Living Hope

Published: Monday, 24 April 2017

This sermon was presented by Geoff Pound on 23 April 2017 at the Ashburton Baptist Church. It is the first in a new series in the first letter of Peter. Questions for personal and group study are listed after the sermon manuscript.

230417 GP LivingHopeScripture Reading: 1 Peter 1:1 - 12

A man in a hot air balloon realised he was lost. So he reduced altitude and spotted a woman on the ground below.

He descended a bit more and shouted, “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised a friend I’d meet him an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am”.

The woman below replied, “You’re in a hot air balloon hovering approximately 30 feet above the ground. You’re between 40 and 41 degrees north latitude and between 59 and 60 degrees west longitude.”

The balloonist said: “You must be an engineer”,

The woman said, “I am. How did you know”?

The balloonist said, “Well, everything you told me is technical but I’ve no idea what to make of your information and the fact is I’m still lost. Frankly, you’ve not been much help at all. If anything, you’ve delayed my trip.”

The woman below responded, “You must be in Management”.

The balloonist said, “I am. How did you know?”

She said, “Well, you don’t know where you are or where you’re going. You have risen to where you are due to a large quantity of hot air. You made a promise, which you’ve no idea how to keep, and you expect people beneath you to solve your problems. The fact is you are in exactly the same position you were in before we met, but now, somehow, it’s my fault.”[1]

The recipients of the first letter of Peter were like this balloonist, unsure of where they were, uncertain of where they were going and disoriented.

We modern day readers might also derive great benefit from this letter especially if we too are feeling let down and deflated.

Peter is writing this group letter to people scattered across modern day Turkey. They’re living 30 - 50 years after the first Easter. While the writer claims apostleship as one who had seen Jesus, those receiving this letter had never seen him so Peter is writing this pastoral letter of encouragement.

The address and greeting on the envelope describes them as ‘exiles’, (v1) meaning they don’t have the advantages of citizenship like voting rights, the freedom to own property.

We don’t know whether these were disenfranchised people who came to believe in Jesus or whether they became disadvantaged because they were Christians. They are people on the margins, subject to verbal abuse and they are doing it tough.

Often, we may describe ourselves as Australians or Victorians or Melburnians, but at the outset Peter encourages these strangers and sojourners, to find their identity not in their culture or citizenship but in the three-fold person of God:

Listen to how he addresses his letter:

To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood (1-2):

Don’t worry if you can’t pass the citizenship test or denied a passport…

You have been chosen, elected by God.

Don’t be concerned if you’ve been disempowered.

You are being sanctified by the Spirit as you are being obedient to Jesus Christ.

Don’t be disheartened if the authorities have reduced your benefits.

May grace and peace be yours in abundance. (2)

A few years ago the Washington Post hired a violinist to play in the DC train station. On the Friday morning at rush hour a young man appears in jeans, a long sleeved T-shirt and a baseball cap.

He takes out his violin, throws a few bucks into his open case as seeding money and he begins to play.

As the workers walk from their train to their office, will they stop to listen?

Will they recognize the violinist?

Will they throw any money into his case as an expression of their thanks?

In the next 43 minutes the violinist plays six classical pieces starting with one of the great and complicated compositions from Johann Sebastian Bach.

The acoustics are surprisingly kind. The sound bounces around the Metro walls with resonance. This is no cheap performance. This violinist makes his instrument talk!

He plays with acrobatic enthusiasm, his body leans into the music and he arches on tiptoes at the high notes. It sounds like a symphony as it swells through the subway.

No one knows that the fiddler at the top of the escalators is one of the finest classical musicians in the world. Joshua Bell had been playing at the Boston Symphony Orchestra a couple of nights earlier, to over the top accolades.

His instrument was made in 1713, a Stradivarius worth $3.5 million. But this morning he’s just a busker competing for the attention of busy people on their way to work.

So what happens? Three minutes goes by before anything happens. Sixty-three people pass before someone turns for a split second to see the guy playing music. Half a minute later Bell gets his first donation. In the 45 minutes only seven people stop to listen for longer than a minute. Of the 1070 people who pass, only 27 give some money and most of it is flung on the run. At the end Joshua Bell counts up the collection. $32.17 to a man whose talents can command $1,000 a minute.

We can see it all on YouTube.[2] The awkward times for Joshua Bell were right after each piece. The music stops. Nothing happens. No applause. No acknowledgement. So nervously he starts playing his next piece, Ave Maria.

Here he is—one of the world’s greatest musicians but no one really sees and hears. Even though this fiddler plays with grace and fluidity—he seems so apart from his audience—unseen, unheard and ignored!

