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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 9, 2023
2 Peter 1:16–2:2, 15-19
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen
When we read the Bible, many of us – most of the time – do it as part of a spiritual practice to nurture and support our faith. As we do that practice as individuals, it carries forward into our interactions with others, especially as members of a congregation.
And most of the New Testament letters and writings were written to encourage the early Christian communities not only in their faith practices, but also in how they created community together as Christians.
In these writings, many Old Testament stories are recalled and retold as a way to remind the early Christians of the roots and history of their faith. And there are instructions about practicing grace and mercy and forgiveness with one another as they followed in the way of Jesus.
All of these things were intended to help the early Christians work together to become one community and as united as possible in their faith.
But the letter of 2 Peter deviates from that practice of encouraging working together to become one community. It wasn’t written by the apostle Peter, but by someone who wrote in his name. So there are echoes of Peter’s teachings and ministry in this writing. But this letter doesn’t follow Peter’s teachings exactly.
The part we read last week encourages the Christian community about the values of Jesus that they’re expected to practice to sustain and deepen the relationships they have with one another. And to strengthen the faith of each individual member and the faith of the entire community.
The part we read today continues from there and recalls the Transfiguration as a reminder of God’s will being affirmed through Jesus.
And then the author warns about false prophets and teachers who will bring in destructive views and even deny Christ, which was a legitimate concern. But instead of saying something like, “Be on guard for these people and then show them the way of Jesus” the author says, “for them the deepest darkness has been reserved.”
He doesn’t encourage the Christian community to work through these differences, or to correct the teachings of the false prophets to bring them into community, or to practice grace and mercy and patience – all the things that people in a Christian community are supposed to do for one another.
Instead, in the verses that are skipped in today’s reading, he calls the false prophets “irrational animals” (2:12) and says that they “entice unsteady souls” (2:14) and that their hearts are “trained in greed” (2:14). He goes on to say that if these false prophets do end up following the way of Jesus but then fall off that path, they’re worse off than they were before.
Then he quotes a couple of proverbs that aren’t nice and basically says, “There’s no hope for them. Just cut them loose.”
It’s harsh, and we aren’t told why he takes this approach. And besides cutting these people out of the community, the author labels them, stereotypes them, and stigmatizes them. It doesn’t leave room for hope or for grace for people who are outside of the community – or even for people inside it, or who want to be a part of it, and who might have questions about their faith.
For us as Christians today, this reading is a lesson in what not to do when it comes to how we treat people. And I’m not talking about allowing people to walk all over us, or abuse or mistreat us, because those behaviors are never okay.
But when we disagree or are divided on an issue, we don’t shut people down or shut them out, or prevent them from being part of the community. We figure out how to work through it together. Because, as Christians, we remember that the identity of our community is rooted in Jesus. And because Jesus is our source, it’s the Holy Spirit that leads us and guides us.
When we think about what that means for who we are as a congregation, we know that the Holy Spirit leads us in the way of Jesus – the way of kindness, humility, and love, grace, compassion, mercy, and justice. Those are hard things to live all the time. It’s easier to call someone names and tell them to just go when we aren’t in agreement.
But being a community, especially a Christian community, takes work. It takes patience, and repentance, and forgiveness. It takes a openness to listen to one another and to the Holy Spirit. And the faith to take steps in the direction where the Spirit is leading.
When I was going through the formation process to become a pastor, at one point I had to answer questions about a series of case studies that helped vet my theology and my sense of leadership. One of the case studies was about a bilingual ELCA congregation – not the one I served in Phoenix.
It was Anglo and Latino, English and Spanish. They worshiped in the same building with the same pastor, but at separate services. And they had tried at various times to meld the two groups together to form one worship community, and it hadn’t worked.
They’d been able to come together for some fellowship events and service projects. But when it came to worship, they’d tried multiple times to be one community and they just could not make it work. And both communities eventually agreed that they would do what they’d been doing and continue to share space.
So, the question I was asked about this case study was, if I were called to be their pastor, would I force them to be together as one community.
And I answered that I would not. And my answer hasn’t changed. I said that I would expect that they’d come together for other events as they’d been doing, and that there would be some kind of joint leadership team formed, but that otherwise I’d allow them to function as two separate communities.
It would have been really easy for one group to kick the other one out of the building. Basically saying, “If we can’t do everything together then we won’t do anything at all.” Or for one group to undermine the other somehow. Instead, they found the places where they could come together and worked within those to build a community rooted in Jesus.
As Christians, we nurture and build up our community – our congregation – when we’re united in our mission of the good news of Jesus. For us, here at Saint Andrew’s, we’ve framed it as growing together in Christ to love and serve all people. There are so many ways for us to live into that and embody it.
And it doesn’t mean we have to be in lockstep with each other about everything all the time. But it does mean that we have to know why we do what we do, who we are, and who God is calling us to become.
And in the times that we don’t agree on what those answers might be, it means we listen to one another and to the Holy Spirit. We have conversation. We pray with and for one another. And we encourage one another as we faithfully take steps in the direction where God’s Spirit is leading us.
Living this way, being this way as a community, is hard work. It doesn’t always lead to quick or easy resolutions, or in overnight transformations. But it does lead us in the way of Jesus. And that’s the direction we want to go. Thanks be to God! Amen.