May 18, 2020
The Easter 7A Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 17:1-11 from the Lectionary Gospel; Acts 1: 6-14 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 from the Lectionary Psalms; and 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism: Q&A 61 (Lord’s Day 23)
Author: Scott Hoezee
Every once in a while someone discovers a recording that until then no one knew existed. Maybe it’s John F. Kennedy on the phone with Nikita Khrushchev. Or it’s some other famous person having a conversation with yet another high profile person. Once the recording comes out, it’s fascinating because now we get to eavesdrop on an important conversation that took place between two really famous and important people. It’s not at all unusual that historians gain valuable insight into a given era when they uncover conversations like these.
John 17 gives us the chance to “overhear” an intimate conversation between Jesus and his Father.
Talk about the ultimate eavesdrop!!!
When you think about it, it’s rather stunning to realize that we are privy here to a conversation between two members of the divine Trinity. That alone is a signal that the things Jesus is praying about are already true: namely, that through the glory of Jesus’ ministry, we have gained access to the God of the universe. Jesus prays for the Father to be mindful of us, to protect us, and the mere fact that we get to hear Jesus ask for this is proof right there that this is going to come to pass. Indeed, it’s true already!
That’s why we get to hear all this.
Jesus here distinguishes between “the world” and his own followers. For the moment, he has only the followers in mind. He’s praying for believers, not for the rest of the world. But the fact is that there is a distinction to be observed between the church and the rest of the world and, further, we know from earlier in John and in Jesus’ discourses that we can anticipate the world no more recognizing us than it recognized Jesus. And since we know what that clueless world ended up doing to Jesus . . . well, we can assume more of the same will come to us latter-day folks who bear Jesus’ name.
So we do face a hostile world. But the good news of this prayer is that we don’t face it alone. We’ve got no less than the Sovereign God of the universe on our side!
But there is one line in John 17:11 that is worth pondering. Jesus asks the Father to protect us “by the power of your name,” which is intriguing all by itself, but then Jesus goes on to say that the name in question is “the name you gave me.” Just what name is this? Raymond Brown believes that the name in question is essentially “Yahweh” or the great “I AM” of the Jewish tradition. If so, and in the context of John’s gospel, this corresponds to the “EGO EIMI” formula that Jesus used again and again in the fourth gospel’s famous series of “I Am” statements (“I am the bread of life . . . I am the light of the world . . .etc.).
God is the great I AM of Israel, the God who told Moses “I am what I am and I will be what I will be.” The fullness of this God came to us in Jesus. He gave glory to God through all that he said and did here on earth. We share in that glory! What’s more, we benefit from and live off the riches of God’s glorious power as he guards and nurtures and protects the church at all times. There is glory all around, even if we too often lack the eyes to see it.
There is a lot going on in this oft-called “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus in John 17. But on the Sunday between the Ascension and Pentecost when the Lectionary assigns this particular text, we are reminded that although Jesus has gone away physically and is now in session at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, the power of God the Father Almighty is right here with us by the Holy Spirit.
Of course, this is an important message to preach at all times and at any time. But as many of us continue in a time of social distancing and isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, can we preachers stress strongly or often enough how wonderful it is to know we are never alone. We cannot social distance from the God who by the Holy Spirit has made his dwelling within us! Knowing this does not answer our every hard question right now. It does not make us less lonely for loved one we cannot for now visit or touch or embrace. But John 17 can remind us that we are not alone and what’s more, we were not made to be alone either. There is a reason we hate this isolation, this whole “social distance” thing. It’s not how God made us to be! The proof is the very fellowship God himself has established with us.
In John 17, we get to eavesdrop on a conversation between Jesus and his Father. Sometimes eavesdropping is a bad thing, of course. But sometimes when you overhear a conversation, you hear people you love saying really wonderful things about you. And when that happens, you feel great. Christians listening in on this conversation have every reason to feel great based on what they hear! We are a people of glory protected by the glorious power and love of God. What a gift it is that Jesus let us listen in on his prayer!
John 17:11 is the only place in the New Testament where God is referred to as “Holy Spirit is ever and always the “Holy Spirit” in Acts and thereafter, this is the only place where the Father is called “Holy Father.” It may not be a terribly significant point but in this context it may be part of John’s attempt to invoke the traditions of Israel and of God’s being the Holy One of Israel in connection with verse 11’s further mention of “the name” of God by which Jesus asks the Father to protect the church.