Peter’s letter to these scattered disheartened Christians is to slow down. Pay attention to the music. The Risen Christ who appeared incognito in the cemetery Garden and on the Emmaus road is with you in your small corner. Open your eyes to the blessings that fall upon you like Autumn leaves:

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 

The call is to be attentive. Count your many blessings. Reflect on the resurrection gifts we’ve received—great mercy! New Birth! Living hope![3]

Then Peter says that this isn’t all. There’s more to come. By this new birth we can look forward to receiving a valuable endowment (v4):

an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 

Often when we are planning a trip across the Tasman to visit our 90 something year old parents I say to them jokingly: “We’re coming over to inspect the inheritance!” They always reply: “We’re spending it!” Judging by the fact that this weekend they’re roaming around Rotorua and Lake Taupo, they’re not joking.

Peter says, there’s an inheritance for you that is inflation-proofed. It will never be spent. It will never drop in value. It is kept for you.[4]

A few decades ago, lots of songs we sang in church had many references to the second coming of Christ, to heaven, to life ‘away, away over Jordan’ and our home in Beulah land.

Many of these songs were sentimental. Many claimed to know too much about the furniture of heaven and the temperature of hell. Then we went through a phase of speaking in a derogatory way of ‘pie in the sky when you die’. Heaven and the after-life went out of fashion.

When you visit an Afro-American church and hear the singing, their music throbs with references to heaven. Their spirituals were composed in times of hardship and slavery. Life was so punishing. The greatest joy was in considering the freedom of the life to come.

Peter is writing here to believers who were suffering, to people who had lost loved ones and so he calls them to consider not only the riches of the present but to reflect on the inheritance that awaits them.

See this first reference to their suffering in verses 6 and 7?

In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

One of the most popular tourism sites in Western Australia is the Perth Mint.[5] It’s been there since the 19th century and they take you on a fascinating tour. They show you the huge gold nuggets like the Normandy Nugget, the second largest existing gold nugget weighing 25.5 kg, that was found in Kalgoorlie.

The tour culminates inside at a furnace before you can buy or sell some gold. There they stoke the fires and when it reaches the right temperature they put different sorts of metal from the mines through the hot refining fires. The lights are off as you watch and feel the flames.

There’s magnificent drama as the gold pourer pours out this hot white liquid into the moulds to make gold bars and medallions.

Peter acknowledges that his readers are suffering various trials. So much suffering is absolutely evil and terrible but Peter remembers the goldsmith working at the furnace.

He says that one of the positive benefits can be that our faith is tested through the fires.[6] When we live through the heat such hardship sorts the fool’s gold from the genuine. The fire separates the dross from the faith that is fair dinkum. Suffering can strengthen our faith.[7] Our mixed motives can be purified.

And Peter pictures that moment when the precious gold is poured and people watch with wonder and say ‘Wow’. Because God has been with us through the fiery furnace like Daniel, Shadrach Meshach and Abednego,[8] the result will be praise and glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. (v7)

At the beginning of Holy Week in Egypt, bombs exploded in two Coptic Churches killing 44 people and injuring many more. The response of the Copts was amazing.[9] There was anger and grief but then they responded with expressions of forgiveness. After these Palm Sunday tragedies, the services during Holy Week doubled in attendance and the Christians were flowing out onto the streets.[10]

One of the most popular television commentators was seen viewing the footage of a woman grieving the loss of her husband. This new widow expressed forgiveness to the killers and after the interview, the commentator paused in silent astonishment for 12 long seconds.

Then he said, “The Christians of Egypt…are made of…steel…How great is this amount of forgiveness you have???...If it was my father, I could never say this!” These people have so much forgiveness—this is their faith and religious conviction. These people are made from a different substance!”[11]

Peter continues his address:

Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Although you have not seen him, you love him…

Doesn’t this sound so like Jesus in his words to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” John 20: 29.

“you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy…”

Sometimes when we reflect on the wonders of God and the grace made available through salvation, which Peter goes on to say (v10-12) were foretold by the prophets, we too, find it all too indescribable. Words cannot express our joy. Let me finish with an example:

Buddy Shurden tells of one of those indescribable and unfathomable episodes.[12] He and his wife, Kay, were visiting the beautiful Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Flowers, trees, grass, butterflies, birds—were all dressed in their spring best. It was an incomparable day. Stepping high, he said, his life was light and airy. 

He said, “We walked into the little Gothic chapel in the midst of the woodlands. Beautiful, gorgeous music came from the Moeller pipe organ. Only four other people were present. We sat in silence. We listened. We prayed.”

“Suddenly, unexpectedly and without warning, tears formed in my eyes. Then I began to cry. Quickly my crying became uncontrollable sobs. After a couple of minutes of my ‘where-in-the-world-did-this-come-from’ sobbing and not a little of embarrassment, Kay whispered, ‘We have to go, Buddy.’ She led me out of the chapel and away from whatever it was that had churned my soul.”

He said, “For years I had absolutely no idea what happened to me that day in that little chapel, how or why my spring joy birthed such sobs. Only recently did I get a sliver of insight into that experience.”

