1 Peter 3:13-22
Contemporary English Version (CEV)
13 Can anyone really harm you for being eager to do good deeds? 14 Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you. So stop being afraid and don’t worry about what people might do. 15 Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life.
Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. 16 Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ. 17 You are better off to obey God and suffer for doing right than to suffer for doing wrong.
18 Christ died once for our sins.
An innocent person died for those who are guilty.
Christ did this to bring you to God, when his body was put to death and his spirit was made alive.
19 Christ then preached to the spirits that were being kept in prison. 20 They had disobeyed God while Noah was building the boat, but God had been patient with them. Eight people went into that boat and were brought safely through the flood.
21 Those flood waters were like baptism that now saves you.[ergo, baptism saves us; the flood saved the Noah family] But baptism is more than just washing your body. It means turning to God with a clear conscience, because Jesus Christ was raised from death. 22 Christ is now in heaven, where he sits at the right side of God. All angels, authorities, and powers are under his control.
Can anyone really harm you for being eager to do good deeds? What’s your answer to that? Do you put yourself in danger when you do good deeds? Peter evidently thinks that is a possibility because he adds this caveat: “Even if you have to suffer for doing good things, God will bless you.” So it’s possible to be hurt for doing the right thing.
Can you think of a time when you did the right thing and it backfired? Have you ever been scolded for doing the right thing? Have you ever had anybody gossip about you because you did the right thing?
One of my favorite examples comes from the era of Hurricane Katrina. That hurricane displaced thousands of people and the congregation in DeWitt, like many congregations, was eager to help. I received a call from a former pastor who had been in contact with one displaced family. John and his twin daughters needed a place to stay; the pastor knew that our parsonage was still empty. I approached the executive committee of the congregation to ask what they thought. They were all for it. On the next Sunday, we all converged on the empty parsonage with furniture, food, towels, sheets, dishes…you name it. We had a blast getting the place ready. I especially remember a mother and daughter coming with two baskets full of shampoo, cosmetics, barrettes–all kinds of girly stuff. We were all excited for John and his daughters to arrive. And they did and we welcomed them with our whole hearts.
Our understanding was that John would look for work and the girls would enroll in school. The girls did enroll in school. The rest of our expectations were never met. John never found a job, and freeloaded off us for about six months. He went to church once. That disappointed the congregation–it wasn’t about his personal faith, but about his shunning our community. We all felt pretty dumb. We had been taken advantage of by someone who was pretty much a con man.
But we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves; we told ourselves, we still tell ourselves, that we did the right thing. We took in a family, welcomed them totally into our hearts and community. We did what we knew was the Jesus thing to do. The response to our hospitality was not what we expected. But we didn’t have control over that.
We weren’t punished for our good deed, but we were disappointed at the lack of gratitude. Of course, at the annual meeting, some people did scold us for our foolishness. It was a natural reaction to our human nature to want to be rewarded for every good thing we do. Peter says that’s not how it works.14 So stop being afraid and don’t worry about what people might do. 15 Honor Christ and let him be the Lord of your life.
That is a minor little story. The bigger stories were lived by people like Martin Luther KIng, Jr., and Mahatma Gandhi. Both were murdered because they were seeking justice for not just African-Americans or Hindus, but for all people in their nations.
It is somewhat ironic that this lesson falls on Memorial Day weekend. Again, think of putting yourself in harm’s way for the sake of doing good.
Think of the soldiers and sailors and airmen we honor this weekend. Ordinary men and women, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, farmers and teachers, all good people, who would never dream of committing murder, volunteered to learn how to kill. They rose above themselves to defend a greater good.
We all know men and women who have been put in this precarious position. Thou shalt not kill vs. the Red, White and Blue.
I had coffee with my friend, Joan, yesterday. We talked about how even though war is evil, good people go to war. Twenty years ago, she preached a sermon on the fiftieth anniversary of the dropping of the bomb. She served a congregation in rural Minnesota, and like every congregation, some of the members were veterans. One of the questions she asked in her sermon was whether all the destruction of lives caused by the bomb was necessary. Could the war have ended in some other way? She knew who her veterans were. Two had served state-side in WWII and had never been in battle. Three had served in battles. One had served in the Pacific, one had bombed Dresden, and the the other had bombed Japan. All three knew they had personally caused horrific deaths for soldiers as well as civilians. The two who had never served in battle left without talking to her and didn’t come back for a few Sundays. The three who had served in battle, the three who knew they were directly responsible for multiple deaths, came to her and thanked her for expressing what had always been in their hearts for those fifty years: could we have done it differently? Could we have saved lives? Did we have to kill? She gave them permission to say out loud what had been haunting them for fifty years.
What is right is not always clear. What is clear is not always right. Joan also told me about a lecture she had gone to. It was about evil. The speaker, Dr. Jeffrey Means from Des Moines University, has written a book about evil and how it works its way into our lives. The book is called Trauma and Evil: Healing the Wounded Soul. Dr. Means says that evil is like the water that seeps into rock and freezes and thaws and freezes and thaws. It is so insidious that the cracks are not even noticeable at first…and then the cracks become bigger and bigger, just as the evil becomes larger and larger. He says that evil is not a thing, but a process.
The danger of that is that evil becomes a part of our culture, a part of us, without us even realizing it. The challenge for us is to ask “How do we control evil?” The answer is frustrating: we can’t control evil. But we can control our attitude, our response, our involvement. Peter says: 17 You are better off to obey God and suffer for doing right than to suffer for doing wrong.
That makes the Golden Rule a little less attractive, doesn’t it? So, God, if I do good, that might get me some not so welcome results. This again goes back to Peter’s idea that we are aliens, misfits, outsiders, in a culture whose values are not constant and whose values are often contrary to those of Christians. As Christians, we are called to be bold enough to do something that might hurt us. We are called to be strong enough to do the right thing without expecting a payoff. We are called to be faithful enough to break rules to do the right thing. We are called to be wise enough to question what our culture tells us is best for everyone. We are crazy enough to defy conventional wisdom when it contradicts God’s wisdom.
We practice a faith that uses love as its operating force. But there is another force in the world: the force of evil. When we claim our alien identity, we put ourselves at risk of evil. Thankfully, we are rarely asked to risk our lives. But we do risk our reputation. We risk embarrassment. We risk humiliation. We risk friendships. Have you ever had anybody unfriend you on Facebook because they find your opinions offensive? I have. And there are certain emails I delete without reading because they always offend me. I like to think it’s because Jesus told me to. It’s not. It’s tricky to live as an alien. How do I know what is right and what is wrong? My only hope for figuring that out is to keep this big book open, to keep asking questions, especially to keep questioning my self.
I find this advice from Peter helpful. It is demanding advice, but it helps: 15 Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. 16 Give a kind and respectful answer and keep your conscience clear. This way you will make people ashamed for saying bad things about your good conduct as a follower of Christ. 17 You are better off to obey God and suffer for doing right than to suffer for doing wrong.
It doesn’t make me a martyr. It doesn’t make me an angel or even make me a better person. It makes me less afraid. It makes me more accountable to the One who values me more than anyone else on earth.
Thank you, God, for having my back. Amen.