Sunday, June 20, 2021

In a Scarily Uncertain World, How Do You Find a Firm Place to Stand? Here's How.

It’s never happened to me until now.  I’d made it through life not breaking anything. Alas, now my streak is broken, along with a broken left hand.   And I don’t like it.      It’s not just the inconvenience (though typing a sermon with six fingers instead of two hands) is very frustrating, But what I hate the most is the uncertainty of the unknown. 

I didn’t think about that uncertainty at first, not until I had this conversation again and again.  “What a pity about your hand!   Good thing it’s not your dominant hand….Oh, it is your dominant hand, ouch I didn’t know.”   All those conversations led me to all sorts of scary questions.  What if my hand doesn’t get better?   What if the surgery doesn’t work?   What am I going to do if I don’t have a fully functioning left hand?  And of course, I know the answer.  I’d figure it out, like folks have figured out far worse things. But I still felt the fear, the fear about all the uncertainty of what could be.

But it reminded me, how scarily uncertain life can be.  Six months ago, my father woke up, and he couldn’t see.  Now, after two surgeries, his sight is slowly returning, but how scary that must have been.  As much as I’d miss the use of my left hand, it pales in comparison to not being able to see. To not see my son as he grows up, to never see another sunset or sunrise, just imagining that sort of loss scares me.

And over the last year, we’ve seen once again how uncertain life can be. We’ve seen a virus up end our lives, up end the whole world.  And while things are better, we know it could still change so easily.  A new variant could come that the vaccines can’t touch.  And of course, here in Florida, it’s now Hurricane season.  None of us know when a hurricane will come and derail life for who knows how long.   Ok, you get the idea.  Life gets uncertain.   In life storms of all sorts come, and when they do, you can never be sure what they might sweep away. 

So, in the midst of the uncertainty, how do you stand strong?  How do you find a certainty that assures you that no matter what life brings you, no matter what it sweeps away, you will always have a place to stand?   How do you discover a life that gives you that sort of peace, that sort of unshakeable security?  Here in these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

1 Peter 2:4-8         

So, how does it happen, how do you go through life with a sense of certainty when it seems so many things feel more uncertain than ever from the climate to the economy to our health and safety?   In these words, God tells you.   You build your life on what is ultimate, which means letting go of what is not.  

And to understand what that means, you need to understand what a cornerstone used to be.   Today, if you even know what a cornerstone is, you probably don’t think much of it.  It’s just a sort of decorative stone, you put, well, at the corner of the building.  You might engrave something on it, the date you dedicated the building or something else.  It might even look a bit different, be made of a different material even.  But it doesn’t matter all that much.  Heck, a lot of times it matters so little to the building itself, you can wait to put it on after the rest of the building gets built.  But in the ancient world, the cornerstone carried literally far more weight than that.    The cornerstone acted as the Ikea instructions for the entire building.

When, I got married, and even more after I got to be a dad, I learned I had an important job.  I became the chief of putting things together.   I gotta admit.   Putting stuff together doesn’t come to me as a natural gift.  I am not handy as they say.   Heck, some days I have a hard time figuring which hand is which, right, left, sometimes it takes a moment.  

So that whole putting together job, well, at first, it didn’t go all that well.  First, it didn’t go well because I didn’t want to admit at how bad I was at it.   I’m a guy.  I’m supposed to have this gene.  So, that meant, I often came to the conclusion that if something didn’t work, it wasn’t me.  It was those stupid instructions, especially those evil ones that came from Ikea.   And, let’s just say my conclusion didn’t work out so well.   In fact, in the record of correctness in Ikea instructions versus me, I am now about 0 for 47 (we have a lot of Ikea stuff).  I still hate their instructions but every time, I have ignored them or simply refused to read them carefully, disaster has followed.  The stuff I put together, not only did not work well; it did not work at all.

