Readings: Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, Acts 1:6-14 John 17:1-11, 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, on May 28 2017
This morning, as we conclude our brief series from Peter's first letter, I would like to reflect on First Peter 5:7 which tells us “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” That text speaks of ‘Caring’, ‘Carrying’ and ‘Casting’.
Everybody cares about something. Cares can be self-focused or self-motivated. Cares can be about anything… from the threat of terrorism to what’s cooking for dinner. We all care.
However the word used for ‘care’ in this passage is one that relates to ‘cares’ in the sense of anxieties, burdens, worries and troubles. It had a particular application to the community that Peter writes for because they were under the threat of persecution. They were already suffering. Our passage begins with the words “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you” (1 Peter 4:12).
A particular thing that worried them was that it felt like God had abandoned them. If Jesus had died for their sins, and God had raised Him from the dead and He had sent His Holy Spirit to be their counselor and comforter… how come life was so hard? Weren’t they supposed to be courageous and victorious and overcoming and spreading the gospel to all the world? How come they were just struggling to survive?
Isn’t this just the dilemma that we face as a traditional denomination in a changing religious situation seeking to build towards a better future? As a church in which people come and go, and sometimes get bent out of shape and often times suffer from a lack of confidence and an abundance of unanswerable questions?
Isn’t this the anxiety that can take over our personal viewpoints? “Lord, I believed… but how come things haven’t turned out as I believed they would? How come all those promises have yet to be fulfilled? Why all this striving? What’s going to become of us?”
It is the easiest thing in the world to allow our anxiety to shape our attitude. When things don’t go according to our plan, when we don’t think we get treated fairly, when it seems that we can’t do right for doing wrong, or just for no reason everything starts going pear shaped, it is no big jump to conclude that God has left the building.
The Message Bible puts it like this; “Friends, when life gets really difficult, don't jump to the conclusion that God isn't on the job.” When we do reach such a position we have moved from a position of ‘Caring’ to a position of ‘Carrying’.
If we see somebody walking along, shoulders down, head bowed, bent down under their troubles we often use an expression like, “Look at that poor person, carrying the weight of the world upon their shoulders”.
I’ve sometimes watched those “World’s Strongest Man’ competitions on the television, and seen those guys with the huge necks and shoulders doing crazy stuff, lifting and pulling things that would give Samson a run for his money. I’ve noticed something. (And it’s not the fact that half of them seem to be Norwegians or Swedes.) “My name is Borg Shmegglehlhson and today I am going to pick up a building”
It’s this. Boy… they look relieved when they lay their burdens down. “Daat was very very heavy. Pheww!!” I have nothing but admiration for them. Part of my admiration is that I’m not built like that. There’s more muscle in their arms than there is in all of me put together. The other part is the fact that they are so in control. They know their limitations. They know when to pick up and when to let it go.
When it comes to our problems and anxieties we are not as disciplined. There are times we have to carry burdens in order to work through them. We have issues that we need to work out, not lay down. We’d like to put aside some of the challenging things about ourselves. That habit we don’t like to talk about. That temptation we keep saying “Not going to do that again” knowing full well we will do it again because we have not dealt with the underlying issues.
We need to be aware of our human-ness! Peter writes to his readers “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith…”(1 Peter 5:8-9).
During the Second World War countries such as France were overcome by the Nazi war machine. It looked like all was lost. But in France, and many other European nations, there were those who refused to give up the fight and became part of “Resistance Movements”.
When the enemy seems all around… and even if it looks like the battle is lost… Peter tells us, “Christian… Come and join the Resistance!” He pictures the devil, the adversary, the enemy of faith and Christ-like living, as a hungry lion after its prey. Such is the nature of genuine evil. It takes control. It eats up. It consumes. It destroys.
Never under-estimate the power of evil. If we can learn anything from history it is that we are just as capable to sink to the lowest levels of barbarianism and darkness as any generation that has ever gone before us. That modern humanity is just as base and gross and able to choose the wrong over the right as were our ancestors. There are some things we have to deal with. There are some things we have to carry!
