Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116: 1-3, 10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24: 13-35
THE REV. JAMES M. L. GRACE
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I have kind of a weird relationship with the Bible. I have read it, I have studied it, and I continue to do that. Some times when I read the Bible I am amazed beyond words at all the meaning contained on those thin, tissue paper like pages. But other times, when I read the Bible, I can find it so challenging. And there are some books of the Bible that just present a real challenge to me, because so much of what I read in them, I disagree with as a human being and as a priest. One of those books is 1Peter, which we hear today. 1 Peter is in the part of the Bible most call the “New Testament,” and while I’ve already said there are parts of the Bible I disagree with, I’ll go a step further and say I don’t like the phrase “New Testament.” Why?
Because when we hear “New Testament” we might think, “newer is better” therefore the New Testament is newer, better, than the “Old Testament.” Our culture seems to place greater value on new things than it does on old things. So I just try to avoid using those terms old and new testament altogether, because when Jesus was alive, he didn’t call it the “old testament.” He called it scripture, so I that’s what I call the Old testament – I call the Hebrew Bible. Others prefer to call it the First Testament, andI like to call the “new testament” the “Second Testament.” Because the new does not replace the old, nor is it better. The only times I use the words “old testament” and “new testament” are in reference to the heavy metal band “Testament,” to refer to albums they released in the 1980s “old” and in the last five years “new.”
So I think I was trying to talk about 1 Peter, a difficult book for me in the Bible, and here is why. I am going to share with you several verses that I really struggle with in this book:
1 Peter 2:18-19: “Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly.” 1 Peter 3:1: “Wives…accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct. 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex.” Now I need to stop there, because there is just a lot of bad theology there. Women as the weaker sex? Watch the actresses Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in the movie “Aliens” or Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in the movie “Mad Max: Fury Road” and it’s obvious those characters had more strength and resolve than all the men sitting in this church today, myself included! And in Mad Max, Charlize Theron’s character only was one arm!
But there are parts of 1 Peter that are really good, like the part we hear today. I love what the author’s description of what Christ does on our behalf. In essence, the author of 1 Peter says that in his dying and in his resurrection, Jesus ransoms us from death. So what does that mean? To ransom someone is to purchase their freedom, like a slave’s freedom bought from a Roman master. The point 1 Peter makes is that this is what Jesus did for us. He bought our freedom from death, not with money, but with his life.
If you sit with that for a moment, and really think about, it is powerful. We are all free, ransomed from death, because Christ paid the price on our behalf. So yes, we die, and our bodies grow old. But that is not the end of our story. The end of our story has already been written, by Christ, who has saved us, freed us, from really dying.
One final note on context. I shared with you all challenging verses in 1 Peter, about marriage and slave ownership. 1 Peter was written about forty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, so like around the year 70-ish. The world at that time was densely patriarchal, and it was a world in which slavery was common.
After almost two thousand years, how much has the world really changed? That’s another sermon for another time. But my point is simply that in the Episcopal Church, we value and embrace a reading of the Bible that makes room for context. That means there are many ways to interpret scripture, to read it, and to understand it. The verses I shared earlier pertaining to marriage and slavery – I read those simply as history, cultural evidence from the first century. Interesting, but not necessarily relevant for me in 2017.
But what we hear in 1 Peter today is relevant. We are emancipated, we are freed from the tyranny of death. How many of us today really live our lives knowing we are free and truly alive? To live free from death means that we are not concerned with small things. To live a life emancipated from death means to look outside ourselves, to look outside this church, and consider, where are we needed? Where can we bring life? That’s the whole point of the visioning work we are doing as a church together. And for everyone who completed our parish survey – thank you for doing so. The Vestry will be reviewing your responses soon, and we will continue to move forward together. But bigger than that, God has already called out our name, and brought us out from our grave. We are neither new or old, slave or master, male or female. We are free, and God is calling us out into the world to show others what true freedom looks like. Will you go? AMEN.