A Peculiar Pilgrimage Week 4

1Peter 3:13-22 NASB Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? (14) But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, (15) but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (16) and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. (17) For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. (18) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (19) in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, (20) who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. (21) Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, (22) who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.

Approximately 92% of American households own a Bible, yet the majority of Americans never bother to read it. Even fewer of us try to do the hard work of understanding it.
In one of Jay Leno's street interviews he asks a lady on the street to tell him one of the Ten Commandments. She thinks for a moment and replies, "Freedom of speech." Leno asks her friend to complete this sentence, "You without sin..." The lady responds by saying, "You without sin, have a good time." A man passing by is asked, "Who, according to the Bible, was swallowed by a whale?" The man thinks for a moment and says, "Pinocchio." The best seller is not always the best read book of the world. And for those who read it, it isn't always readily understood nor is agreement easily reached.

This doesn't mean we don't have a reason to hope for unity. Creeds such as the Apostle's Creed and Nicene Creed readily make available to all the Church's unity across denominational lines. To say, as some do, that you can believe anything and be a Methodist is disengenuous to say the least. It is flat out wrong.

Peter's message is very much targeted to the Christians of the day who suffered at the hands of persecution from other religions and from government. Often today, I get the sense that mainline denominations face a level of persecution from within the church. The UMC has been at the forefront of denominations that include Presbyterians, Lutherans, the Quakers and others. But what makes a mainline denomination? We consist of those protestant churches who hold to a conviction of holiness and justice.

It was the mainline churches who stepped forward in leading the charge for the end of slavery as well as Women's rights and Civil Rights. The advent of Sunday School was a social justice movement for children who worked in factories. As a United Methodist Christian and pastor, I have experienced being reviled by culture for being a person of faith and I have experienced being condemned by other Christians for caring deeply for justice.

This, I sense, is part of our peculiar pilgrimage. Peter says we ought to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts – Sanctify meaning HOLY, set apart and Lord meaning the one in charge. But too often we stress to often a heavy handedness of this holy ruler and Peter reminds us of the “gentleness and reverence.” We need only look to John Wesley's experience and the day we celebrate called Aldersgate Day every May 24th...

On that day, John went very unwillingly to a Bible study on Aldersgate Street and as he says it, "About a quarter before nine, when the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ and in Christ alone for my salvation and an assurance was given me, that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. No longer was I a servant, I became a son."

I went very unwillingly into the pulpit as an ordained United Methodist minister. But in doing so, I too came to understand that I was no longer a servant but a son. This is who I am called to be and what I am called to preach. I have been adopted into the family of God. Not only Jesus Lord...he is my brother and yours by his gift. He showed us the way of justice and love. Today, with over ten million United Methodists in 165 countries around the world, who gather for worship in 41,000 churches, we have reason to hope even if we suffer for doing right. We have reason to celebrate in that suffering. We have reason to serve even in that suffering. And we have reason to continue on our pilgrimage no matter the struggle, storms or celebration – for our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.


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