Sermon: 7th Sunday of Easter, 28 May 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Seventh Sunday of Easter, 28 May 2017

St Alban’s

Bishop Ross Nicholson

1Peter 5:1-14

-On Wednesday morning at the gym I was asked,

-‘What do you make of all this happening in Manchester?’

-I’m sure a suicide bomber who just blows himself up wouldn’t raise an eyebrow.

-But when it happens in the middle of a concert crowd surrounded by children and teenagers,

-It shocks our sensibilities and raises those deepest questions of justice and suffering,

-Of good and evil.

-One of the most commonly asked questions about faith revolves around suffering.

-Within all its permutations,

-The root question is ‘why does a good God allow bad things to happen?’

-And these questions of suffering are not just restricted to people wanting to challenge or reject faith,

-These are questions that will disturb and unsettle people of any thoughtful worldview.

 

-For the apostle Peter this issue of suffering has not been very far from all his words to his Christian readers.

-Even within his opening paragraph there’s the recognition that our Christian faith is actually birthed in suffering;

“To the exiles . . . 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:”

-We’re strangers and aliens in this world because of the violent and unjust death of Jesus.

-As Isaiah put it;

“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity . . . But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” Isaiah 53:3,5

 

-Because of Jesus’ sufferings,

-His followers will also enter into trials;

“In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials,” 1Peter 1:6

-But Peter will have nothing of suffering being a random consequence of an impersonal universe,

-Nor the purposeless providence of an indifferent god.

-Listen to what he says in 1Peter 1:6-7;

“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.” 1Peter 1:6-7

-Peter reminds his readers that the struggles and trials that come their way,

-Will be over and above the day-to-day suffering that afflicts all human beings in a fallen and broken world.

-There are going to be unique afflictions that’ll come purely because we’re followers of Jesus.

 

-Listen to this string of reminders;

-1Peter 2:12;

“Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.” 1Peter 2:12

-You’ll be maligned with false accusations.

-1Peter 2:20;

 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” 1Peter 2:20

-You’ll be exposed to unwarranted violence.

-1Peter 3:13;

“Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated,” 1Peter 3:13

-You’ll experience injustice and intimidation.

-1Peter 4:12;

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1Peter 4:12

-All of these things are going to be the normal part of the Christian life.

 

-We sometimes forget that in our pampered Western Christendom culture.

-We currently have it easy in the West,

-But that’s not the case for our brothers and sisters in large parts of Asia,

-In the Middle East,

-And Muslim dominated African states.

-They live daily with violence, injustice, intimidation and death.

-We pay little attention to the price a Muslim often pays to convert to Christianity.

-But that’s their day-to-day condition.

-And the one the followers of Jesus in the first century experienced,

-As evidenced by Peter’s words at the end of ch4;

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker. 16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name (NRSV). . . 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (NIV)” 1Peter 4:12-16,19

 

-Jenn will tell you that one of my grumpy old man rants will erupt,

-When an interviewee begins their answer with ‘so’.

-Journalist: Tell the viewers what happened?

-Interviewee: So, we were like walking, and then it just happened!

-Aaaaargh!!!!

-‘So’ is used as a meaningless fill word instead of ‘um’ or ‘ah’.

-But did you hear how Peter just used it?

-After cataloguing all the different ways Christ and his followers will be afflicted,

-He makes the point;

“So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. (NIV)” 1Peter 4:19

 

-There’s a purpose and result in view that follows on from what was said before.

-And here’s something even more significant,

-It’s not clear in many of our English translations but it’s literally what Peter writes at the beginning of ch5,

-After every other chapter has mentioned in some way or another the sufferings that will face the follower of Jesus,

-He writes;

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you,” 1Peter 5:1-2 (ESV)

 

-Can you see the significance of that tiny little word ‘so’?

-With all these trials and tribulations these elders will see,

-Peter charges,

-‘So, shepherd the flock that is under your care.’

-Why?

-Because the people of God are going to need it.

 

-There are over a hundred references to shepherd or shepherds in the Bible,

-But there are two very different ways the word is used.

-The first is the literal way,

-A shepherd is a person who looks after sheep.

-But the second is metaphorical,

-A shepherd is a leader or ruler.

-When David sings,

-‘The Lord is my shepherd’

-That’s how he means it.

-‘God is my Lord, my ruler, my King,

-When God says of Cyrus the king of Babylon,

“He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose,” Isaiah 44:28

-He’s not describing an agricultural hobby Cyrus has on the side.

-Cyrus was the ruler who would send God’s people back to their homeland.

 

-See the significance then of Peter’s exhortation that the elders be shepherds of the flock?

-He’s saying provide leadership to the church,

-Provide guidance and direction.

-He’s saying what God promised through the prophet Jeremiah;

“I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.” Jeremiah 3:15

-He’s not saying when bad things happen,

-Sit by the bedside and hold the hands of the suffering.

-He’s saying do what godly leadership demands,

-Prepare those in your charge for the reality of life as a follower of Jesus,

-Feed them with knowledge and understanding,

-Protect them from the wolves that would ravage the flock,

-Do what the kings were supposed to do for God’s people.

 

-This emphasis on the shepherd as a leader is confirmed by the injunctions that follow;

“Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” 1Peter 5:2-3

-If you had some doubts about the link between shepherd and leaders,

-‘Exercising oversight’ should put that to rest.

-But so should the rest of that list.

-‘Not under compulsion’.

-A Christian leader should not be compelled to serve,

-It should arise from seeing a need and offering the spiritual gifts, talents and skills that God has endowed you with,

-To willingly step up and meet that need in order to build up the body.

-‘Not for shameful gain’,

-The motivation for our leadership ought to be different to the worldly motivators that surround us.

-Our eagerness to lead should arise from a desire to serve.

-‘Not domineering over those in your charge’,

-That too is the way of the world.

-Jesus had to remind his wayward disciples that the first will be last,

-The Christian shepherd is to lead by example,

-Just as Jesus did.

 

-Although Peter addresses his next injunctions to the young leaders,

-Note how these previous injunctions still hold;

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility towards one another,”1Peter 5: 5

-Humility in the ancient world was actually viewed as a moral weakness.

-It was Christianity that turned that view on its head,

-Because of the example and words of Jesus.

-But for Peter here,

-This is not about our relations with others but toward God himself.

-And this is where Peter caps of the discussion of suffering.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1Peter 5:6-7

-Rather than worrying about all the things that are coming against you because of your faith,

-Humble yourself by casting your anxieties on God.

 

-Why would casting our worries onto God be humbling?

-Because we so often believe we can get by doing everything on our own.

-It actually takes humility to recognise that we’re not God,

-And have all the answers.

-How many of your anxieties would evaporate if you stepped back and said,

-‘Lord I can’t handle this situation,

-‘I need your help.’

-Whether you’re a shepherd or a sheep,

-We are all in God’s hand.

-It will be a rare occasion that we can give or get an answer for the suffering in this world.

-Most often we will need to humbly accept that God is in control,

-And rest in that knowledge.

-If you are a shepherd,

-It will be your task to help others see that truth.