give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.
The Lord has allowed Babylon to take over Judah. In addition to temple treasures, four young men of noble families are take to the King Nebuchadnezzar's court in Babylon. They are to be taught the ways and language of this new home in order that they can serve in the palace. One of them, Daniel, balks at the routine. His religious scruples will not allow him to eat the palace food or drink the wine.
Less dramatically than his situation of losing a war and being kidnapped, we may find ourselves in a job situation that has some requirements that don't match well with our religious training. Recurring question arises: Who's the boss of me?
In Daniel's case, they let him and the three other captives with him to stick to a vegetarian diet with water to drink. The results were good. They were stronger and smarter than the others in the court.
The king has a dream that none of the court magicians, enchanters, or sorcerers can interpret. He gives them this test, "Tell me what was in my dream so I can know that you really can interpret it." Enraged when they couldn't do it, he threatened to have the all executed.
God revealed the dream to Daniel, for which he gave thanks.
1 Peter 3:8-4:6
This letter is advising new Christians how to react when non-Christians criticize them. The essence of the advice is for them not to worry about it but be ready to answer any questions. And if they do respond to the attacks, they are to do so with gentleness and reverence.
Do we find this advice helpful to our modern congregations? What are the criticisms that onlookers make against the church (or churches) today? Paul said for Christians not to fear what their critics fear. What do our critics fear? What are we afraid of? How do we respond to criticisms? What if our congregation is not criticized? Does that mean outsiders think we are doing everything right? Or, does it mean that we are doing anything that anybody even notices?
When writing to these Christians who were suffering harassment, he reminds them that Christ also had suffered but had continued to evangelize.
He then uses an example whose meaning is still being debated--comparing the rescue from the flood with rescue from sin by baptism. God waited patiently while Noah built the ark that would save eight persons. Baptism is an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Rather than trying to be the person that will finally settle the arguments over this flood/baptism tie, I'm instead going to return to what seems to be the main purpose--to speak to Christians who are suffering unjustly. Here's what Beverly Gaventa says in Texts for Preaching:
In the face of any suffering, whether caused by human inhumanity, by disease, or by nature, the available answers always fall short. What Christians can assert with 1 Peter, as with Christians of every time and place, is that God stands with those who suffer and that God ultimately triumphs over that suffering."Christ suffered for sins once for all--my sins, their sins. The righteous suffer for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God" (verse 18).
How does your congregation live differently from the folks around you that are not part of any faith community? What suffering by the righteous have you witnessed? What suffering was done for the unrighteous? Why am I equating church membership with righteousness, anyway?
"Christ was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit" (verse 18). The physical death of Jesus was not the end of him or his work. Rather, his resurrection demonstrated God's purpose and power to save.(thanks to Allen & Williamson, once again.)
"Christ suffered for the righteous and the unrighteous. He made a proclamation to those who in former times did not obey." (verse 19). God's purpose in Christ is not restricted to Christians alone. God wants to save sinners who didn't pay attention earlier.
What do we do with this idea? Are we to believe--and behave as if we believed--that just as God of Israel wanted to save non-Jewish Gentiles, that this God wants to save non-Christians? Again, why am I equating righteousness with belonging to the same faith that I do?
"Our baptism is a reminder of the ark," (verse 20-21). Many years at Lent, I read Bread and Wine, Plough Press. Here is what Will Willimon has to say about baptism:
His message is not the simple one of the Baptist, "Be clean." Jesus' word is more painful--"Be killed." The washing of this prophetic baptism is not cheap....That day at the Jordan, knee deep in cold water, with old John drenching him, the Anointed One began his journey down the via crusis. His baptism intimated where he would finally end. His whole life was caught up in this single sign. Our baptism does the same.The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns. Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than death, often painful, lifelong death will do.
Happy is the one who is never without fear,
but one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity.
Prayer for Today: Use the reading from Psalms to guide you in a prayer.