Written by Pastor Ed.
I Peter 1: 17-23
The story is told of the farmer who became a pastor, and was having a hard time dealing with the people in his congregation. He complained to God, saying, “When I was a farmer, I dealt with lots of difficult weather – rain and floods, sleet, snow, wind, tornados, you name it, but I didn’t have to deal with all of them at the same time!
People! I think it was Charlie Brown, or maybe Snoopy, who said, “I love humanity, it’s the people I can’t stand.”
I think I may have shared the comment before made by one of the monks at St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota who talked about the difference between when Benedict wrote his rule for monks and the present day. He noted that in Benedict’s time, young men joined the monastery maybe in their late teens, but life expectancy was only until the 30s or 40s, a span of maybe 20 years. In contrast he said, monks today have to live with each other for 50 or 60 years! And, he admitted, sometimes that’s hard to do.
It’s interesting to note that in the Being a Faithful Church report, labeled BFC 5.1, which you can find copies of on the table in the foyer, one of the findings that is reported out of the last round of discussions focusing on sexuality, is that while there is clearly a difference of opinion across the church on issues of sexuality, there is an equally strong call for maintaining our unity, as well as a call for a more compassionate stance towards those we disagree with.
Yet we often find ourselves in tension with others. Maybe that’s why Jesus, and then the other writers of the New Testament felt the need to emphasize again and again that we are called to “love one another.” The writer of I Peter does it in Chapter 1, verse 22;
“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”
Does Peter give us any clues as to how or why this is important, and perhaps more importantly, how we can do a better job of practicing this thing that is so simple, and yet so difficult, as the bulletin cover suggests?
As you may recall from last week, the letter of First Peter is addressed to scattered Christians across Asia Minor. It’s not addressed to specific churches, which leads us to believe it was a more general letter and thus doesn’t address specific issues, as many of Paul’s letters do. It’s often classified as a General Epistle. And we don’t know much about the circumstances of these early Christians, although it is clear they are facing some kind of harassment or persecution, the “trials” of which the author speaks.
But it is a general call for these Christians to remember that they have been given new life and hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And they are reminded that this means not only a new life and hope for the future, but a different way to live now. That call is emphasized in the passage we read this morning which recalls words from Leviticus 11: 44 “Be holy, for I your God am holy.” What does that mean? If it means I need to be perfect, well, then we might as well forget it, because we all know that is impossible. But I don’t think it means being perfect, for God knows that humanity is not capable of perfection. No, holiness has to do with an essential quality of God, and we are told in numerous places that one of the essential qualities of God is love. And so we are told to love each other, like God loves us.
But again, you might say, well, we’re not God, so loving others isn’t always that easy. It’s a nice sentiment, but again, sounds simple, is often difficult. But I think we do have some clues as to what that means.
First of all, we are reminded numerous times that humanity is probably not all that easy for God to love either. We’re a sinful bunch. God’s people, even God’s chosen people, disobeyed constantly, turned their backs on God and worshipped other gods. And God got angry with them, numerous times. You may recall all those times God was ready to wipe out the children of Israel and start over with Moses. And Moses kept talking God out of it, arguing for another chance.
And yet, despite all that, we are told that God loved the world so much that God sent his son into the world, and we all know what happened with that. And yet God continued to love us, and raised Jesus to give us new life and hope. So maybe if God can love us, we can work at loving others.
But more than that, Peter gives us another clue to how we can fulfill this command to love each other. Even as Peter admonishes the people to love each other he says, in verse 21; “Through him (that is Jesus) you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.”
“You have come to trust in God.” Some profound words and some that I believe relate directly to this theme of loving each other. For remember, Peter is addressing Christians here. He’s not talking about loving the guy down the street; he’s talking about loving the Christian next to you on the pew, or in the church down the street. He’s talking about loving the Christian who might believe something different than you do, or have a different interpretation of the Bible on certain issues.
And in my experience, those are the people we sometimes have the hardest time loving. I earlier mentioned the BFC process that Mennonite Church Canada has been in for the past five years. The most recent study document begins to focus more specifically on issues of sexuality, and homosexuality in particular. And to no one’s surprise, I think, the report says that there are a wide variety of opinions or beliefs around the issue. Some are extremely opposed to any sign of wavering from the traditional views, while other are calling for a much more open and welcoming stance.
And there are people on both ends of that spectrum who declare that if things don’t go their way, they will leave the church and go elsewhere to find a church that agrees with them. “I don’t want to be a part of a church that has people in it who think like that,” is their cry. Now, my first response is, “Good luck finding a church where everyone agrees on everything.” I also sometimes point out that from a Biblical point of view, we are all part of Christ’s body, the church universal, so you might join another denomination, but if you really don’t want to be in a church where people think differently, then you’ll have to leave church altogether.
But my more serious response is to ask, “How much do you trust God?”
Do you trust God that God’s Spirit is leading the church toward all truth? Do you trust God that, no matter what we think or decide, God’s purposes in the world will continue to move forward? Because if you trust God, then whether we’re right or wrong on some of these issues won’t really matter as much. We know that we don’t have all the truth, and won’t until we come face to face with God. And if I can acknowledge that, and trust God, then I can go a lot easier on those I disagree with, because we’re all in this together.
You’ve heard my mantra before; my salvation doesn’t depend on my being right on every issue. And I trust that God will show us the way, if we are open to listen. Some years ago I was part of a committee that had to make a decision about a retired pastor who had performed a ceremony for a gay couple. After we had dealt with the issue, I received a letter from someone who was upset with how we had handled the case. The writer stated in no uncertain terms that he knew what the Bible said about this, and it didn’t matter what the church said, he was sticking with the Bible.
I reminded him that my understanding of our Anabaptist faith was that the Bible was interpreted by the church, with the leading of God’s Spirit, and therefore I would trust what the church said far more than any one person’s interpretation. And I trust God enough to let God decide how to lead the church, just a God has led the church in the past.
And if I can trust God to handle things, as I said, it becomes much easier to love those around me, even those who disagree. It was a wise Presbyterian minister named Mr. Rogers who said, “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”
And it is sometimes a struggle. We’d like to change everyone to think exactly like we do, because then it would be so much easier to love them – maybe. But as new creatures in Christ, we are called to be like God and love people, even when they seem to us like the worst sinners in the world. After all, that’s when God loved us.