Sermon, Easter 7A
Suffering…with HOPE Not Surprised and Resistant
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen. John 17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
NOT SHOCKED AND AWED
I remember back in the 2000’s when in a pre-emptive strike on Iraqi soil, the US military machine delivered what I remember George Bush naming as a new tactic in war – the “Shock and Awe” tactic. The idea was to hit the enemy so hard and fast that they were simply shocked and totally overwhelmed by it. If this happened, it was hoped that the Iraqi’s would just cave in. Good theory; but it did not work. The Iraqi’s proved to be not so “shocked and awed” by show of force. They demonstrated more “lack of surprise and resistance” than thought possible.
”NOT SURPRISED, AND RESISTANT”
According to the Apostle, Peter, “Shock and Awe” cannot work on us either. Or at least is does not need to. No, he suggests that the faith-filled way to deal with the enemies we face like suffering, evil and the Evil one, might be named, ”Not Surprised and Resistant”
Peter tells us that we should not be at all surprised that suffering and evil are with us. He calls this the “the fiery ordeal”. This could be a reference to the persecutions centred in Rome under that crazy Caesar, Nero after AD 64, and his burning of Christians or his throwing of them and other innocent people to the lions in the Colosseum.
SUFFERING AND EVIL ARE REAL But Peter means more than that. All through his letter to communities of Christians in Asia Minor, he has spoken of the reality of evil and suffering and persecution in their lives. Many suggest that the Christians in these places have been suffering under persecution too – not of being thrown in jail or to the Lions, but in other ways – being cut out of business in town, being refused membership at places in town, being ignored and devalued, being dismissed as pitiful and being generally ridiculed for their faith in the resurrected Jesus. So, they are more like us than we might have thought. Whatever their suffering, persecution and evil, Peter says they and we have no need to be at all surprised by any of this persecution. Nor should we be surprised at the presence and intent of the Evil One, evil people or evil situations we may find ourselves in.
NOT A DISMISSIVE GOD I find it of great comfort that Peter acknowledges the ongoing presence of Evil and the experience we have of suffering and loss. Just naming this is real is so very important. It tells me that God does not dismiss our pain and suffering. He names it.
AT WORST – A TEST But the truly comforting thing too is that as Peter names the Evil One, Evil and suffering for these people, he does not speak of defeat or fear or some unwinnable war in which we are destined to lose our relationship with the Lord. It is striking that in our text there is just no hint of despair at suffering or defeat at the presence of evil. There is clear acknowledgement of it. There is no sweeping these realities under the carpet; but just no fear at all. No, instead of that, Peter names this evil, this Evil One and this suffering we know as “testing”. At its very worse, suffering and evil and even the Devil himself are only capable of “testing us, not destroying us.
A GOOD TESTING And this is a “test” in a good sense, not in a vindictive sense. This “testing” (“peirazo” in the Greek) that we experience is God being like a caring teacher of a young student. The teacher sets the test primarily not to find out what the student has not learned but much more to discover what the student has learned so that this can be built on. The point of the test is not to pull down and intimidate and punish but to raise up and help learning and find the truth of what needs to be further worked on. So, evil and suffering and the prowling presence of the Evil One at worst is a “testing” of what can be built on and raised up for the Christian. It sure does not feel like this! We know that we are not Goliaths in our inner strength and faith and ability to avoid being chewed up and spat out by suffering. I guess that is why Jesus gives us his prayer to pray – a lot. “Deliver us from evil”, heavenly Father. “Save us from ties of hard testing”, he prays with us…
NOT SURPRISED AND NOT ALONE So, instead of being surprised and shocked and broken down to fear and despair by evil and suffering it produces, Peter suggests other ways to respond to the evil and suffering we face. But friends, if we think we can do this alone or from our own resources, intellect, reason, skills or wisdom, we would be very mistaken. Peter makes it clear that we alone cannot resist evil, stay together embedded in Christ, or avoid being eaten up. If we go it alone we will cop it alone and it will get us in the end. But if believe pin our hopes on the Lord, we will see this journey through with faith and joy intact.
