December 14, 2014, Advent 3

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

Third Sunday of Advent

December 14, 2014

First Peter 1:1-5

 

It’s the third Sunday of Advent and today we’re looking at the third non-tangible gift that we might receive this Christmas—one of the gifts made possible by the coming of Jesus—the gift of hope.

For my text this morning, we’re in First Peter.   Let me give you a bit of background of this letter addressed to a series of churches in the northern area of what we now know as the country of Turkey.  The letter was probably written in the last quarter of the first century.  Peter encourages these churches as they strive to live as Christians in a hostile world.  Although the return address on the letter is Peter’s, there has been some debate among scholars as to whether or not it was written by Peter the fisherman (if so, he certainly had some help with his Greek grammar).  The letter doesn’t go into details of Peter’s life, but instead focuses on the lives of the recipients.[1]

As we listen to these opening verses, think about what it means to be faithful to the one whose birth we celebrate in less than two weeks.  Think about the hope we have in Jesus Christ.  Read 1 Peter 1:1-12.

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Let me tell you about a time in my life.  I woke up at precisely 6 A.M. the radio crackled with the Star Spangled Banner.  KSIS was returning to the airways with its 58 watts of power dedicated to covering the Wood River Valley.  During the summer I had come to depend upon the station (the only one I could get) as an alarm clock.  I would leave my radio on at night, as the station went off air at midnight, assured that in the morning I’d be rousted out of bed with patriotic furor.  Normally, I would jump out of bed, dress quickly and head down to the lodge and start a fire in the potbellied stove to knock the chill out of the air.  In the Idaho Mountains, it could be quite chilly in the early morning hours, even during the summer.  But on this day, I was not too quick to jump out of bed. I was fearful of what was ahead.  I laid there, warm under the covers, listening to the Star Spangled Banner, and then the news and the weather.  Although it was in the mid-30s at camp, the temperature in the desert to the south would spike above 100 that afternoon.

It was the day after Labor Day, my last day at a camp in Idaho.  In the kitchen, the cooks were preparing the last meal of the season for the few of us who were still on site.  Over a cup of coffee, we talked and laughed about the summer.  But inside, my stomach churned as I thought about leaving the familiar setting of camp and heading for the unknowns of Nevada.  The year was 1988; I’d taken a break from the seminary classroom to devote a year serving as a student pastor for a church in a small mountain town in Nevada.

As a naive seminarian, Nevada appeared as a den of iniquity.  Saloons and casinos that never closed, gambling and prostitution; I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into.

The following afternoon, after having driven across the desert and up the steep and windy road up to Virginia City, I stopped in front of the rickety white wooden church on C Street.  The doors were locked. For a few moments I stood on the porch, looking down Six-mile Canyon toward a rock formation known as Sugarloaf.  There were plenty of people on the streets, but no one seemed to notice me.  Everyone assumed I was just another tourist.

A couple minutes later, I headed down the boardwalk to the Bucket of Blood, a saloon where I had been instructed to pick up the keys for the church and for the little house where I would be living. I have to admit, it seemed a little odd for my first task being to call on a place named the Bucket of Blood.  The sun was warm and although the peak of the tourist season was over, there were still quite a few tourists on C Street, vying for the slot machines that stood just inside the doors of all the establishments adjacent to the boardwalk.   The noise of the electronic bandits and the smell of the sausage dogs and spilt beer overwhelmed me.  Again, I wondered, “What am I getting myself into?”

It’s hard for me now to think back about how I felt when I first went to Virginia City.  I was nervous.  I didn’t gamble and I’d never been inside a casino.  I’d never lived in a place where, on a given Sunday, only a handful of folks would be in church.  Needless to say, I was nervous, but I have to say things worked out and that year is one of the more memorable years of my life.  That Christmas Eve was a holy event (If you’re interested, I’ll post more about it in my blog later this week.[2]  That’s a teaser!)

Living in Nevada forced me to think hard about what it means to follow Jesus when, many times, being faithful to him means that we have to live differently than the society in which we find ourselves.  As a follower of Jesus, by refusing to go along with certain accepted things, we stick out.  This is the world in which those who followed Jesus in the first century lived, but it is also the world in which we now live.  A few decades ago, two scholars wrote a book titled Resident Alien: Life in the Christian Colony.[3] Their thesis is that the world has changed and as Christians, we’re the outsiders.  So, how do we live as resident aliens?

