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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
July 2, 2023
2 Peter 1:1-11
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
For the last few weeks, we spent time in the book of Isaiah following part of the timeline of the Israelites and their relationship with God and God’s relationship with them. Today, we move forward several hundred years to spend some time examining the early Christian church using the book of 2 Peter.
Many of the epistles – the letters – in the New Testament were written to specific communities or people about specific issues. 2 Peter wasn’t addressed to a particular community or person, but it does address community dynamics and relationships and how to be together as Christians. Which is a recurring theme in the New Testament.
This letter wasn’t written by the apostle Peter, but by someone who wrote it in his name. And there’s disagreement about when it was written. Some scholars have dated it to about the year 90CE, and some say it was written as late as the year 150CE. Either way, it was written later than many of the other New Testament books.
So, for the early church, this was the time when the apostles, the direct witnesses of Jesus – people who had walked the earth with him, were either dying or had already died. So, as a body, the church was transitioning from one age to the next, and its identity was being shaped in a world without that direct witness of Peter and the other apostles.
But by writing in Peter’s name, the author of this letter was able to restate and defend Peter’s teachings in a time when opponents of Christianity were criticizing the message of the apostles.
We know from other New Testament writings that it was hard for early Christians to practice their faith because the way they lived was so different from everyone else around them. Not just because of their worship practices, or the way they cared for one another and included people from the margins. But also because of their belief and hope in the promise that Jesus would return any day.
And these opponents that 2 Peter speaks against were essentially mocking the early Christians. Saying things like, “Oh…that’s what you guys do? That’s kinda weird. Why don’t you just do what everyone else does and be like us? And you really think that Jesus guy is coming back from the dead? Wow.”
Hearing comments like that, and being in an environment that didn’t think highly of them, made it even harder for the early Christians to hold onto their faith, let alone to live it publicly. So, this letter begins by describing the virtues held by those who believe in Jesus – reminding them of whose they are and how it shapes the way they live.
As we just heard in the children’s message, these virtues – these ideals – are the fruit of the Spirit. The characteristics or qualities, of God’s Spirit. And as the people practiced them, especially in a time when their witness of Jesus was based on the testimony of others who had since died – and in an environment that wasn’t supportive of Christians – they began to understand that these characteristics were what they needed in order to live as Christians.
That no matter what the people outside of their community said or thought about their faith in Jesus, these are the qualities Jesus had given them to embody and to live as a community.
And the structure of the letter makes it seem like one virtue builds on another but, really, they’re woven together and love is the thread that connects them. They’re the ideals that Christians strive toward. They sustain and deepen the relationships within their community, and strengthen the faith not only of individual people but of the entire congregation.
In the centuries since this letter was written, living as a Christian hasn’t gotten any easier. The world today sets us in competition with each other, to consume more and have more and hold onto what we have so tightly that we forget about the way Jesus calls us to live.
And as individuals, we can’t live the life Jesus calls us to on our own. We need the support and the relationships we have as a faith community. We help strengthen one another when we come together and gather each week for worship.
My internship supervisor called it “refilling your spiritual gas tank.” And for those of you who drive electric vehicles, it’s plugging into the spiritual charger. And if you’re worshiping with us online, you aren’t worshiping in isolation, you’re participating with us as part of our community.
When we gather, we practice goodness and knowledge and self-control and love together. We collectively embody the fruit of the Spirit, and that makes it possible for us to support one another and lift each other up so that when we go out from this place, we can live the way Jesus calls us to live.
The New York Times recently completed a series of articles about Americans moving away from religion. Not just Christianity, but religion in general. If you have access to that series and haven’t read it, I encourage you to read it. If you don’t have access, find a friend that does and ask them to forward the articles to you.
The final article was published last Wednesday, and it explores the uniqueness of religion’s ability to create community. And it includes people who attend any of the traditional houses of worship – church, synagogue, mosque, friends meeting, and so on – so it isn’t exclusively addressing Christian community.
It talks about how people who are part of some kind of faith community, experience and have community in a way that very few other people have. It strengthens and nurtures them not only in their faith, but in their everyday lives, too – the joys, the celebrations, and especially the struggles.
And for the people who have moved away from religion, that experience of community is what they miss. They haven’t been able to find it anywhere else. And it isn’t as simple as saying, “Well, just go back” because walking away from the religion you were raised in is a complex decision.
I share this with you because we are in a time when things are changing radically in the church. We’ve all noticed it; I’ve talked about it from the pulpit. We’re starting to talk more about it amongst ourselves; we’re talking about it with other congregations.
We don’t know what’s next, we just know that when we’re through the change things won’t be the same as they were before. But we know that what we want to hold onto through all of this is community – the spirit we feel when we gather each week, the strength and the comfort and the support it gives us.
And in a world that sets us up to question whether church or religion is still relevant – the community we have with one another is critically important. And as Christians, we remember that the identity of our community is rooted in Jesus.
That, through Jesus, the fruit of the Spirit is woven into our lives and reminds us of whose we are and shapes the way we live. It’s a gift that Jesus gives to us, and it’s what makes it possible for us to live as people who follow him. It doesn’t mean we live perfectly, but faithfully.
It sustains and deepens the relationships we have with one another, and strengthens the faith not only of each person here as an individual, but also the faith of our entire congregation. Thanks be to God! Amen.
 Grose, Jessica. Series of articles in The New York Times about Americans moving away from religion.