When Peter speaks of ‘laying aside our burdens’ he is not suggesting that Christian people should play a game of “Let’s pretend everything is going to be fine”. He’s not advocating for ‘Optimists Anonymous’. He’s not preaching “Don’t worry, Be Happy, Everything’s gonna be allright”
Everything wasn’t all right. People were being persecuted. Christians were carrying these overwhelming concerns about their church, about their families, about their future, about their very survival. ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’? They had a lot to carry!
And they felt about as capable of carrying it all as you and I would feel if we had ended up entered into the ‘strongest person in the world’ competition. What were they to do with these cares that they carried? Let’s return to the text with which we started. 1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” The third strand in this text is;
The Greek word we translate as ‘Casting’ is related to the word ‘humility.’ In some translations it comes out as “Loading” or “Throwing.” Peter is suggesting that a way through the dilemma his readers were facing was to humble themselves before God in such a way as they recognized God’s strength and purpose for their lives.
To humble themselves, not in some passive act of self-denial… or as though they were throwing in the towel… but to embrace active dependence on God as the way to travel through whatever life may hold for them around the next corner.
Their motivation for so doing is that God is far more anxious about our lives than we are. To say that “God cares for us” is to affirm that God has a personal interest in what we are going through, an active concern, a burden to see that we make it! The word we use for the love of God is the Greek word ‘agapế… a word that expresses the self-giving of God affirmed in John 3:16… “God so loved the world that He gave…”
Matthew Henry, a bible commentator of a previous generation, puts it like this; “Peter’s advice is to cast all care of themselves, upon God. "Throw your cares, which are so cutting and distracting, which wound your souls and pierce your hearts, upon the wise and gracious providence of God; trust in Him with a firm composed mind, for He careth for you. He is willing to release you of your care, and take the care of you upon Himself.”
Every time we gather together for worship, God calls us to come with all our burdens and lay them down. To here cry out, “God, without You I can not make it through” and to know God’s reply, “I’m here. I’m with you. Christ died that you may live. He was raised that you may walk in His light. His Spirit is given that you may be enabled to carry through Him what you can never carry on your own. I am here!”
Next week we will gather around a table laid with bread and wine. We do well to remind ourselves that those very elements are symbols of God’s anxiety, care, desire, and heartfelt longing that our lives should not be out of relationship with Him.
Next week is also Pentecost Sunday. For the disciples Pentecost was the day that they were equipped to care. Before Pentecost, although the disciples believed, they had no idea how to live out those beliefs in the real world. They prayed. They studied. But it was all behind closed doors. They knew God cared for them. They had witnessed the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. They had heard Him invite them to go into all the world with the message of His love. But how? It wasn't in them. They felt not up to the task.
And then.... the Spirit came. They were empowered. They had words to speak. They felt God's love rest upon them as wind and flame. They didn't want to stay indoors in a holy huddle. They went outside and it is Peter who preaches the first ever Christian sermon inviting people to repent and believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so begins the churches ministry of caring. As they cast all their cares onto God... so they found what they needed to reach out to others.
It was Peter who preached the first sermon. It was Peter who became a leader of the first church. It was upon Peter's confession of Jesus Christ as Son of God that the church was built. Over a number of weeks we have taken a look at what he had to say about being a disciple. Peter's first letter has taken us through a variety of themes.
He speaks of our faith as being “Precious Gold” that needs to be treated as something that has unbelievable value.
He talks of how we are saved by the “Precious Blood” that Jesus shed upon the Cross for our salvation and how we should never take God's love for granted but be inspired to serve others by it's depth.
He speaks of “Christ's Example” of persistent love in the face of opposition and suffering. Don't give up. Remember the Lord is our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.
It all comes around to this one awesome verse. “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” Life can be hard. Discipleship is not an easy task. We can be almost defeated by the things that life throws at us. But, in the midst of it all, our calling is never to give up, never throw in the towel, never abandon the very things that are actually the only thing that can get us though.
We are to recall the love that God has for each and every single one of us.
We are called to wait upon God in prayer and expectancy.
We are invited to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to care.
So take these words to heart.
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
(1 Peter 5:7)
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.