For those who sing the glories of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” of the “strong and free,” the words of today’s reading may ring hollow.
For most North Americans, intentionally living the Christian life is not likely to bring mistreatment, suffering, and persecution. Few of us face such threats. Perhaps the greatest threat to the Christian faith for us is apathy. We can remain unaware and unmoved by the suffering of those throughout the world who face persecution and death because of their faith.
The Christians to whom Peter writes were slaves kept in place by a political system. He does not condone mistreatment. Jesus was mistreated, endured pain, and suffered unjustly while entrusting it all to God. Peter makes it plain: The people can endure suffering because they are pursuing good—doing good deeds and glorifying God—not because they are doing evil.
The pain of Peter’s readers may be juxtaposed with the present situation of many Christians who are told they are free citizens, yet are more and more restricted, indeed oppressed, by a system beyond their control that mocks the affirmation of freedom.
There is no merit in longing for some golden age of persecution and martyrdom. Good deeds by which God is glorified are within the reach of us all. They are not of epic proportions.
Verbal revenge, foul language, mockery, ad hominem arguments, and shrill irrational rhetoric have become part of the molecular structure of the air we breathe. When lies are told about us, when we are insulted and defamed, we can refrain from responding in kind. A disciplined silence may be the most forceful witness. When others cause us to suffer, we entrust ourselves entirely to God. “For to this you have been called.”
What pressures constrain or push me to cowardly compromise my conscience? How can I stay free in relation to what I cannot change?
The reading from Acts picks up the themes of mutual love and fellowship from last week’s readings and records that the display of these qualities captured the attention of the people in Jerusalem. When the church displays these qualities today, they still attract people to the Lord. The psalm and First Peter are linked by the theme of suffering. In Psalm 23, David is confident that God will stay with him even through the darkest valley. Peter encourages his audience to walk through that same valley, strengthened by the knowledge that God will never abandon them and that they are following the example of Christ. In John, Jesus declares that he is the way to safety for God’s sheep, so we should listen to his voice alone.
Read Acts 2:42-47. How do you see Good Time and Bad Time coexisting in your life or in your community?
Read Psalm 23. How do this psalm’s joys and comforts change when you consider the suffering of the psalmist in Psalm 22?
Read 1 Peter 2:19-25. When you have been caught in a struggle, how have your actions helped or worsened your situation?
Read John 10:1-10. How have you or someone you know attempted to enter God’s abundance by stealth? What does it mean for you to rectify this and enter through the gate?
Respond by posting a prayer.
I join many of those who will pray for you as you seek to discern what you are called to be at this moment. May God grant you the courage to fulfill that calling. May we all open our eyes and see the misery, open our ears and hear the cries of God’s people, and, like God through the Lord Jesus Christ, be incarnate amongst them.”
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