In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father to protect his people, to be in and with and for his people. But often we in the church forget that all the energy and love of the Father is with us, is inside us. Have you ever seen a Hoberman Sphere? A scientist by the name of Hoberman figured out how to make an amazing thing called an “icosadodecohedron.” It is a round ball made up of hundreds of rods, each one of which is multi-jointed to others. (See this demo video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Q63hSmbhxA ).
Some years ago at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey, my family and I saw a giant one of these in the museum’s great hall. When that particular Hoberman Sphere is fully expanded, it is a ball that spans probably thirty or more feet in diameter–it’s quite huge. But when it is compacted and all the parts of the sphere are collapsed in on each other, the whole thing shrinks down to something not much bigger than a giant beach ball.
Author: Stan Mast
On this Seventh Sunday of the Easter season, it is fitting that the first reading is about the Ascension of Jesus. There is a real sense in which Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension are two parts of one glorious act; he rose from the dead and he kept rising into heaven. Between the two risings were 40 days in which he took care of some crucial business, but Luke speaks as though those two risings are the last act of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
“In my former book, O Theophilus, I wrote about what Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven….” Now in my second book I’m going to tell you what Jesus continued to do after he was taken up into heaven. The first part of Jesus ministry was on earth in his body by the power of the Holy Spirit. Then his body ascended into heaven and that was the turning point in Jesus’ mission. The second part of Jesus’ ministry is from heaven through his body, the church, by the power of the Spirit.
That’s what the book of Acts is about—how Ascended Jesus began to turn the world right side up (cf. Acts 17:6 KJV and RSV), so that God is King and we are his willing subjects. Thus, it was no accident that Jesus spent those 40 intervening days doing two things– convincing his apostles that he really had risen from the dead and speaking of the kingdom of God. To promote the Kingdom of God, his apostles had to be fully convinced witnesses of his resurrection.
In spite of Jesus’ intensive teaching on the Kingdom, his disciples were still confused. “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” That was not a stupid question. Since Jesus had just spent 40 days teaching them about the Kingdom, it was at the forefront of their minds. Further, as good Jews, they knew all those Old Testament prophecies about the restoration of Israel. Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth contains the Benedictus and the Magnificat which surely seem to speak of Israel’s restoration. And from the beginning of his public ministry Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”
Jesus responded not by answering the question, but by reorienting his questioners. They wrongly assumed that they knew Jesus’ agenda, so Jesus explains his real agenda. “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons…. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the end of the earth.”
Notice how diametrically opposed those two agendas were. The disciples say, “Are you…” Jesus replies, “You will….” They were looking for Jesus to do something for them, to serve their interests, to be their servant. Jesus has already done everything for them and now is calling them to be his servants. They say, “At this time….” Jesus says, “It’s not for you to know the times….” They wanted to proceed on their timetable, but Jesus said that God is in charge of the schedule. They focused on the restoration of their country, but Jesus was focused on their witness to the world. They wanted the Kingdom to come into their own lives, but Jesus wanted them to spread the kingdom all over the world. They wanted to be kings so that their will would be done on earth; Jesus wanted God to be King so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. Their agenda was getting back on top; Jesus agenda was getting God back on top.
As Jesus sets the agenda for the future of the church, two things are especially worthy of note. First, promoting the Kingdom of God and witnessing about Jesus are not in opposition. Often people talk as though they are, especially in my theological circles. People with a kingdom orientation seem more interested in social justice issues to the exclusion of personal witnessing, while people who are committed to witnessing about Jesus think that social justice issues distract the church from its true mission of making disciples.
Jesus’ immediate juxtaposition of Kingdom and witness tells us Jesus wants both. The kingdom is advanced throughout the book of Acts by ordinary people bearing witness to the Risen Christ. When people are converted, they become disciples, bend the knee to the living God and join the Kingdom. The result of such witness is that the Kingdom comes not just to Israel, but to the ends of the earth. Promoting the Kingdom is precisely the goal of witnessing about the Risen Christ. And those who are now in the Kingdom because of that witness must pursue social justice as part of their witness to the rule of God over all of life.