And in ancient buildings, if you ignored the cornerstone, that building would never work either.  You laid that stone first. Then you literally oriented every stone in the building to it.  You spent more money on that stone than any other.  You made sure every dimension of it was right.  If you didn’t, the whole building wouldn’t be right.  It would likely even collapse, if you could build it at all.   That stone served as the instruction sheet for the whole building, even carried the building’s very weight.  So, often folks would even do a religious ritual, sacrifice an animal or in some cases, a human life to help guarantee the cornerstone’s success.   So, you can see why Peter used the image for Jesus.     

But hold on, how do you know if your cornerstone works?  Sure, it may look good.  The building can seem strong.  But how do you know it is?  You’ll only know when the building faces stress, when something shakes it, something shakes it hard.

Does anyone remember Andrew, that category 5 hurricane that literally leveled Homestead?  I remember seeing the pictures on the news.  Where once there had been hundreds, even thousands of houses, you literally saw nothing.   The storm had swept everything away.  But no one expected that.   These houses looked solid until Andrew showed they weren’t solid at all.  That storm changed building codes in South Florida forever.

And in your life, it’s the same.  You’ll only know how solid your cornerstone is when the stress comes, when the storms hit.  And this pandemic showed a lot of folks how weak their cornerstones were.  All of a sudden alcohol and drug use shot up, and it was already high before.  Marriages went on the rocks.   Mental health counselors got inundated.  And conspiracy theories threatened the very foundations of our democracy.  But even without a pandemic, all sorts of stuff can happen that show you how weak your cornerstones actually are.   And that doesn’t change if you start to follow Christ, if you start to orient your life around him.   Why?

It’s because you’re not going to know what your real cornerstone is until the stress hits, until the storms come.  Then and only then will you know what your true cornerstone is.  After all, you’ve likely spent your life, whether you realize it or not, building your life on a cornerstone other than Christ.   But you likely won’t even know what that is until a storm hits.   But when that storm hits, you’ll know.  You’ll see what you’ve built your life on, and just how weak that is.  In fact, much of the Christian life is just ripping up all our weak cornerstones so God can rebuild our lives on the right one.  

It was such a pain when I had to tear apart some piece of Ikea furniture I’d built because I had misread the instructions.   But nothing else was going to work but that.   And during this pandemic, you might have discovered that your life wasn’t built as strong as you thought.   You might need God to do some tearing down and rebuilding. 

For years, even as a pastor, I had built on a cornerstone that wasn’t Christ.  Sure, Jesus was there.  He just wasn’t sitting on the corner.  I wasn’t orienting my life around that.  So, what was I orienting my life around?   As near as I can figure, I oriented my life around success.  And since it was success in a church, it sure looked like it was Jesus.  But then success stopped happening.  Some people got angry.  Others just became disappointed.  And I got scared.  It felt like my life was falling down around me.   And that’s when it happened.  That’s when I found the cornerstone that had been there all along, the cornerstone that saved me, that nothing, not even my own failures could shake.

But what is this cornerstone?  When Peter says Jesus is the cornerstone, what does that even mean?  It means in Jesus, you know that you have a God who will never leave you or forsake you on even your worst days, on even the days you feel like forsaken is what you deserve.   And why do you know that?  You know because this stone was rejected.  And this stone was rejected so you can know you never will be.    In Jesus, God came to us.  And he loved us and taught us, healed us and accepted us.   And in our blindness and fear, we rejected him, even killed him and did it in God’s name.

Even the very man who is writing this very letter, Peter, in Jesus’ most desperate hour he walked away. He denied even knowing Jesus again and again and again.   When the storm came, Peter collapsed.  He realized whatever his cornerstone was, it sure wasn’t Jesus.   Yet Jesus never walked away from him.   In Jesus, God showed Peter, God showed the world just how unshakable God’s love is, a love so strong death itself falls before it in defeat.   And when you know you are loved like that, it gives you a cornerstone nothing can shake.   It gives you the very cornerstone you need, that God created you for.  In fact, you will keep stumbling over that love until you realize it is the only cornerstone that will ever work, that will give you the certainty, the peace you yearn to have.  

