by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
Peter. Oh Peter. How I wish you had just not been included in the canon. But, here we are.
I have had to sit with this a minute. There are two ways to go at this and I am not sure how to bring them together. On the one hand, this is a letter to immigrants living in lands that despise them. This is a letter telling strangers in strange lands to keep going, to keep pushing, because the people in the nations in which they are living are being terrible to them. We can talk about how we treat immigrants, how God is on the side of the stranger, giving them strength and uplifting them.
On the other hand, this idea that God tests us, that God tests our faith is so harmful and often furthers oppression. Those of us who are white, wealthy, and/or abled generally hear this idea when in moments of personal strife. When a loved one has died, when we have a setback in our career, when we have been the victim of violence, or when we are diagnosed with a health problem for the first (and possible final) time.
And when this happens it SUCKS. We know, in our heart of hearts, that God doesn’t do this. Jesus never talks about God testing our faith. As a Lutheran theologian of Grace, this just doesn’t work with my lens. And yet, the idea that the bad things happening is God testing us is pervasive in our culture and deeply harmful to individuals and individual faith.
However, this idea is so much more harmful to people living on the margins. For generations those without power have been told that whatever pain they were going through was God’s will, that God was making them tougher, and that to fail to put up with a situation of abuse, violence and oppression was to fail God. And so we use these words written to strengthen outcasts being tried by everything from ostracism to violence to further oppress. We use scripture to cause suffering. These words have been used to keep people enslaved, to exclude and harm disabled people, to uphold abusive relationships, & to keep people in all manner of prisons.
We read scripture through the lens of Christ. What does Christ tell us about God? That God loves us endlessly, forgives us endlessly, wanted to be in relationship with us so badly they became human and put up with all the shit we put up with on the day to day. That is the God we know. Does God want us to cast all our anxiety on God? Yes! Jesus said something similar, and that is a word of hope in this time.
But maybe it is also a word of hope to preach against this idea that God tests us through putting trials in our lives. To encourage people by speaking of a God who is not that petty, who strengthens us through presence not trial. That suffering will come and go but God will always be there, with us, in the midst of our pain.
Another option for something to highlight this week might be the part in the gospel of John that says, “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Eternal life is to know God. In this life. We read this lesson and it tempts us to look to the clouds for the day of Jesus’ return (which he is very clear we will not be able to predict) or for our own eventual ascension, especially in times as difficult as these. We may be dreaming of heaven as an escape from the pains of this life. But here Jesus clearly tells us that eternal life is life with God, knowing God through Jesus. And that happens in this world. This dirty, diseased, painful, beautiful, complicated, amazing world.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.