The second thing to note in the agenda setting part of our text is the centrality of the Holy Spirit. Don’t worry about times, says Jesus, focus on the Spirit. The only way you can promote the Kingdom is to witness about me, and the only way you can witness is by the power of the Spirit. You are about to enter Kingdom conflict and you don’t have the power to oppose the Kingdom of this world. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
How audacious, how ridiculous, how thrilling! Eleven apostles with some other men and a few women, one hundred and twenty in all, will carry the Kingdom of God to the ends of the earth by simply witnessing to the Risen Christ? Yes, by the power of the Spirit.
Can it be accidental that Jesus’ last words were “to the ends of the earth,” and then he left the earth? His last will and testament were followed immediately by his last saving act. Yes, saving act! Jesus said it himself. “It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you (John 16:7).”
So, to further his mission on earth, Jesus left the earth; “he was taken up before their eyes and a cloud hid him from their sight.” None of them saw Jesus rise from the dead, but all of them saw him rise from the earth. Note the frequency of references to vision: “before their very eyes, from their sight, looking intently, why do you stand here looking into the sky.”
People today denigrate eyewitness testimony, because the very act of seeing can change the facts. But it was very important to the apostles (and to Jesus who spent 40 days making sure they could believe their eyes). They didn’t make this up; they saw it. They were witnesses of these things. That would matter greatly as they travelled the earth spreading the Kingdom of God. It all depended on the reality of the Resurrection (and now the Ascension). If he didn’t rise and rise, he wasn’t the Lord and Christ they claimed him to be.
But they couldn’t stand there staring into heaven forever. The angels (presumably, though one scholar thinks they were Moses and Elijah) urged them to close their gaping mouths and move their stunned feet with a promise as dramatic as Jesus last act on earth. “This same Jesus… will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Jesus had clearly taught his return in the Gospel of John, but not with this sort of specificity. He will return in his resurrected body. He will return in the clouds from heaven, so that his return will be visible. No wonder the New Testament epistles are filled with allusions to the Second Coming. Jesus’ Ascension is intimately connected not only to his Resurrection, but also to his Return.
How would Jesus apostles react to the last words and acts of Jesus Christ, their Lord? With a rush to build shelters on the Mount of Olives (as Peter had suggested on the Mount of Transfiguration)? With shouts of hallelujah and songs of praise as the lectionary Psalm for today does? With sadness at his absence, scattering back into their individual lives as they seemed to have done on Good Friday? Or with gladness at his promise, hurrying back to their homes to tell the story of Jesus rising and rising?
None of the above. “They returned to Jerusalem…,” because that is exactly what Jesus told them to do. “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised… in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
It is fascinating and instructive to see how they waited for the Spirit. If we want to continue Christ’s ministry of promoting the Kingdom of God by witnessing about the risen Christ, here’s what we must do as we wait. First, they were together, as the body of Christ. “When they arrived, they went upstairs to the upper room (the same one in which they spent Maundy Thursday night?) where they were staying.” We cannot be witnesses on our own.
Notice how important it was that everyone was there; the absence of one apostle was so significant that one of their first items of business was the appointment of the twelfth apostle. And note how Luke makes a point of including women in the waiting, praying, witnessing body (a foreshadowing of Joel’s prophecy coming true on Pentecost?). They were all together.
Second, they prayed, and prayed, and prayed. “They all joined together constantly in prayer….” They were not praying to change the will of God; they were praying that God would do his revealed will. Well, if God was going send the Spirit anyway, why should they pray about that?
That is sometimes how we reason about prayer. God is going to do what God is going to do, so why bother to pray? That seems reasonable, but it runs counter to everything Jesus taught and to everything we read about the early church. Perhaps the western church is losing members rather than gaining them like the early church precisely because we have let our reason overwhelm the revelation we read in the Bible. For 10 days the church “joined together constantly in prayer,” and then the wind blew and the church grew and the kingdom of God spread to the ends of the earth.
Ascension Sunday, this Seventh Sunday of the Easter Season, is a day to celebrate the ongoing work of the Risen Christ, to pray without ceasing that the Spirit will empower us for witness, and then to actually go out into the world and bear witness to the Risen Christ, so that the Kingdom may come in all its glory.