And when it comes, when you let God lay that stone at the corner of your life, you will know just how strong and certain that love is.  And it will re-orient your life.  It will shape in you a peace that passes understanding.  It will build in you a love that joyfully goes the extra mile.   It will give to you a wondrous confidence that even on the darkest days, you will never be put to shame.   So, live in that love.  Trust in it.   Let God build you on this love, this love that nothing can shake.     

Sunday, June 13, 2021

How Can Christians Get It so Right and also at Times Get It So Wrong?

Gosh, it’s embarrassing.  You know that Q-anon conspiracy, that belief that Satan worshipping child cannibals have taken over the US government? It turns out a lot of believers in Q-anon believe in Jesus too, Protestants, Catholics, Evangelicals, even Mainline folks like us. 

I guess, I shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus believers have gotten it wrong in ways way worse than Q-anon folks, who after all think they’re protecting vulnerable kids.  Do you remember from history who criticized Dr. King when he got sent to jail in Birmingham?  Church leaders did. They got upset at his disturbing the peace of their fair city.   And during the 1930s, lots of church folks supported the Nazi party too, supported it gaining power even.   

And, gosh, I don’t want to think about the countless Christians who worshipped on Sunday (some even preached), and then brutally beat people        they owned on Monday.  And Christians did that for hundreds of years!  And I still haven’t talked about the sex abuse scandals or how the church mistreated women or excluded gay, lesbian and trans folks.  It’s a mess. 

But here’s the strange thing. That’s not the whole story.  That’s not the whole story at all. Right now, lots of Jesus believers are standing strong against the lies of the conspiracies.  They are standing up too, often at great cost, for those who have been abused by the church, and the church itself is facing those wrongs and working to heal the wounds of those it has hurt.   

And of course, thousands of Christians stood and marched with Dr. King, who after all was a fellow believer.   And millions of Christians have given their lives to stand against not only Nazi Germany but so many other brutal and oppressive governments from Russia to China to South Africa to El Salvador to Argentina. The list could go on and on.   Christians led the fight to end slavery, and slaves themselves found in the Gospel a message of hope and liberation, even power.   You go to any God forsaken place in our world, you’ll find Jesus people there serving and loving, healing and helping.   Heck Christians invented hospitals and orphanages.  Before Christianity, they didn’t exist.  Christians opened schools that changed, in wondrous ways, the lives of millions.  In Christianity, from the beginning, innumerable women took leadership and found fulfillment and empowerment in the message of the gospel.  In fact, you could argue that no other religious movement has brought more significant and positive change to the world than Christianity.   Yet at the same time, Christians have, again and again, gotten it so tragically, horrifically wrong. 

So, what makes the difference?  How can the gospel transform folks in such beautiful ways, lead them to inspiring and joyful lives of love and mercy, and on the other hand, lead others in the opposite direction?    More crucially, how can the gospel transform you towards such a life of joy and love rather than trapping you in a life not like that at all.  In these words, God shows you the way.  Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

1 Peter 1:22 – 2:3 

So, how does it happen?   How can the gospel bring such powerfully positive, even revolutionary change in people’s lives and the world at large, yet at the same time lead others to bring suffering and pain to others, often in terrible, even horrific ways?   In these words, God shows you.  For the gospel only grows one way.  The gospel has to grow from the inside out.   And anything else not only doesn’t lead to the gospel, but often leads to its opposite.

Right at the beginning of this passage, Peter gives you the key essence of the gospel. If this isn’t here, if this isn’t growing inside you, then, you might have something but it’s not the gospel.  What does the truth of the gospel generate in you?  It generates genuine love, a love that goes beyond romance or friendship.  No, this love goes to a level of commitment, of caring, of self-forgetfulness that is breathtaking in its scope.   It’s why Christians took a rarely used Greek word for love, agape, that carried this meaning and made it the centerpiece of everything they believed.  Paul even said, if you don’t have this love, you don’t have squat.        

