a thought or five on 1 Peter 1:3-9
Facts begin in the head. Faith begins in the heart, where God’s love is forever engraved.
It’s hard to think Easter Sunday was last week. For many of us seems it feels like a million snacks ago. I’ve been inside so long that my refrigerator is telling me to stand 6 feet away.
And of course the kids are back at home school. That’s been fun. On Monday one student called in a bomb threat. Then on Tuesday someone ripped off the Student of the Month sticker from the back of our van.
If anything good has come from sheltering in place, it’s leavening new ways to make a cocktail from random ingredients found in ones house.
At the end of March, while we were settling into this pandemic adventure, Omar Ricci was giving a sermon at the Islamic Center here in L.A. entitled “Thank God for the Coronavirus.” When I saw this online, I took a double take. But in his sermon, Ricci was addressing what is on the hearts and minds of so many faith leaders across the country. How to comfort our congregations in midst of global suffering?
In his message, Ricci reminds us that we are not in control, God is. And that “we ought to be grateful for all the ways God provides, like groceries, toilet paper, good health” and may we never forget “to appreciate the blessings that God has given us in creating us as souls.”
In a letter written to the young churches in Asia Minor, Peter addresses suffering and faith with these words of comfort and assurance: Read 1 Peter 1:3-9 here
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 honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
The biblical definition of faith is found in only one very small sentence in the book of Hebrews, that states, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" (Heb 11:1). In other words, faith is a firm belief in something for which there may be no tangible proof. “It’s a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” Only it can’t.
Easter season is a time we celebrate the biggest mystery of faith, the resurrection of Christ. This is hard for the human mind to comprehend. I mean let’s be real, nothing in life is more certain then death. The resurrection contradicts every instinct and scientific fact we know about life. I have friends who argue, “If it can’t be explained, it shouldn’t be believed.” But facts are not faith.
Facts begin in the head. Faith begins in the heart, where God’s love is forever engraved. Nouwen believes when Jesus talks about faith, “he means first of all to trust unreservedly that you are loved by God.” Believing this allows us "to abandon every false way of obtaining love" to which I would add, and keep our faith focused where it belongs. On the faithfulness of God.
We see this in the story of Job. While we like to talk about how Job kept his faith in God despite the suffering he was enduring, the real story is about God’s faith in him. Job was only able to endure because he knew it’s impossible for God unfaithful. Peter’s letter encourages us to keep our faith in the one who remains faithful to us.
How then are we to keep this faith? By remembering this acronym:
Fearless Action Inherits Trust and Hope.
Think about it like this, we are made in God’s image, which means we’re connected somehow to the Divine source. What God has, we have. All of God is available for you and me. God’s love is your love. God’s patience is your patience. God’s forgiveness and mercy and grace are all connected to you too. That connection is Christ. We can face life’s challenges fearlessly because our faith is plugged into God. Through Christ
This isn’t to say we won’t be afraid at times, we will. After seeing the tomb empty, the disciples were so afraid that they lock themselves in a house “out of fear for the Jews.” They saw what their own people were capable of and were scared for their lives. Who could blame them? Fear is a natural instinct designed to save us from harm or getting hurt.
I see faith in the same way. As Paul always declared, “By faith we are saved” (Ephesians 2:8) Thus, we need to live it fearlessly – sharing God’s love with one another with boldness and confidence. After all, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:17).
Faith is ACTION – a way of practicing heaven now by putting God’s love into motion. This is exactly what Jesus did everyday – loving the unlovable, touching the untouchable, forgiving the unforgivable. He blessed the weary, fed the hungry, healed sick and dying, and of course sacrificed all that he had so others might see God’s glory in their midst. And believe. He was the living proof of God’s faithfulness. Eventually the disciples will overcome their fear and faithfully live as Jesus did. God had faith in them. And God has faith in us.
By living into our Christlike selves, we not only give evidence to who God is but also to who God made us to be. As the Apostle John wrote in his epistle, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them (1 John 4:16) and "everyone who loves is born of God" (1 John 4:7).
Peter calls this a new birth where we INHERIT God’s name.
A couple of years ago, I inherited a small amount of money from a friend after she passed away. It wasn’t a lot, but it did help to keep us going for a month or so. Inheriting money is great… while it last.
But Peter speaks of a different kind of inheritance one that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.” To think that God’s faith in us is so great that God is willing to ante up all the treasures of Heaven to save us; including Christ himself, through whom we were adopted and named sons and daughters. For whatever reason, God has faith in us and has invested all of heaven to give us an everlasting, never fading, one size fits all love.
Like Jesus, Job, and all the saints before us we can TRUST God knowing God is forever faithful. The Greek word for “Faith” is pistis, which literally means “trust.” When Jesus tells someone he has healed, “Your faith has saved you,” he is saying that they have found new life because they have surrendered in complete trust to the love of God revealed in him [Nouwen]. Such trust not only saves us, but it allows us to live fearlessly into the true greatness of our inheritance.
Fearless Action Inherits Trust. This begs the question, where are we really putting our trust? In government or corporations? In religious doctrines, or ads that pop-up on Instagram? How ironic is it that “In God We Trust” is written on our money yet we put more faith in Wall Street.
Jesus showed us how to trust in the unconditional love of God by surrendering to it with his whole heart. Like Job, Jesus trusted the faithfulness of God even as he suffered rejection, betrayal, torture, and death. As we are all suffering in this pandemic, I invite you to ask yourself...what are you clinging to? And what are you hoping for?
Peter tells us in Christ we have HOPE. We know that no matter what the world throws at us, God does not give up on us. Christ is that proof we seek.
We spent a lot of time talking about hope during Lent. I described it as more than optimistic thinking, but a way to grow your faith and bring you closer to the very heartbeat of God’s love for you. That’s why Peter doesn’t just call it hope. But living hope. It’s living because Christ is alive.
Standing at the empty tomb, Peter didn’t understand this at first. His faith was shattered, and his hope squashed. It wasn’t until Jesus showed up where the disciples were hiding out that his faith and hope found new life.
I know most of us haven’t had the privilege to see our resurrected Lord in the flesh. Peter speaks to this, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). This echoes what Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29).
Despite their lack of faith and the loss of hope, God never gave up on them. Through Christ, God opened the eyes and hearts of the disciples in the most unbelievable way. The same is true for us. God is not done with us yet. Even in our suffering, when life seems bleak and dark, God shines the light of Christ for all to see. God’s faith is in us too so we can shine like Christ and bear witness to God’s glory to those around us who are struggling.
By living out our faith, the fullness God’s love can be seen, felt, touched, and heard. It allows others to trust God and feel hopeful in times of hopelessness. More importantly, when we recognize and accept the Christ in us, we are able to truly see Christ alive in others.
In closing I want to share something Mother Teresa used to say about her faith. Throughout her lifelong work in the slums of India, she would look at a person and say, “This is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him.”
Talk about fearless action inheriting trust and hope. If you ask me, this is why God doesn’t give up on us. I believe we all have the same faith as St. Theresa of Calcutta. That is, we all have the faith of God etched on our heart.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Trust Unreservedly That You Are Loved, excerpt from You Are The Beloved: Daily Meditations For Spiritual Living (accessed on April 13, 2020).
USA Today. Is the Coronavirus an Act of God? Faith Leaders Tough Questions Among a Pandemic, April 2, 2020 (accessed on April 18, 2020). https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/04/02/coronavirus-god-christain-jewish-muslim-leaders-saying-deadly-plague/5101639002/