That phrase in Acts 17:6 ((KJV and RSV) about the apostles “turning the world upside down” is a powerful angle into preaching on the Kingdom of God in Acts. The apostles were actually turning the world right side up. In his great book, Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard summarizes how the upside-down-ness of the world ruins every society. “The end stage of every successful society is when it begins to believe that it is responsible for its success and prosperity and begins to worship itself and rebel against the understanding and practices that enabled it, under God, to be successful in the first place.” Underneath the problems of the world, he concludes, is “the radical evil of the human heart—a heart that would make me God in place of God.” The world is upside down, and none of our attempts to change the world will restore the peace and justice of God until the world is turned right side up and God is King again and we are his willing subjects. And that depends, finally, on the Church’s Spirit empowered witness to the Risen Christ.
Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
Author: Scott Hoezee
Most of the time when the Psalms start to go on and on about God’s scattering enemies and crushing foes, the Revised Common Lectionary politely has us hopscotch right over such sentiments to focus on the nicer, gentler sentiments of praise and thanksgiving. Most of the time if the Lectionary assigns verses 1-6 and 12-25 of a given chapter, you would not often lose money by betting that verses 7-11 contain some imagery of violence or condemnation.
But Psalm 68 goes at such themes right off the bat, and the Lectionary this time has us read it. Maybe it fits with this time of the Ascension, a time when we meditate on the cosmic victory that Christ won over sin and evil and when we celebrate now his enthronement at God’s right hand in ruling the galaxies.
Or maybe it is because of where Psalm 68 goes with these more militaristic images: it goes straight to God’s tender care for the most vulnerable among us: widows, the lonely, the poor, the orphans. All of this brings us to that Bible-wide theme—very prominent in the Old Testament—of that group known as the anawim. The widow, the orphan, the alien: this triplet (and their collective category of very often being also “the poor”) pops up all over the Torah. God’s people are mandated to care for such marginalized people—indeed, Israel is commanded to give extra, over-the-top care to people in these social categories. Of course, Israel mostly fails in doing that and so the next big appearance for the anawim are in the prophets and especially the Minor Prophets like Amos and Micah. Not only did Israel and its leadership fail to protect these poor people, it was far worse than just that passive failure: they also actively exploited these people!
I just finished co-teaching a class on the Prophets. Students had four texts to choose from for writing a sermon for the course, one of which was Micah 3. This semester out of just over 30 students, only two chose that text: the others went for more lyric texts like Isaiah 61, Zechariah 8, and Jeremiah 32. Small wonder: Micah 3 is a raw text that compares the leaders of Israel to cannibals who stripped the flesh off the poor, consumed it, and used their bones to make soup. Not an easy text to preach on! Or read.
But that is how dear to God’s heart the anawim were and are. And so yes, in Psalm 68 God—and now God through the ascended Lord Jesus—sallies forth into the world to defeat evildoers. But what is the worst thing some of those people do? From the looks of Psalm 68 it was exactly this Micah 3-esque exploitation of the anawim. And so in Psalm 68 it is God himself who both notices these invisible people and actively promotes their cause and reverses their fortunes.
The Torah mandates this care for the vulnerable, the Prophets assail Israel for not doing it. But it is in the Psalms that God is often celebrated as the champion of the lowly. Psalm 113 is another good example but there are others. Yes, as is often true in the Psalms the promises seem a little too sunny—if only it were true that every childless woman would be able to have children after all and that every poor person would find his fortunes reversed. But it’s not always so. What is always the case, however, is that the heart of God is set on the poor, the vulnerable, the people the rest of society is often too busy even to notice. We call these people “marginalized” for a reason: they sit on the margins of society and they exist barely registering—if at all—on the margins of our awareness.
Yet Israel found the true greatness of Yahweh not just in his cosmic power or his ability to make mountains smoke and deserts convulse. No, it was God’s ability to see us in our littleness that really bowled over the psalmists. It was the way the Great God Almighty of the universe could make himself small, could condescend to the little people, could draw close to us on the margins of our tiny existence: this was the true wonder of Israel’s God and the #1 thing he did as a result of routing evildoers.
