I must begin with a confession. I am not especially fond of Peter’s writing. His themes are sexist and demeaning to women and Peter preferences suffering rather than healing and wholeness. I can overlook Peter’s lack of enlightenment. No doubt, he was a product of his time and reflected the prevailing ideas about gender roles, relationships and male privilege.
Peter also lived during a time of persecution. Nero’s hatred of Christians inspired and condoned unspeakable acts of cruelty against those who followed Christ. Peter is eventually martyred during Nero’s rule. Understanding suffering for the faith and finding hope and encouragement in the face of suffering is a key concern of 1 Peter. It is virtually impossible for us to comprehend the harsh reality that Christians were dying for what they believed.
This is the backdrop during the First Century for Peter’s letter. He writes and conveys this letter to “God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood.” Peter’s intentions are clear in the letter. He is concerned with Christian life, roles and duties. His beliefs on these subjects are connected with exhortations and words of encouragement.
Today’s scripture is taken from a section which encourages Christians to conduct themselves as people of peace and forgiveness. In the midst of legalism, there is a timeless blessing. Sadly, as humanity has evolved in knowledge and wisdom, Peter’s words and his views did not. They remain in glorious exhortation and debilitating gender bias, words written for people living two thousand years ago who struggled to know how to live with each other and with the world.
I wish that Peter could have transcended his biases, but that is not the case. Peter’s lack of knowledge harms his Gospel witness and his words have been used to subjugate women and perpetuate dominant/submissive gender roles. Accepting this, we are left in the tension of proclaiming part of his message, but not all. As in Paul’s writings, which is used, even today, to harm the LGBT community, it is best to accept that imperfect men reflected a time and culture that has passed. We are under no requirement to perpetuate sexism or homophobia.
Peter is not Christ. Christ surpassed the limitations forced on people by virtue of their birth. Gender, race, ethnicity, economic status and even differences of faith did not prove to be insurmountable obstacles. Christ made spiritual connections transcending artificial distinctions. In our sermon scripture this morning, Peter follows Christ’s insights, if only for a few verses.
The theme of our text is unity. Unity is a primal concept. Without unity many animals, including humans, would not survive. There is strength in numbers. Peter, and you and I, live in a complicated, multicultural world. We live in a world of breathtaking beauty and horror. Orlando, Dakar and Istanbul are the latest in a mind-numbing list of mass murders.
Homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, classism and attitudes of privilege still grip too many people. These attitudes and beliefs are not just “out there.” They are “in here” within many of us. Everyone has one or more limiting beliefs. I have been surprised, confounded and frustrated the limiting beliefs I have discovered within myself. I am, and always will be, a work in progress. I pray that you are as well. Perhaps, you share my belief that we must transform ourselves or we will transmit our biases and prejudices to others.
Thankfully, each of us has the Holy Spirit to help guide and empower us through the change process.
Unity of Spirit is a comforting and reassuring concept. The idea that we are linked through the amazing gift of grace and mercy offered through Christ evokes a future glory of God’s kingdom here on Earth or a reuniting of all of God’s children in eternity.
Unity of Spirit is greater than a sense of temporary harmony; it is beyond our understanding of unity in a time of crisis; it is even beyond the image many Christian hold of the full body of Christ as represented by the church.
Unity of Spirit
Sympathy, not unfeeling, uncaring and heartless
Love for one another, not contempt, disgust and hatred
A tender heart, not a hardened, cynical and embittered heart
A humble mind, not a mind driven by ego and vanity.
Do not repay evil for evil
Do not repay abuse for abuse
Rather repay all transgressions with a blessing
You were called to be blessed
You were called to inherit a blessing.
What blessing? The blessing of unity with God. The blessing of unity with those who share this most wondrous and fragile world. The blessing of being transformed—a “new creation” in Christ.
May you be blessed this day. May you forgive. May you love.