In the first sentence of Peter’s letter, we learn that its intended recipients are “exiles from the Dispersion.”  Now the Dispersion refers to those Jews who lived, at this time in history, throughout the Mediterranean region.  After Babylon, Jewish enclaves were established through that part of the world and, as we know from early church history, Paul and Peter and other Apostles often found a receptive ear in these communities.  If you think about Paul’s travels in Acts, his first place to visit in a new city, if it had one, was the synagogue.

But Peter isn’t writing to those in the synagogue, instead it is thought he’s writing to those who have been exiled or booted out of the synagogue (The exiled of the Dispersion).  In a religious sense, these are homeless people.  They are a minority to start with, but then they’re not wanted any more at the synagogue.  Because they are followers of Jesus, because they are disciples, they find themselves exiled from the community that was, in a sense, already exiled.

Think about the world in which they lived.  Most of their neighbors worshipped the ancient gods as well as Caesar.  For them, God in the flesh was the emperor in Rome.  If you lived in this world, you were expected to pay homage to the gods and to Caesar with a loophole provided for the Jews.  As the early Christians found themselves no longer a part of the Jewish minority, they had nowhere to go, in a sense they were “twice-exiled.”

But there is good news to these “twice-shunned” believers.  Peter’s language carries overtones of predestination (which by the way, didn’t begin with John Calvin or Augustine, but with the writings of Paul and Peter).  By the way, predestination essentially means that God has things under control and we’re in His hands and apart of his plan.  As much as we like the thought of free-will, the theology of predestination is only popular when things are in turmoil.  It implies an act of faith in the goodness of God despite the troubles of the world.

Peter reminds his readers that they have been chosen and destined by God.  So even though they may feel like out-casts, God is with them.  Furthermore, they’re sanctified by the Spirit and have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, the one to whom they are obedient.  Peter, in the very first sentence, packs in the theology: all three members of the Trinity are lifted up as well as God’s gracious sovereignty, Jesus’ atonement and our need for sanctification.

Then, in verse 3, Peter begins to lay out the hope they have in Jesus Christ.  In the Greek, this is all one long run-on sentence, going all the way to verse 12.  Luckily, for us, the translators have broken the sentence up into smaller chunks even though by modern standards they’re still pretty long sentences.  In this super-sentence, Peter acknowledges the trouble his readers are facing, the trials they’re enduring, but he reminds them that their inheritance is intact.   Hold on, be obedient to Jesus, for it is in him that we have hope.   Even though it may not always seem like it, they are being protected by God and their future is bright.

Now, let’s face it, whatever tribulation we face today is nothing when compared to what Christians in the first three centuries faced, or even the challenges faced by many Christians today in other parts of the world.  Yet, we have our own problems and must remember that our first loyalty as a disciple of Jesus is to him, the one in whom we have our hope.  We’re to live in this world filled with values that run counter to the gospel.  But we lives here as resident aliens—whose lives are committed to the Lord into whom we have hope.

Christmas is the season of hope!  There is hope for all people, but especially those who are often overlooked by society, such as the readers of Peter’s letter.  But that’s the way God works.  Think of Mary, as we heard earlier, a nobody living in a second-rate town in a distant part of the world who is chosen to be the mother of Jesus.  It wasn’t because she was particular pious.  The decision that she carry God’s son was because of God’s graciousness.

In fact, the whole Christmas story is about hope being provided to those who often are without it.  Think of who gets invited to the stable… You’ve got the shepherds.  These guys were dirty and lived outdoors and weren’t exactly the pillars of the community.  And then there are the magi, the wise men from the east, foreigners, who were out-of-place in a Jewish society that longed for purity.  But it is to those on the margin who witnesses the miracle, who experiences the hope that comes into the world with the birth of a Savior.

We, too, are offered such hope.   Yes, as Peter points out, life isn’t always going to be rosy, but that doesn’t matter because we know things aren’t the way they should be.  But because we have faith in Jesus Christ, we endure. We live in eternal hope that is only possible for those who have been chosen and destined by God.  This Christmas, receive the gift of hope and consider what a difference it makes to your life and to the lives of those around you.  Live in hope!  Amen.

 

©2014

[1] The places in the letter that allude to Peter’s authorship is the first verse and a few verses in chapter five.  See Donald Senior, “First Peter Introduction” in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), 2181-2182.

[2] My blog can be found at:  www.thepulpitandthepen.com

[3] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Alients: Life in the Christian Colony, (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989).


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