It’s why the contemporary Christian writer Mark Yaconelli gave this advice. He wrote:

Anything that leaves you more fearful, more isolated, more disconnected from other people, more full of judgment or self-hatred, is not of God, does not follow the Rule of Love – and you should stop doing it.

And that is awesome advice, if you can do it.  But of course, no one can. And Yaconelli knows that.  No, he is assuming something.  He is assuming that the folks to whom he gave that advice have had something happen inside them, something that enables them to live out this rule of love.     Peter assumes the same thing.   He even points to what it is.   He says to them.  Don’t you remember?   God has literally reconceived you. He even uses a version of the same word that means to conceive a child.   In other words, God has conceived you again with God’s own seed.  God has come inside you and made you something radically and wonderfully new.

Now how does this seed come?  It comes through what I’m doing right now, through sharing this message.   You see I’d love to tell you that what I end up sharing here comes from all my hard work, but it doesn’t.  Now don’t get me wrong.   I do stuff.  I study. I reflect. I pray.   But in the end, I’m always surprised at what comes out.   

It’s like I’m in a kitchen, and God is leading me to all the ingredients.  All I do is mix it and put it in the oven.   And, voila, this beautiful gospel comes out.    Now, I’ve still gotta be in the kitchen.  I’ve got to listen for all the ingredients.   I’ve got to mix it together.  But in the end, it’s always, always God.  Oh, but there is something I’ve gotta know always.  I’ve gotta know what the gospel tastes like.  And the only way I can know that is if I’ve tasted it before. I’ve had to have the experience of it changing my life. 

But God did that too. That change that the gospel did in me, I didn’t do anything. God did.  God does that for everyone.  Think about it. Nobody conceives themselves.  Nobody decides to be born. That happens to you.   It happens inside you.  You have no control over that at all.  Now this spiritual conception can happen instantaneously or gradually or something in between.  But however it happens, you’re not in control.  It is happening to you. And human beings don’t like that.  We don’t like not being in control.

So instead, lots of folks opt for the in-control plan.  They do try to conceive themselves.  How do they do that?  They create all sorts of rules and guidelines to live in love.  It’s like they create a gospel mask to wear but it doesn’t work.  Nothing has changed on the inside.  So, it’s not real.  It’s fake.   And lots of folks can tell it’s not real.   Those who can’t are usually wearing the mask too.  And the mask-wearers might even convince themselves, it’s the real deal.  But it’s not.  And deep down, they know.   They know nothing has changed on the inside.  Underneath the mask lies more fear than ever.  So, their mask doesn’t lead them into love.   It leads them into rigidity and fear, into self-righteousness and judgment, into the very opposite of the gospel.   And Christianity has been infected by this fake gospel again and again, so much so that many have been tricked into believing it is the real thing.     

But does that explain all the mess that Christianity has caused?  Boy, wouldn’t that be easy.  All those bad people, they weren’t really Christians.  But, here’s the problem, some of them, maybe even a decent number of them, had experienced the gospel.  God had changed them.  So, what happened?   Well, two things happened. 

When, God reconceives you, it doesn’t stop there.   God doesn’t wave some magic gospel dust over you and voila, you become Jesus the sequel, this perfect, loving being.   No, like any newly conceived and eventually newly born being, you’ve got to grow into who God has conceived you to be.  And that is a process, and like any growth process, it’s a messy one. 

I remember hearing about this dinner party that the famous Catholic writer, Evelyn Waugh attended.  And as the evening went on, Waugh’s brilliant wit got to be pretty cruel.  And the hostess appalled, asked how such cruelty could come from this avowedly catholic Christian mouth.  And Waugh replied. “You have no idea how much worse I’d be, if I wasn’t Catholic.”

We’ve all got our stuff that God is working on.  We’re all works in progress.  But does that excuse it?   Does that excuse all the pain and brokenness we’ve brought to others?   No, God requires more.   And Peter points to it.  He tells them.  Now, that God has reconceived you, you have work to do.   You have to get rid of all the guile, malice, all the crap that lives inside you.  You have to grow up, and that requires work.   

