A Letter to Exiles & Misfits

by susan on May 6, 2014

trellis 2It is the Easter season, and we are moving through the letter of 1st Peter as we wonder what it means to practice resurrection.  In this letter addressed to Christians struggling with the realities of persecution, we are confronted with words of hope and challenge.  This Sunday, we explored how habits guide us to experience new life.  The digital message can be found here.

A Habit of Living
1 Peter 1:3-5, 13-21

What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven—and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you’ll have it all—life healed and whole.  

13-16 So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”

17 You call out to God for help and he helps—he’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.  18-21 Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.                                                                  (The Message translation)

If there is anything I have learned about our church & about this neighborhood, it’s that we are a group of dreamers and schemers. Some of our dreams have become reality, while others are still simmering and still others are yet to be realized

Sometimes, there are specific reasons why our ideas stay only ideas. Sometimes it is for the best. Other times, there is no real explanation. It can just be a thousand tiny things that led us in a different direction. We may have set out down one path, and now find ourselves in a completely unforseen place.

It has been said that, “We are what we repeatedly do”. Maybe we can also say, “we become what we repeatedly do. We are shaped by the tiny things we do everyday. This can be a good thing. And, it can also be a problem…
especially when what we repeatedly do is
careless
or selfish
or meaningless
or harmful.

We are what we repeatedly do. Not just what we do in our spectacular moments.
So, while we set out to achieve something grand, it is our habits that really define us.
It’s what we do every day that matters most.

A couple of weeks ago, many of us gathered here and celebrated resurrection. Resurrection, new life is what defines us as Christ-followers. Because Christ is alive, we can overcome death – here and now and in the age to come. We are not dead, we are alive in Christ.

It sounds good, but what does that really mean?
And, what does it look like in the everyday moments of our lives?

These must have been the questions on the minds of early believers of the Way, especially for those who had been forced to flee their homes under horrible persecution.  Today, we begin moving through the letter of 1st Peter.  It is part of the writings of early Christian leaders that also includes James, 1st, 2nd & 3rd John and Jude. This particular letter was written around 81 years after the death of Christ, or 81 years after the resurrection. While it’s unlikely that Peter himself wrote the letter, it was written by someone representing him – perhaps a student or mentee of his, someone how knew his teachings well.

Peter, we know from stories about him was an eager, confident and at times arrogant disciple of Jesus. He was often first to respond in a conversation and he was also first to express outrage at the thought that he would ever deny Jesus.

Peter had been forever changed by following Jesus. He had been changed by the forgiveness that he had received after denying he ever even knew Jesus. He knew first hand about what it meant to be given new life and a second chance.

Peter was passionate. He announced the good news wherever he could.
In the book of Acts, Peter declared it in front of religious leaders and skeptics. those who either did not understand or did not believe what had happened. They watched as the spirit was poured out on a collection of different people and thought the only explanation was that were under the influence. In his bold speech, Peter told these doubters that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah and went as far as to say that if they, their children and even those who were far away repented and were baptized, they could receive the gift of the spirit.

The good news was for everyone and it was meant to transform everyday life into something extraordinary.

It was in this spirit, that a letter was written. It was a letter to persecuted Christians now living in Roman provinces of Asia minor. It was a letter to exiles forced to leave home; it was a letter to misfits and marginalized human beings.

We have already heard part of the letter read from The Message translation and what this translation does well is help us hear ancient words in our context. It helps us hear what this letter would sound like if it had been written today.

The writer begins with encouragement, always a good place to start. He reminds these fearful Christians of the good things that have already happened. He tells them that a day is coming when all will be revealed, when all will be made right. He reminds them though, that even now in the hardships they face, God is at work.

He also gives them some advice. Beginning in v. 13 he writes:
So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now.

Apparently, these early Christians had a habit of reverting to an “old way” of doing things. Out of fear and desperation, they were resorting to pagan worship. They were defaulting to cultural trends. They were relying on the faith of their ancestors and had little faith of their own.

And, these old ways of being in the world were not helping them to experience & share new life.

Can’t we relate to this?
Are there habits, things we do everyday that we know are not life-giving, yet we continue to do them everyday? (In fact, we may even know that they are sucking any hope of experiencing the fullness of life right out of us…and those around us, yet we keep doing them.)

Connecting what we do everyday with the life-giving ways of God has always been a challenge. Into that challenge, the writer of 1st Peter also instructs believers:  As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.

Before they heard and experienced Christ, they didn’t know what they were made for – now they did. Before, they were ignorant, now they know they serve a purpose: they were to be holy. The Greek word translated “holy” (hag-ee-on) means set apart for God in every way for God’s good work now and in the age to come.

Being set apart for God means that the things that mark God’s work in the world should also mark you and your work in the world. You don’t just do something because you feel like it. You are intentional, making decisions based on your new identity, your new allegiance, your new purpose.

You want to know what it means to be alive in Christ? It means you don’t have to continue lifeless habits. You don’t have to perpetuate practices that keep leading you down dead-end paths. You can choose another path. The path is this: Let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life. The New Revised Standard Version translates that phrase different. It simply says “discipline yourselves”.

See, we are not just going to stumble upon resurrection living. New life in Christ takes some getting used to – we can’t just rely on feeling or desire any more – we have to prepare for it and practice it. Lifeless habits will need to be destroyed. Autopilot, empty routines won’t work now. And, there are new habits that need to be formed.

The challenge to practice new life in Christ has been around forever. One of the responses since the early days of Christianity is known as a Rule of Life. They knew if left to their own devices, they would revert to what they had always known, they would give in to immature desires, they would default to dominant cultural trends.

Communities of Christ followers developed rules for their individual and community life. They were referred to as a “Rule of Life”. A rule of life functioned like a trellis. In fact, the word “trellis” actually has its root in Greek word “rule”. A trellis is a structure that enables a grapevine to get off the ground and grow upward, becoming more fruitful and productive. In the same way, a Rule of Life, a new set of habits can be the trellis that helps us grow in this new life in Christ.

Brothers and sisters, marginalized misfits, do we want to experience new life in Christ? Do we want to practice resurrection? Then we must start with the everyday moments of our lives.

Jesus-centered, life-giving habits pull us into new life. We need rhythms that help us connect with God and with each other, rhythms that encourage us when we fight losing our way. Habits of peace, love, reconciliation, justice, habits of compassion, hospitality and forgiveness, habits of caring for the earth are a good place to start.

I wonder…
What might happen if we began breaking lifeless habits and making new, life-giving ones?  What might change in our lives, in our community and in our world?

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