If we are paying close attention, I suppose that aspect of Psalm 68 previews the most glorious thing God ever did: made himself a microscopic zygote in the uterus of a young woman. And out of the utter littleness of what God let himself become came something really very big indeed: a galactic rout of evil and a glorious vindication and rescue of all the lonely, lost, last, least people of the world.
And if that is not reason enough to join the poet of Psalm 68 in calling on the whole world to sing praises to God, I don’t know what could motivate one’s praise. But the Gospel tells the truth: God is the Great God who gives strength to God’s people. Praise God. Hallelujah!
In also my John 17 Gospel sermon starter article for this Year A Sunday after the Ascension I direct us to ponder the Hoberman Sphere as a great example of how something that can expand into something really big can also collapse down to something quite small. This video shows one of the world’s largest Hoberman Spheres at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey doing its thing, expanding to a huge sphere and collapsing back down into a very small one. This is the movement of God in the incarnation. But it is also the movement of God in Psalm 68: from the huge expanse of God’s glory in the heavens down to God’s narrow focus on the tiniest of vulnerable people in this world!
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Author: Doug Bratt
Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam chronicles her travels along the 10th parallel. In it she notes that many Muslims and Christians live and work close to each other along that parallel.
Peter wouldn’t surprise either Christians or Muslims in those areas when he says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (5:8). Both Islam and Christianity, after all, don’t just take evil very seriously. They also see it personified in a devil.
Yet while modern first world Christians sometimes seem reluctant to talk about Satan, Peter isn’t. While westerners sometimes almost seem embarrassed by such talk, the apostle is very blunt about the evil one and his intentions.
Western citizens of the 21st century sometimes seem more comfortable with talking about vampires, aliens and monsters than Satan. By contrast, Peter isn’t shy about insisting that a merciless Satan is relentlessly hunting down Jesus’ followers.
Yet Satan the stalker may prefer the anonymity Christians sometimes afford him to Peter’s stark warnings. I imagine he’d rather track unsuspecting enemies than boldly attack prey that’s on the lookout for him. Satan could hardly ask for better cover than the belief he doesn’t exist or claims that he’s nothing more than a metaphor for evil.
Jesus certainly didn’t share some of our contemporaries’ skepticism about a real devil. After all, Satan’s “prowling” reached its peak in his attacks on him. Right at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Satan tempted him in the wilderness. He also dogged Jesus throughout his life. However, we believe Satan’s attack on Jesus climaxed in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus, of course, both successfully resisted Satan’s attacks and defeated him. When he ascended to the heavenly realm he took his place at God’s right hand from where he rules over all powers, dominions and authority, including Satan.
However, a defeated and controlled Satan is perhaps an especially dangerous Satan. He at least suspects that he doesn’t have long to live. So Satan pours out his fury with growing intensity against God’s people.
That makes him a bit like Adolf Hitler in his last days. He knew that his enemies were closing in on him. Hitler at least suspected his end was near. But he threw children and old men into his defense of his thousand-year kingdom. And he ordered his concentration camps to ovens burn even hotter.
Peter calls God’s adopted sons and daughters to resist the dying Satan’s perhaps similarly increasingly virulent attacks. Yet Christians easily assume that means attacking people with whom we don’t agree or who are attacking us.
So Christians sometimes battle their Muslim neighbors in African countries like Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia. However, they also sometimes battle each other along the 10th parallel in Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Of course, those who seem be at least unwitting allies of Satan sometimes can be unremitting and cruel in their attacks on Jesus’ followers. In fact, even the current pandemic has given no rest from persecution for Jesus’ beleaguered and embattled followers in much of the world.
Eliza Griswold quotes the head of the Anglican Church of Nigeria as saying, “No Christian would pray for violence, but it would be utterly naïve to sweep the issue of Islam under the carpet. I’m not out to combat anybody … [Yet as] I’ve said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence.”
But those who assume personifying Satan is a just a developing world problem should ask ourselves how many different people Americans have historically linked to Satan. Cartoons during World War II depicted, at various times, Japanese-Americans and Nazis with “devil’s horns.” Or think of how often people have identified Hitler, Stalin and Mao as the anti-Christ.