I mean, when you were a kid, you were a bit of a mess.  We all were, even the best of us.  Do you remember how one moment you could be so full of joy, and the next moment be devastated?  You’d get an ice cream cone, and it was the best day ever.  Then you dropped the cone, and it was the worst day ever. Nothing could console you.  No ice cream, no matter how good could equal the one now fallen, melting on the sidewalk.

Or do you remember how people had to teach you not to interrupt?  Why?  You couldn’t conceive how anything could be more important than what you had to say.  It was all about you, and when you found out it wasn’t, you were upset.  And boy do kids struggle with listening!  They get distracted so easily, especially if it’s something they don’t want to do or where they might fail.   And kids, well, they often don’t think things through.  

When my parents moved from the house we grew up in, there were still scorch marks on the carpet in the downstairs bathroom.   How did they get there?  I wanted to see what would happen if I threw pieces of toilet paper in the space heater.   It turns out I didn’t really think that through.

And kids to move past all that have to grow, need to mature.  And when God reconceives you, it requires a sort of growing up.   You have to move towards resting in the love rather than getting caught up in the fear.  You have to move from a sort of spiritual narcissism to a place where you don’t think less of yourself.  But you do grow into the freedom of thinking of yourself a lot less.   And you learn to start listening to the God who is speaking to you all the time.   Prayer and silence, other spiritual practices help with that.  But to grow, to grow past all the fear and self-defending that holds us back, God here tells us we must do more.  We must rigorously, boldly let God lead us to think things through. 

Tragically, when Christians don’t do this, we miss so much of what God is trying to tell us.  For years, I never really thought through about how God could send people to hell forever and still be a God of love.   And when other Christians in their writing challenged me to think that through.  I realized.  The Bible doesn’t say hell is forever at all.   When Christians saw Africans enslaved and thought that through, they realized how evil slavery was.  It’s why the great abolitionist, Fredrick Douglass, as a slave became a Christian because he saw that his owners were blind to the very liberation the gospel proclaimed.  He thought it through even if they didn’t.

But too often, we don’t do this enough.  Heck, we didn’t do it with this passage.  Most translations of those last verses we read, translate Peter’s words as “long for the pure spiritual milk so that by it, you may grow into salvation.”  But that’s not what it says.  It says instead, “long for the pure milk of “logikos,” where we get the word logic in English.  But most translators thought he couldn’t mean that.  But he did.  Peter knew the word for spiritual in Greek, but he chose not to use it.  Why?  He wanted us to think things through, to ponder the height and breadth and depth of the gospel, of God’s incredible love for us.  Peter knows that’s how you grow.  And as you grow like that, God becomes bigger, more wondrous, more beautiful than ever before.

What do I mean?  Well, let’s do a little pondering with a reflection on God called the “Analogia Entis.”    That’s just Latin for analogy of being, but it just sounds so much prettier in Latin – analogia entis.   Now when you use an analogy, you are taking something everyone understands to describe something that may not be so easy to understand.  Remember Forest Gump? Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get.  That’s an analogy. 

Peter uses an analogy right here when he talks about longing for the pure spiritual milk.  He is saying crave knowing God as deeply as a baby hungers for her mother’s breast milk.  By the way, the Bible clearly has no problems thinking of God as a nursing mother.  If you’re uncomfortable with feminine images of God, think that through a bit. 

So, the analogy of being tries to figure out why everything that exists, well, exists.  Why is anything here at all?   So how does it happen?  It’s all a gift.   Everything that exists come as a gift, constantly flowing from the source of everything.  And Jesus comes as the ultimate expression of that gift.  Think that through for a moment.  Everything that exists in every moment exists as an outpouring of God’s love into the world, a gift God yearns for you to receive.  Everything around you, in you, is a gift, even your very breath.   Drink that in.  Think it through. See how it grows how you see God, how you see yourself, how you see everything and everyone, how everything gives us a glimpse of the indescribable beauty and wonder that is God, a God who even gave his life as a gift of love to you.   And as you do, as you think that through and so much more, it will grow you more and more into salvation, into becoming the beloved mature child of God, God created you to be.  So, pray it through.  Think it through.  Taste God’s love.  Let it nourish you.  Let it grow you into salvation.     