And here is the reality that underpins all of Peter’s gospel truth and direction to us in living together in the face of Evil, the Evil One and suffering: 1Peter 2:9 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Did you hear that – really hear it for your suffering now, for the Evil you have experienced?
ALWAYS CHOSEN In any evil, in any attempt of the evil one to eat you up, dissect your faith, disconnect you from God’s people and Jesus’ glory and power and presence, you remain chosen by God, regarded as royal as William and Kate, God’s own man and woman with a life’s purpose and meaning to tell of his grace and love as you declare great words of praise about God to others, always beyond any darkness in His light, showered with God’s mercy behind and before you…
CAN YOU HEAR HIM? Can you hear something else this morning for your suffering? Can you hear Jesus, the Great High Priest praying for you now?
7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. (John 17:11)
That is us isn’t it? The chosen and loved people of God who now know that everything Jesus has brought to the word is from the God of all creation; that Jesus of Nazareth is no mere human wise man or guru but the way, truth and life of God himself pouring out faith, hope and love on that cross for all the sinners of the world. The Prayer Leader goes on….
Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Friend, Jesus is praying for you today. He is always praying for you and for us as a local church. He prays one thing that leads to another thing.
HIS PROTECTION:OUR ONENESS He prays for protection from the doubt, suffering and despair that the Evil One attempts to eat us up with. And with unshakable vision and trust in his heavenly Father and ours, the Prayer Leader then proclaims that as we remain safe in his Word we remain together in him – we will be one with him and our Heavenly Father – we will continue to be a local community of God’s people embedded in God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit where…
Romans 8:37 37 ….. in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Friend, whatever your pain today, whatever your great suffering, whatever your longing, your praying for God’s help, your doubts, fears and experience of evil, the worst any of this can ever be for the baptised and loved person of Christ is a test to find the good, the longer lasting, the hope, the peace, the love. That’s as bad as it gets for us in Christ and as good as it gets. Only now can we leave here with a solid grip on God’s word to face our evil and suffering and do what Peter says to do;
• “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
• Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
• Be alert and of sober mind.
• Resist him, standing firm in the faith
• “…..you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings”. In other words, find great strength from God in this community – who each to a person have their story of faith and of God’s presence and help in suffering.
As we live these things together, we will not be surprised, unaware, shocked and pulled apart by whatever comes our way in these days and years ahead, but we will be together, chosen, anxiety free, not self-proud, not being smashed around by life, not a toy for the Devil to play with, but convinced of who we are and whose we are and where we’re headed – even able to travel light as strangers and travellers in a world that is not our real home as we wait for the day approaching. Holy Father, protect us in your name that you have given Jesus, so that we may be one, as Jesus and You are one. Amen.
Read both the 1Peter text and the gospel text from John 17 carefully noting your own responses and questions and hare these.
As a mature Christian, how have you come to view suffering generally? What have you learnt about suffering and faith and how they work in your life? Share any responses.
Peter suggest that we need not be shocked and awed by suffering or evil or the presence and work of the Evil One. Share about a time when you suffered greatly, experiences a great evil or sensed the Evil One….
Peter says that suffering is real and part of our Christin walk and yet, he displays no fear or retreat in how he deals with it. he suggests that at its very worst, suffering and persecution and evil can only be test for those who are God’s chosen, holy and loved people. How have you been tested in suffering lately?
This word “test” was likened to a school teacher testing his students for all the good reasons – not to punish or deliberately make thing hard but to identify what has been learned and what can be built upon. So we said that suffering and evil are the same – used by the Lord to get us to the truth and see where we can be built up and encouraged on. How does this strike you? Something you already know and are glad to hear it again or something new and to be thought abut a little more? Which one and why?
Read that beautiful Romans 8 text in the sermon and encourage each other with them – especially in the specific areas of suffering people are experiencing at the moment.
Jesus prays for our protection fro suffering and evil and the Evil One. he does this so that we can remain one with each other and him. What do you think this means as we go about living out our faith a local church? Share your thoughts.
Pray the Lord’s prayer with special emphasis on the petition to “deliver us from evil” and pray for each other – for protection by Jesus and unity and solidarity together in people’s hardships at the moment.