Reading: Psalm 23, Acts 2:42-47, John 10:1-10, 1 Peter 2:18-25
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, May 7 2017
You didn’t get what you deserved. You were treated unfairly. You were trying to do the right thing, thought you were doing the right thing but were treated like it was the wrong thing. You refused to participate in some bad stuff that everybody else was involved in, and now those people don’t want anything to do with you anymore.
It happens all the time. You were doing well at your job – but when it came to promotion time you were passed over - because that somebody else, whose work was nowhere near up to your standard - just happened to be on better terms with the boss. There was that incident in the class when you were at school. It was nothing to do with you – but you got the blame for it.
You were driving along on a strange highway– cars zooming past you at break neck speed. In the midst of all this traffic you fail to notice the speed limit had gone down to 55. Yet you were the one who got stopped and given a ticket. And the fact that it was a genuine mistake impresses the officer not one little bit.
Our bible reading for today - 1 Peter, 2, 18-25, speaks about situations where an injustice has taken place. The passage was written, as verse 18 makes clear, to people, who through no fault of their own, were constantly at the mercy of other peoples judgments and disapproval. Whilst some translations describe them as ‘Servants’ most commentators agree with the translation of the New Revised Standard Bible that Peter was addressing ‘slaves’.
A slave has no rights. There is no tribunal or court to which they can appeal. They are completely at the mercy of their owners. Compared to the injustices experienced by a slave, ours seem rather insignificant
There were many slaves among those who made up the early church. Their embracing Christianity did not bring them freedom from their oppressors. But it did give them a new focus on their troubles and in Christ they had an example to follow. Jesus, of His own free will, took off the mantle of the King and became the servant.
That Jesus was opposed to slavery should be beyond question. He was of a people whose redemption story focused on their becoming free from the slavery of Egypt. Through His words and actions He condemned any form of oppression, be it religious, social, political or economic.
His actions in the temple throwing out the money-changers, His conversation with the woman of many husbands down by the Well in Samaria, His outspoken and sometimes extremely vocal opposition of the Teachers of the Law, the Pharisees and the Sadducees show that He was not prepared to let things that were wrong go unopposed.
Yet at other times His witness is not through opposition, but through silence, through the example of His acceptance of injustice, His refusal to speak at times when words no longer counted for anything and His belief that there were occasions when suffering could accomplish far greater things than anything else… climaxing in His crucifixion and death for our sins upon the Cross.
When we face situations of injustice, when we feel we can’t do right for doing wrong, when everything seems to be conspiring against us to bring us down, we should take note of the advice Peter offers and the example of Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Bad things Happen
Not one of us is immune from life’s troubles. Life brings difficult things our way for no other reason than that’s the way life is. Peter reminds the slaves to whom he is writing of the plain fact that some of them had Masters that treated them fairly and others had those that were unjust. They had no choice over the matter.
At other times they messed up and got in trouble that was their own doing. Obviously that was nothing to rejoice over or be proud of. They shouldn’t expect to be treated any less harshly than any other slave who got in trouble. Even if they endured what ever punishment their owner dealt to them, taking it with a dose of patience wasn’t going to take away the fact that, if they hadn’t messed up, they wouldn’t get in trouble.
Verse 20 “For what credit is it, if when you do wrong and are beaten for it you take it patiently?” We live in a time when that is a very unpopular message. In today’s world when people mess up they don’t even endure the consequences patiently, they try and wriggle out of them. They make excuses, blame somebody else or go into denial. But even when people are prepared to take the consequences of their bad decisions, Peter is telling us that there is nothing particularly praiseworthy in that.
Instead he focuses on undeserved suffering . The verse continues “But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God” It is not the suffering that is commendable or good, but the way that the person handles it. Bad things happen. The choice we have in the bad times is whether we allow those times to define our lives.
2. Bad Times are not the whole Picture.
Peter is telling these servants and slaves... bad times will come along, sometimes because you mess up, sometimes because other people mess up... and some times because that’s the nature of life… but do not allow any evil thing or unfair treatment to determine the nature of reality for you.
Why? Because our example is Jesus Christ. Verse 21 and following “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten... who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.”
It would be the easiest thing in the world for a harshly treated slave to store up resentment, to harbor for the rest of their lives thoughts of getting even or of how things would turn out if they were the master, and their master was the slave. In God’s Kingdom, for the disciple of Jesus, that wasn’t how it was meant to be. As He died for their forgiveness, so they were to forgive others, as He refused to repay insult with insult, so they were to follow His example.
What applied to slaves back in Peter’s time, applies to us in our day. Maybe our treatment hasn’t been like that metered out by an unjust master to a slave, but from time to time situations of injustice do arise. They can be small things or large things. When one feels they haven’t had their rights taken into account... it is easy to let that thought and that feeling be something that grows and spreads and saps life of vitality.
People can carry around hurts and resentments and feelings of blame and plots of revenge for the whole of their lives. They go to their graves never getting that pain out of their system... and what good has it done them? When we carry around with us attitudes of un-forgiveness or revenge… who are we really hurting?
Often those who have wronged us haven’t even realized it. By holding on to grudges and bad feelings we simply add to our own pain. We become double losers. In contrast it is the way of the Kingdom to break that destructive circle by reminding us that we are people who were once Christ’s enemies, but that didn’t stop Him dieing on the cross for our sins.
In some translations the section of the Lord’s Prayer - where we use the word “Debts” - is translated as ‘Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. The implication is that by carrying un-forgiveness towards others we exclude ourselves from God’s grace for our own lives.
But how do deal with the resentment that comes with unfairness?
3. Let it Go
Verse 23 tells us how Jesus dealt with it. “(He) committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”. In other words He gave the situation over into His Father’s hands. Peter encourages us to follow Christ’s example and to do the same with our hurts, our frustrations, our grievances and our resentments.
“By His wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.” (24-2 5)
Peter uses there the rich images of the Psalms. Who is our shepherd? ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ declares the 23rd Psalm. Where can we find the strength to forgive? According to Genesis 49... in the strength of “The Mighty One of Jacob, by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel”. Where do we find rest for our souls and healing for our hurts? “By His wounds you have been healed.”
The disciple of Christ is not promised an easy road through all of life’s troubles. There will be injustices along the way. Some of them you might just have to live with. Like those slaves who Peter addressed, the gospel message does not bring instant solutions our way.
What God promises is that He will shepherd us through our problems. God is not going to give up on us. Even the way we handle the things that trouble us will be a witness to His love.
It is important therefore for us to strengthen our discipleship through prayer, and knowing God’s Word and cultivating worshipful hearts that are ready to meet God in the midst of our daily lives It is important to gather around a table laid with bread and wine, and remember Jesus as He invited us to do. We need the Holy Spirit’s strengthening and renewal. If we try in our own strength, we will fail. We need to encourage one another in our Christian walk.
We have an example to follow. That of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To use a term I’ve heard in the theater. “That’s a hard act to follow.” Yet that is our calling. To be followers and imitators of Jesus. To forgive as we have been forgiven. To love as we have been loved. To set our sights high... and remember... we’re not the Shepherd... we’re the sheep.
And sheep can be just about the dumbest creatures on the planet! Sheep don’t survive without the Shepherd. How do we make it through the bad times? Psalm 23 says it all. A Psalm that we will say together as our Confession of Faith.
“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; For you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.