Sunday, June 6, 2021

What Do Qanon, UFOs, and Dismissal of the Wuhan lab leak theory have in common? It's likely not what you think.

How can 45 million Americans believe that?    But recent research shows that about 45 million Americans do.   What do they believe?  They believe a group of Satan worshipping child predators, part of a global child kidnapping ring, have taken control of the U.S. government.   Now because they believe that; they also believe this. They believe that we may have to violently overthrow the government to save the country.  And if course, if you believe in the Satan worshipping child predators, that kind of makes sense.   If folks like that have taken control of everything, that’s pretty urgent.  

But of course, they haven’t taken control of anything.   Thy don’t even exist.   In no way, shape or form does that belief have anything to do with reality.  Yet millions of Americans believe it.

Now, on the other hand, we can also not believe things that turn out to have more truth to them than we realize.   For example, it turns out that the government is about to release a report, that UFOs or as they now call them UAPs for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, do exist.   Now that doesn’t mean we know what they are.  It means we just know that many military pilots have seen things in the air they can’t explain.    Or take the recent news that many scoffed at a year ago.  It turns out that this whole terrible pandemic could have come from a leak from a lab in China.   But here’s the larger point.

Do you know that the same powerful thing drives each and every one of these false beliefs?    And this thing, if you let it gain control of your life will drive you to believe all sorts of things that aren’t true.   It will drive you to a life so much less than what God wants your life to be.   What is this thing that can drive your life off the rails before you know it?   In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.      

I Peter 3:13-21

So, what is this powerful thing that will derail your life?  And how could that same thing drive each of the false beliefs that I mentioned?   It’s the same thing that is threatening to overwhelm the folks to which Peter is writing this letter.  But in these words, Peter shows you the way out, the way to move past this thing that if you let it, will sabotage your life.   So, what is that way?  It’s the way of holiness.

Now, how could holiness free you from this thing that will sabotage your life?   To get that, you gotta understand what that word, holy even means.   It doesn’t mean you obey certain rules or pass some sort of purity test.  Being holy simply means knowing this.  It means knowing you have been set apart.   You have been set apart in love.   And the more you know this, the more you know that God has set you apart in love, the less power this thing has over you.   So, what is this thing that I keep alluding to?   It’s fear. 

And how does fear fit into those false beliefs that I mentioned a few minutes ago?  Well, you might see it more easily with the first one.   Folks who believe that conspiracy known as Q-Anon have been captured by a fear of the government, a fear so powerful it’s has led them to believe some pretty crazy things.   But what about the other two? 

Well, it turns out that military personnel had been seeing strange things they couldn’t explain in the air and on radar scopes for years.  They just didn’t talk about it to anyone.  Why?  They feared what folks might think, especially their commanders.  They didn’t want to be seen as crazy.  Only when Congress commissioned a study were they willing to talk about it at all.    

And as for that lab leak theory.  Most scientists always believed that a lab leak was a possibility.  After all, Wuhan, where the virus began, has the only lab in China that studies such serious viruses.  That’s a pretty big coincidence. But on social media, that belief got connected to a certain politician that some folks didn’t like (and I’m not talking about our former President).  So, folks began to fear getting identified with that politician, even if what he was saying could very well be true.   

You see.  Fear drives you in all sorts of ridiculous ways.   Fear drives you to believe outrageous things.  Fear drives you to be more afraid of what people think then what you see right before your eyes.     And more then we like to admit, fear can drive each of us in powerful and destructive ways.   It seems like every week, I get caught up in a fear about something, a fear that never turns out to be true, a fear I have to fight against.  Here’s the problem.   We don’t ever see things as they are.    We see things as we are.   And often, we see things through fear.