A few years ago I audited a course at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on fostering healthy relationships between Jews and Christians. Both its Christian and Jewish leaders reminded us how often Jews were historically portrayed as having “devil’s horns.”
Satan is quite pleased to have Jesus’ followers identify him with all sorts of other individuals, countries and religions. That, after all, may easily desensitize us to the reality of him at work right in our own hearts and lives.
Evil is very real in our world. People, including countless Christians, are suffering deeply because of it. But God’s dearly beloved people sometimes assume the line between good and evil runs between people, especially between us “good” folks and people we label as “bad.” We’re more likely to identify Satan and it in others than in ourselves.
Yet as my colleague Fleming Rutledge likes to point out, the line between good and evil runs right through even Christians. We too easily cave in to Satan’s temptations. He’s “roaring” just as much in Jesus’ followers’ hearts and lives as he is anywhere “out there.”
Yet Peter insists Satan’s relentless prowling and growling doesn’t get the last word. The last word is, in many ways, 1 Peter 5:7’s “God cares for you.” It’s what a colleague calls a “transfer of cares.”
Peter invites those who proclaim and hear this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson to think about the cares that keep us awake until or wake us up in the middle of the night. The list may be a kilometer long. Those who proclaim I Peter 4 and 5 might even explore the list with our hearers.
Of course, in this strange time of pandemic, many of those cares are related to COVID-19 and its repercussions. Our cares include concerns about those we love and ourselves getting sick from it or even dying of it. They include worries about health care workers, first responders and others being poorly protected against its relentless assaults. The cares Peter invites us to cast upon the Lord include concerns for the virus’ impact on local, national and global economies.
But, of course, Satan’s arsenal is deep and creative. So I Peter 4 and 5’s proclaimers’ cares range beyond this pandemic. Maybe they include children or grandchildren who have wandered away. Perhaps it’s the downsizing in our hearers’ workplace. Maybe it’s a strange lump or lingering pain. Or maybe it’s sometimes forgetting just why you walked into that room.
This morning Peter invites us to take that anxiety, that “care” and hand it over to God. We can transfer our cares to God because God so deeply cares for us. God cares about Satan’s growling, prowling presence in our lives. Since we aren’t God, we might as well hand our care over to the only One who can be God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
What happens to God’s adopted children matters to God. Yet that’s not always easy for us to recognize. After all, God allows things to happen that make even Christians question whether God cares for us. People we love and we lose jobs, health and economic well-being.
So how can the Spirit restore Jesus’ followers’ trust that God cares for us? My colleague Scott Hoezee invites us to think about how we believe a friend cares for us. How might we know that? It has to do with our history together.
For example, my belief that my wife cares for me is based on hundreds of thousands of big and little things that have happened over the years to and between us. Things like how we first met and the kinds of things we like to do together. Things like how we’ve been there for each other in both good and bad times.
How do God’s adopted children know that God cares for us, that what happens to us matters to God? Well, what’s our story together? God created all things, including people, good. God creates us in God’s image, to be like God in so many ways.
Do both those who proclaim and those who hear this Sunday’ Epistolary Lesson wonder if God really cares for us? Think of how God freed our Hebrew ancestors from Egyptian slavery and gave them a home in the land of promise. Think of how God sent Jesus Christ to live, die and rise again from the dead.
Do Jesus’ followers wonder if what happens to us matters to God? Look to the end of this creation and humanity’s story. In verse 10 Peter promises, “The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” In other words, God, not suffering nor temptation or anxiety gets the last word. God will restore God’s adopted sons and daughters.
That knowledge frees us to give our anxieties and cares to God so that we can live lives of loving service. God’s care for us frees us to worry less about things like our health and salvation and more about serving God and our neighbors.
Griswold tells the story of James Movel Wuye, a Nigerian pastor who works alongside Imam Muhammad Nurayan Ashafa to change the way Christians and Muslims view each other. In the late 20th century each taught thousands of their young followers to resist Satan by killing each other. The imam’s followers even chopped off Pastor Wuye’s arm.
But now Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye teach young people to respect each other’s differences. They both remain deeply committed to their respective faiths. Imam Ashafa even says, “I want James to die as a Muslim, and he wants me to die as a Christian.” Yet they’re respectful partners in cultivating a deeper unity among Nigerian youth of all religions.