We are God’s goodness. We are God’s blessedness. And we are called to be the Christness – the visible presence of God’s love that makes every space, every action, every emotion, everything sacred and holy.
a message for graduates from 1 Peter 3:13-17
This is a time of year when millions of people are graduating all over the county. Only this time...well, it’s a little different. This weekend we watched two wonderful graduation ceremonies, one on Facebook with Oprah giving the commencement address, and the other on TV where President Obama offering some hopeful words of advice.
Together with students and celebrities from every walk of life, there was a lot of advice going around about how to deal with this unusual time. All of it was positive and uplifting...but it didn’t stop my kids from being a little snarky and sarcastic. I didn’t stop them. I know how hard it is to have a positive attitude when you’re suffering such great losses like friendships and not being able to celebrate with the them the joy of all that you have accomplished.
The gunfire was the tragically unexpected death of his beloved wife. Gossip went on to explain that while he didn’t understand why this happened, he knew he needed faith if he was going to survive the darkness he felt. He ended his sermon with this recognition of truth “You people in the sunshine may believe the faith, but we in the shadow must believe it.”
We all have a story like his, where suffering and faith feed on one another. The death of a loved one, a loss of a job or all the events you planned for your senior year. It might have been an accusation that ruins your reputation, or a misunderstanding between friends.
Suffering is unavoidable. And it’s going to happen to you at least once in your life.
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 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, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
This year’s high school seniors were born into the world after September 11th. They have lived their entire life in a country mired in an endless war. They’ve lived in fear of school shootings and endured countless lockdown exercises to prepare for when the next one occurs. They’ve watched their family and neighbors succumb to two global economic crisis, and now this pandemic that our nation’s leaders once insisted wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s safe to say that these young adults understand suffering like no other. And it sucks.
The question that keeps repeating over and over again is this: What are you going to do with all pain and anguish you are feeling?
Are you going to wallow in self-pity? Or take control and change the world so this kind of stuff won’t affect future generations? Will you use this experience to fall apart? Or to tear down the structures that have kept people from being who God made us all to be? Beloved and blessed.
Peter knows that his readers are either going to face suffering or that they have already suffered because of their faith. This is what he had to say.
I know Peter’s just asking a hopeful rhetorical question here, but his follow-up doesn’t seem to be the balm we want. “Oh yeah, and if you do suffer for doing good, don’t worry, you’re blessed.” Not the words of comfort we like to hear while enduring the pains of life.
Since suffering is unavoidable, and pretty much a guarantee, we are left with this question to ponder: exactly how do we to live into our blessedness – especially as we’re enduring the pain of suffering?
As Peter suggests, live in such a way that our hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Peter encourages his readers to not fear or bow to intimidation but keep their hearts ready and “in adoration of Christ, so when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.” In other words, be imitators of Christ, who suffered greatly at the hands of his own people and yet was exalted in glory. This is our mission as a church and as students of Jesus. By being little Christs in the world we become both the blessed ones and the one’s who bless others.
The famous evangelist John Wesley understood this concept, and chose to live by this rule of life: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” Now that’s good advice. I’m sure Wesley would agree that doing good in the world doesn’t automatically translate into an easy life. People will try to take advantage of you.
Susanna Metz notes, “It’s not terribly reassuring to hear that when we suffer for doing good it’s a blessing. Suffering is not pleasant, whether it’s as simple as having our feelings hurt or it’s the ultimate price of losing our lives.” And yet it didn’t stop Dr. King from demanding justice and equality for all human beings. Or Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was eventually executed for caring for the poor.
It doesn’t seem right that we suffer for doing the right thing, does it? Metz poignantly asks, “What keeps us from just giving up and caring only for ourselves?” Her answer is simple: love. Specifically, God’s steadfast love for us. It’s a love that is so deep and so abiding that even death gets swallowed up by it.
Just as suffering is unavoidable, so to is God’s love for us. There is absolutely nothing you can do to stop God from loving you...whether you accept it or not doesn’t negate this truth.This is why living into our blessedness is so imperative - especially in times like what we’re experiencing today. We are called be little Christs, to be the visible presence of God’s love to the world like he was so that people will come to understand the love that God has placed in them
Through his words and deeds Jesus taught us that our best defense to suffering is in what we do, or don’t do, in life. Don’t get upset when someone betrays you. Don’t hit back when someone takes a swing at you. Bite your tongue when someone belittles or criticizes you. By imitating Christ, we are able to make visible the deep, abiding love of God that draws us in and wraps us in compassion even when the pain of suffering and persecution endures.
While this pandemic is causing many of us to suffer physical, mental or economic hardships and even deaths, God’s love remains with us and in us; often appearing in the goodness of others and ourselves. People are helping one another with grocery shopping, pet sitting, and mask making. You might see these as small acts of kindness, but really they are giant acts of Christness – people living into their blessedness by being little Christ, often to people they don’t even know.
Last week I vlog’d about the three families who showered my daughter Fiona with gifts through the Adopt a Senior program. One was a very dear friend and mentor to Fiona. But the other two were complete strangers. They didn’t know my daughter, yet they chose to suffer with her; to feel her pain of not being able to graduate with her friends.
One evening I watched a mom and her daughter drop off a bouquet of flowers and other little gifts at our door...it was all I could do to hold back the tears. I was in awe, witnessing on our front porch God’s love made manifest. In the faces of these strangers was the face of Christ, smiling and giggling, marking this space and time sacred and holy. This is just one of a million examples of God’s abiding love pouring out from person to person, heart to heart, moment to moment.
Mother Teresa, who was no stranger to suffering, made this observation: “There is a light in this world, a healing spirit more powerful than any darkness we may encounter. We sometimes lose sight of this force when there is suffering, too much pain. Then suddenly, the spirit will emerge through the lives of ordinary people who hear a call and answer in extraordinary ways."
It seems as if she is suggesting that God’s answer to our suffering is you and me. God gives us one another – gift after gift to help us deal with this life in good times and bad. As we continue through this time of uncertainty, a time when still so many people are afraid, anxious, and alone...
Remember this: The Spirit that empowered Jesus is the same Spirit that allowed his disciples, ordinary people like you and me, to do the extraordinary. That same Spirit is in us today...loving us, comforting us, and guiding us to do the same for one another.
We are God’s goodness. We are God’s blessedness. And we are called to be the Christness – the visible presence of God’s love that makes every space, every action, every emotion, everything sacred and holy. Will you join me today in accepting this gift by stepping into your blessedness and going out into the world to bless others with hearts that sanctify Christ as Lord.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.
Metz, Susanna. "Blessed Be God." episcopalchurch.org. May 11, 2020. (accessed May 14, 2020).