And that’s happening here to these folks to whom Peter writes.   They face a government that fears them, and in that fear, that government is now arresting, even killing them.  And that is scary. So, Peter reminds them.  You don’t set your hope on this government.   You set your hope on Jesus, on God’s love for you.  Don’t you get it?  Peter is saying.   You are holy.  God has set you apart in love.  God set you apart with God’s very life.    And when you know that, you don’t need to fear anything.

Over the last month or so, I have been meeting with kids at our church get them ready for their first communion day.   And along the way, I told them the story of one of the windows here.  Now the window, which is Jesus calming a storm, only shows you the end of that story.  So, let me tell you the rest.  Jesus and his disciples head off one day, across this huge lake, so big, everyone called it a sea, the Sea of Galilee.    As they went across, a huge storm began, a storm so big, it looked like it was going to sink the boat.   And Jesus’ disciples were frantically doing all they could to save themselves.   Now where was Jesus?   He was sleeping in the back of the boat.   So finally, they wake Jesus up, yelling at him that they’re about to die!   What does Jesus do?   He looks at the storm, and basically yells out.  Be quiet!   And the storm stops, like that.   That’s the part that the window in our church shows, when Jesus yells at the storm.  Now when this happens, the disciples are in awe, the sort of awe that Peter means here when he says reverent fear.   But then Jesus, puzzled, asks his disciples.  “Why were you afraid?”   After all, Jesus thinks, I was there the whole time.

Do you see the mistake that the disciples made?   They thought that the scary storm was the truth of their situation.   But the truth of their situation, a truth far more real than that storm was the one sleeping in the back of the boat.    And Peter, who had been with Jesus in that very storm, knows that.  He knows that the truth of these folks’ situation to whom he writes isn’t the persecution they face.  The truth of their situation is Jesus, the God who is with them, the God who has set them apart with his very life.

That’s what he means, when he tells them at the beginning of this passage to be sober (though many translate as discipline yourselves, it is literally "being sober").   He knows, like alcohol, fear will distort what you see in powerful ways.  It’s why the brilliant neuroscientist, Gergory Berns said this about fear.  He said:  Think of fear like alcohol.  It impairs judgment. You shouldn’t make any decisions while under its influence.”  So, Peter tells them.  Don’t let fear do that.  Don’t let fear make you drunk, blind you to what is real.  Set all your hope on Jesus, on God’s love for you.   Remember, God has set you apart, has made you holy. 

And when you know that, when you know God has set you apart like that, it insulates you.  Too often, people think holiness isolates you.  You have to go off somewhere to be holy.  But it doesn’t isolate you.  It insulates you.   It insulates you from the fear.  

This past week, I fixed myself a nice piece of salmon for dinner.   It was delicious.  But do you know what I had to do before I even cooked it?   I had to add salt.   Think about that.  Salmon live in water full of salt almost their entire lives, so why did I need to salt it? It’s because that fish can live in the salt water, even get nourishment from it, but still be insulated from that salt getting inside.   And when you know God has set you apart in love, it insulates you like that.   You can live in this world, this world so captured by fear, but that fear doesn’t have to get inside. 

As Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely said.  The wise person in the storm prays to God, not for safety from danger, but deliverance from fear.  It is the storm within that endangers, not the storm without.”    And that storm is what Jesus has delivered us from.  

Over this last year, we have been through quite a storm, right?   But we have a God who is Lord of the storm, of every storm, even the storm of death itself.   And when you know that, when you know that deep down this God has, out of love, set you apart, set you apart by his very life, it insulates you.  It insulates you from the fear.  

 After all, God didn’t give up for you silver or gold which, after all, fades away.  No.  In Jesus, God gave his very life for you.   And that gift, that love will never fade away.   And in that love as you trust in it, as you open yourselves to receive it, it will free you from the fear that can so easily capture you and me.   It will set you apart.  It will make you holy, wholly loved, wholly forgiven, wholly free.  So, open yourselves to trust in this love, this love that has set you apart, now and forever. Amen.