Sunday, May 3, 2020


May 3, 2020

Announcements

  • Shorter service than usual- communion via Zoom so the sermon is shorter.

  • More than likely we will continue to worship online next Sunday.

  • Session and I are discerning when we can safely conduct in person worship, and what that will look like. Pray for us.

  • Feel free to share this video with folks who do not have a way to worship online right now!

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

  • Pray for folks heading back to work this week.

  • Continue to pray for health care professionals, essential workers.

  • Pray for those who have COVID-19, those who are recovering, those who are worried they will have covid 19.

Call to Worship

O come let us bow down and worship;

Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.

For the Lord is our God;

We are the Lord’s people,

The flock that God shepherds.

Opening Hymn

“The Kingdom of God”

The Kingdom of God is justice and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Come, Lord, and open in us, the gates of your kingdom.

Prayer of Confession

Almighty God, in raising Jesus from the grave, you shattered the power of sin and death. We confess that we remain captive to doubt and fear, bound by the ways that lead to death. We overlook the poor and the hungry, and pass by those who mourn; we are deaf to the cries of the oppressed, and indifferent to calls for peace; we despise the weak, and abuse the earth you made. Forgive us, God of mercy. Help us trust your power to change our lives and make us new, that we may know the joys of life abundant given in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord.

Words of Assurance:

In the name of Jesus Christ you are forgiven, Amen.

Apostle’s Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Offertory

How are you suffering for doing good?

How might suffering be used for good?

Scripture Reading

1 Peter 2:19-25

For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. ‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed.’ For ‘you were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Sermon

Let us pray,

May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be pleasing an and acceptable to you, our rock and our redeemer…

Our Scripture reading for this morning is a part of a letter written to various churches in Asia Minor. We don’t know for sure who wrote it. But it was likely written in Babylon by Simon (Peter), one of Jesus’ disciples. Rome was persecuting these churches for practicing their faith. Peter wanted to encourage them to persevere in the midst of their suffering.

This morning we read from the part of the letter that scholars call “Household Codes.” These codes include instructions on how Christians are to run their households. Women and slaves are to submit to the authority of the patriarch of the family. The point of these codes is to show how conflict can arise in households. And sometimes that conflict can lead to suffering. The author asserts that suffering is the inevitable result of practicing one’s faith in a world hostile to it. But the good news of this letter is that suffering can help bring clarity to the church’s mission in the world – to bear witness to God’s mercy in the world.

As Christians living in a non-Christian world, the churches of Asia Minor should expect that they will suffer even if they did no wrong. As Christians, our highest loyalty is to God. Not to the world we live in. That means we will sometimes have to make decisions that go against cultural norms. And when we do, we should expect to suffer. Peter urges us to continue to do what is right, even if it brings suffering. Because we follow in the footsteps of our suffering servant, Jesus.

Because of Jesus’ suffering, we are liberated to love our enemies. This is what Peter means when he says ‘by his [Jesus’] wounds you have been healed’. The good news of Easter is not just that Jesus suffered so that we could have the gift of eternal life. But that Jesus suffered to free us from the sin that makes it impossible to love our enemies. For Christians, the work of Easter is to figure out how to love our enemies in the midst of persecution.

Several of the commentaries I read in preparation for this sermon argued that 21st century Americans can’t possibly understand what it means to suffer persecution as Jesus did. Or as the churches in Asia Minor living under Roman rule did. Our lives are too comfortable. We feel too much in control of our futures to trust in God. Advances in science and technology are allowing us to live longer with less pain.

Then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

Everyone’s life is hard right now. Even if you aren’t sick. Even if you aren’t unemployed. Even if you aren’t lonely or bored or anxious. Everything fun has been cancelled or postponed until further notice. And we don’t know when it will be safe to open things back up. We do know that the next year of our lives is going to look very different than we planned.

Next week, my sister is graduating from Penn State University. It has taken her ten years to earn her bachelor’s degree. I am so incredibly proud of her ability to earn this degree while working full time. I’m also delighted that I won’t have to help her revise or edit any more case studies. My family and I were going to drive to State College and watch her and 14,000 other graduates receive their diplomas.

Then the coronavirus pandemic happened.

In early April, Penn State postponed their in-person graduation ceremony. Right now there is just no safe way for 30,000 people to congregate. Now on her graduation day, Mom, Em, her husband Brian, and I will gather in their living room to watch a virtual commencement ceremony. We’ll order take-out from a local restaurant for dinner. We’ll raise a glass to our senior and all of her accomplishments. We’ll hope and pray that we can have a graduation party for her later in the summer.

This is just one of many examples of how we’re all suffering under this pandemic. I’ve given this a lot of thought in the last couple weeks, and I think that for many of us, this pandemic is our first experience of unjust suffering. Our first time ‘suffering for doing good and enduring it.’ None of us caused this virus, yet all of our lives have been negatively affected by it.

By staying home, by wearing masks at the grocery store, all of us have slowed the spread of this virus. But this mitigation comes at the cost of tanked retirement savings accounts, a rise in mental health crises as a result of social isolation, and difficulty imagining what a new normal will look like. I understand why people are protesting these stays at home orders. But Peter offers different guidance as to how Christians are to behave in the midst of unjust suffering.

Peter reminds us that “by his wound you have been healed.” Through Jesus’ suffering on the cross, he healed humanity of its sin. Right now, by staying at home, we are being asked to do the hard thing out of love for the most vulnerable in our communities. We are being given a unique opportunity to live out our faith in public during a critical moment in our history. We can do this hard thing by looking to Jesus, the pioneer and protector of our faith.

As we enter into a seventh week of a stay at home order, I invite you to reflect on how you are suffering for doing good. How might your suffering be used for good? I know for me this period of staying at home has forced me to become more disciplined, more creative, and more technologically savvy. I am learning the difference between things I need and things I want. I’m sure I will need to draw upon these new skills in whatever our new normal becomes. And I believe you will too.

Friends, my encouragement for us this week is to continue to hang in there. None of us yet knows exactly when the stay at home order for Allegheny County will be lifted. We’re not exactly sure how we will make the transition to a new normal, or what that new normal will look like. We’re not yet sure how we’ll adapt to this new normal. But I take great comfort in Peter’s letter reminding me that I’m not the first Christian suffering for trying to do good. And I probably won’t be the last.

Thanks be to God,

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Closing Hymn:

Nunc Dimittis

Nunc imitais servant tuum Domine, se cundum verbum tuum in pace.

Let your servant, now go in peace, O Lord. Now go in peace according to your word.

Blessing

You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a plan and a purpose to you being there. Christ who dwells in you has something he wants to do, through you, wherever you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power, Amen.

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