“The best interpretations I have, come from William Sloane Coffin and Richard Rohr. In a sermon at Riverside Church in New York City Coffin said, “There are moments of grace in this world so deep and true and painful that tears come to the eye not for grief, but because the universe is so true at that moment.”

And then, he said, he found this in Rohr:

"I think a Christian is one who, along with Jesus, agrees to feel, to suffer the pain of the world. But we can’t stop there. Tears come just as much with happiness. When it is an unearned happiness, when we know we did not deserve this goodness, we lose words.”

“Tears are our only response. . . . When . . . the mystery becomes utterly overwhelming, often we can respond only with tears.”

"A universe that is so true" . . .

"Unearned happiness". . . .

"When the mystery becomes utterly overwhelming."

That may make us sob, too, with indescribable and glorious joy.

Prayer

Loving God, we are glad to be numbered among those who, although we have not seen the living Christ, yet we love him and we believe in him.

We also confess that sometimes our love for him fades and our belief wavers and weakens, so we ask that the reality of the Risen Christ might become more vibrant, touching and enlivening all parts of our lives.

Especially when we feel on the outer and pushed aside, let us find our identity in God.

When we feel overlooked and at the end of the line, foster our faith by your intimate love and care.

Continue the energizing and sanctifying work of your Spirit in our lives.

May our obedience to Jesus increase this week.

We confess that our busyness, our familiarity and our indifference leads to our failure to reflect and marvel and truly appreciate all you have done for us, especially through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Deepen our desire to understand and contemplate the mysteries of your great mercy, the wonder of our new birth and the joy of our living hope.

We confess that the suffering we see in the world is bamboozling, so tragic and meaningless—the slaughter of the innocent, the distress caused by floods and cyclones.

We bring to you the trials that we face.

We commend to your love and support the people we know who are suffering.

May we know your strength in our testing.

May our faith become more real.

This week may we live day by day open to your saving presence but also hoping that our future in this world and in the realm to come may be bright because we will be living and serving in your presence.

We prayer in the name of Jesus,

Amen.

Questions for Personal and Group Study

  1. Peter commences his letter to scattered believers by expressing the blessings of Easter in these colourful images and phrases—‘new birth’, ‘great mercy’ and ‘living hope’. (1 Peter 1: 3-4) How do these phrases enlighten you and how best do you describe the richness of Easter?

2.How relevant to you and others is the future ‘inheritance’ and the prospect of heaven?

3.What is the most pressing trial you are facing at the moment, how are you faring and what/who has been the most help to you through these difficulties?

4.In what ways does your Christian faith and identity disadvantage you in your work and friendships? [this idea is drawn from the description in v1 as ‘exiles’, strangers’, ‘sojourners’ and ‘outsiders’]

5.How has your suffering and hardship strengthened your faith? (6-7)

6.What are the blessings and gifts of grace that cause you to wonder and express indescribable and glorious joy? (8-9)

 

[1] ‘A Man in a Hot Air Balloon Realised he was Lost,’ Austin Walters.

[2] Stop and Hear the Music, Washington Post. A short sped up version by Joshua Bell; Joshua Bell, comes back to the train station and gets the acknowledgement he did not get the first time. The article about this experiment won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.[2] There’s a telling line in the article that says: “There was one real person there. The rest were all ghosts!”

[3] Scot McKnight says, “We discern in Peter an “about-face” over the question of Jesus’ death: from outright rejection (Matt. 16: 22) and denial (Luke 22: 54– 71), to restoration (John 21), to preaching the death and vindication of Jesus (Acts 2), to finding in the death of Jesus the ultimate paradigm of Christian existence (1 Peter 2: 18– 25). This trail of Peter’s conversion is what lies beneath our letter: a Peter who found in Jesus’ death and resurrection the secret of life. In McKnight, Scot, 1 Peter (The NIV Application Commentary Book 17) (Kindle Locations 676-679). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[4] Further biblical references to the inheritance are found in Romans 8:17, Colossians 1:5, Philippians 3:20, Galatians 4:7; 4:26. In the Hebrew Bible Israel’s inheritance was primarily Palestine or Canaan. See Genesis 12:1; Deuteronomy 15:4.

[5] The Perth Mint website.

[6] The refining metaphor is also used in Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3: 2b-3, Isaiah 48:10 and Proverbs 17:3.

[7] Further references on this theme of blessing through suffering include Psalm 26: 2, James 1: 2-3, 1 Peter 1:11; 4:13; 5:9 and more. It also is developed by Jesus in the beatitudes viz. Matthew 5: 10-12.

[8] Daniel 3.

[9] Jayson Casper, ‘Forgiveness: Muslims Moved as Coptic Christians do the Unimaginable’, CT, April 20, 2017.

 

[11] Forgiveness Incarnated, The Bible Society of Egypt.

[12] Walter Shurden, 16 April 2017, Facebook.