eyes of the watching world, not tearing us down.
In the days ahead, would you join with me in praying that we discern and clearly see God’s purpose for the days ahead?
We give all the glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.