The End is Near or at least nearer than it was yesterday
Head Over Heels was a 2001 romantic comedy about models. In an interview with some of the actors it was asked how difficult it must have been to live as if we think models live. One of the actresses made a comment that jumped out at me. She said, "It's what we do not who we are." I couldn't help but wonder if that comment applied to people in congregations on any given Sunday morning. Are there those who see Christianity or church as something they do as opposed to something they are?
We know the answer to that question. We all know of those who do Christmas, Easter and maybe Mother's Day. We know people who do and hour of two on Sunday morning when it doesn't take them away from the beach, or golf, or fishing, or getting something else done. They have settled for religion and missed out on the reality of a relationship. Such is not the option for those who Peter writes too. They can't get by doing the religious thing. For them Christ is who they are. For them following Jesus has led them into some pretty difficult situation.
As I mentioned previously, the area to which Peter is writing isn't facing a general persecution in which simply naming Christ might get one killed. It is much more subtle than that, it is more low-key, but still dangerous. It is the persecution that comes with losing one's sense of belonging and identity.
We read 4:1 and the word "attitude" brings to mind process of thinking. Dr. Phil philosophy hears the attitude and thinks it can "adjust" the way we think. It is prescribes a "positive attitude" a "new attitude" and gives us pithy little sayings to recite like, "today's going to be a great day" or "in every way and every day I'm getting better and better".
Attitude is an unfortunate translation for our culture. The word is better understood as "intent". We are to "arm ourselves" with the intention of Jesus. What was Jesus' intention? We might say He intended to die for us. But His intention was much more basic to who He is. Jesus intends to live to honor the Father. It is Jesus' intention to do everything the Father commands, to obey, and to trust His Father totally. And because He lived out this intent perfectly Jesus suffered, was brutalized, executed, and destroyed sin. He makes it possible for us to respond to His Father's love and become friends of God.
Do we have this intention when we suffer? Do we intend to honor God no matter what comes against us? Some truths are universal and among those is the fact that when we stop doing what our friends are doing because we think it's wrong we get slammed by them. Peter knows this has happened to his readers and will continue to happen.
When we face these difficult times we have some choices. We can give in, we can get angry and seek revenge or we can suffer what comes intent on honoring God no matter what. Only the third choice offers hope because when we face the situations and the people who are determined to hurt us intent on living for God we discover that the old way of doing things no longer controls us.
From living among the world around us, Peter shares with us practical issues about living with sisters and brothers in Christ. Verse 7 starts, "The end of all things is near." I can't tell you when it is going to happen or how it is going to happen, but then again Tim LaHay, Jerry Jenkens, or Hal Lindsey don't know either. There isn't a televangelist who knows the precursors to Christ's return. In fact, the Bible says that even Jesus doesn't know when it will take place. What I can say, for a fact, is that today we are one day closer to when God will judge the world.
God tells us we are to be alert and clear as we pray. As Peter writes this I imagine he recalls Jesus' stories about staying watchful and alert for the coming of the bridegroom and the wise and foolish women. Our full attention is to be given to praying. The reason for this is because believers are supposed to love each other deeply. His examples are practical and applicable. Hospitality is given without grumbling and the gifts which the Holy Spirit has given us are to be used to serve others. Verse 11 gives us a broad example that comes from the first conflict in the church. Acts tells us that some people felt cheated and so the Apostles ordered the choosing of deacons to administer the food while they continued to preach. Peter knows all about that, he lived it. So when Peter makes a distinction between those who speak and those who serve he is pointing out that they are both equal. The issue is whether or not Jesus Christ is praised by the message and the action.
Let me see if I can bring this all together. The world doesn't understand why we've stopped doing the things we use to do. They think we're being judgmental or simply think we're trying to seem better than they are. In response they attack us, they tempt us and they try to confuse us so that we give up any intention we have to honor God.
But, when the world sees that we really care about other people, our sisters and brothers in Christ as well as the world they are hard pressed to explain that away. The world outside of these walls can only see Jesus when those inside these walls love others the way Jesus did. Jesus said the same thing, "They'll know you are my disciples by your love for one another."
We are to be with others who name Christ as Lord and Savior. That means, here in worship on Sunday and it means with those outside of these walls who may or may not be members of Kenton. I gather with others who are not of the Presbyterian flavor of the church in order to care for them and them for us. That's why we've been praying for baby Gracie, a child that is part of a house church and why we prayed for Pastor Cork of New Life Baptist and why we've hosted Northwatch. It is because as we love others the world takes note.
It is only then that we are able to reach out into our community. When they see us loving each other they begin to ask, "Yeah but will they care for me?" The answer needs to be yes. Kenton does a very good job when it comes to living out Christ's hospitality. So let me just quickly share with you a three-step process to help us continue. If you want to reach a neighbor, co-worker or someone else in your wider circle of influence first pray for them. Second, care for them. Only after you've done those two things have you earned the right to share with the.
Prayer comes first because otherwise we come across as do-gooders or preachers. We pray that God would bless them and we pray that God would open the doors to us so we might understand them and their needs. Only after we've got a sense of clarity here can we be free to take some rather practical steps and eventually share our story with the.
A co-worker, friend, neighbor etc has shared about issues and you're praying for them. You come to a sense that the issue is financial so the simple thing would be to give them money. But as you continue to pray for them you discover the issue of finances is because of mismanagement of funds or a substance abuse issue, or the cost of taking care of a disabled family member. The way one helps is now altered. Perhaps someone helps with the family member; rehab or financial counseling may all be better avenues than simply tossing money at the person. The third step comes when they ask, "why do you give a rip about my situation" and you tell them about how Christ cared for you when you had problems. You've earned the right to tell your story and most of those who have experience such concern will listen.
Jack Martens is a retired preacher in San Francisco. He never had a church or used a pulpit but in the course of his years of ministry over 10k people had their lives impacted by his service. He taught music for over 35 years in the Western Addition, one of the poorest communities in the city. Fifty percent of the 12-14 year olds do not have both bio-parents in their lives. The same percentage gets public aid and for many English is not their first language.
Greg Asimakoupoulos reports on Martens, ""I love these kids," he admits. "And they love me. In me they can see my love for Jesus Christ."
In a 1999 article in the SF Gate it was amazing to hear him say, "The most important thing in my class is not music. It's not a particular program. It's not the three R's of reading, writing and arithmetic. It's one R, and that is relationships," Martens says. "It's daring to institute a relationship, being one on one, nose to nose." Because of this his students have learned what Christ's love looks like in a classroom setting.
You don't have to teach music. You can simply be available. You can befriend your neighbor, read to children in a school, drive for Loaves and Fishes, sort food in the food bank or any number of other things. The lesson is simple, "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.” Amen