October 25, 2013 – baptism

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 3:18-22

…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

More thoughts for meditation

Some scholars say that all of 1 Peter is a “baptismal liturgy” – a poetic defense of and for baptism. Peter certainly relies on the imagery, and no wonder! It’s such a good metaphor for the “new birth” he talks about in the very beginning of the letter. He doesn’t want them to think that being born again is purely a personal matter. If it were, we could all relate with (fictional) Sheila Larson’s credo in Habits of the Heart:

I believe in God. I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice…It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think He would want us to take care of each other.

God does want us to take care of each other, but Sheilaism is missing an important component to be able to do that sustainabily and truthfully: others. That’s where baptism comes in as the example, because you can’t baptize yourself – even Jesus couldn’t. The event of baptism isn’t just an actualization of yourself, it’s an incorporation to the body of Christ, where all selves find their meaning, refuge and purpose. And just in case his audience is prone to legalism or feeling guilty, Peter clarifies that the heart of baptism isn’t a negative action – “removal of dirt from the body.” Rather, it’s the positive, enthusiastic response to the grace of God in one’s life, and the “pledge” to keep accepting what Jesus did for us, rather than trying to clear our conscious ourselves.

Suggestions for action

Pray: God, I’ve reached the limits of “my own little voice.” Help me turn again to Jesus and teach me about being part of the body of Christ.

Go: To the baptisms today! It’s OK if you have never been before, or if you don’t know who’s getting baptized. If Peter were writing to us he would tell us that what Philadelphia needs, now, is people who will jump into the Wissahickon Creek in October because of the grace of God in their lives, with the warm public witness of a community cheering them on.

October 24, 2014 – center

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 2:11-25

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority.

More thoughts for meditation

1 Peter is a great summary of the whole New Testament teaching about how the church should be situated in the world. Theologians have a lot of opinions about the relationship between the church and its surrounding culture – should the church withdraw, infiltrate, stand apart, accommodate, transform? Peter, somehow, doesn’t get stuck in either pole of the debate and instead calls people to be oriented around the center – Jesus Christ – and then to let all other human relationships, distinctions, and boundaries fall as they may.

This is a radical message, not only for this group of marginalized Christians – many of whom were slaves themselves – but also for the surrounding culture. Instead of denigrating the culture or hyping up the church’s right to be honored along with everyone else, the command in 1 Peter is for the marginalized group to submit, for them to be the ones who show honor. That command is only possible when we orient ourselves around Jesus, and it’s from that center that we’re able to maintain our dignity, find meaning in our suffering, and discern what submission and honor look like in our everyday lives.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Jesus, draw me to the center: help me get my definition and mission from You today. 

Optional exercise:

  • Identify a situation in your life right now where you feel threatened or hurt.
  • Reread verses 21-25 and make a list of the ways Peter says Christ faced suffering and injustice.
  • Which response is hardest for you or stands out to you the most?
  • Reflect on whether there is an invitation in that for you in the midst of the situation you identified. 
  • Talk to God about it.

 

October 23, 2014 – tension

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 2:11-25

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.

More thoughts for meditation

Peter’s two-fold address at the very beginning of this section reveals the tension his audience is living in: they are both “friends” (also translated “beloved”), and foreigners and exiles (also translated “aliens and strangers”). They struggle with holding this tension between their status in the eyes of God (beloved) and their status in the eyes of some of their neighbors, coworkers, families and authority figures (despised, strange). Can you relate?

Peter uses a rhetorical tool called a chiasm in verse 17 to summarize how they can live out both realities honorably:

  • A) Respect everyone
    • B) Love the family of believers
    • B) Fear God
  • A) Honor the emporer

The A A phrases are on the “outside” and address how they should live on the “outside” in the world – with honor respect for everyone, including the ruler. The stronger B B phrase on the inside of the chiasm reflect how they should live internally within the church and their own hearts: loving each other and fearing God. Importantly, Peter reiterates the motivation behind this challenging lifestyle – because of and for “the Lord’s sake” (vs 13 and 21). Inhabiting Jesus’ own pattern of unjust suffering, death and life is not only the way we are rescued into meaning and hope, but also the way that things in the world around us can be changed too.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Jesus, help me to see the value in my suffering and entrust the outcome to you.

Reflect: Identify one area of your life where being a follower of Jesus causes tension. Reread the whole passage above with that particular situation in mind. What phrase or challenge stands out? How can you embrace Jesus’ story as your own in this situation?

Pray: Jesus, help me to see the value in my suffering and entrust the outcome to you.

October 22, 2014 – stone

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 2:1-10

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house…

More thoughts for meditation

Peter’s letter alternates between affirmation and exhortation. He not only wants to remind the new Christians living in hostile territory of their commonality with Jesus, but he also wants to help them live like him. In this section, he uses the metaphor of “living stones” to do both.

Stones are normally stationary and cold but Jesus is a different kind – a living one. The only secure foundation to build one’s life upon is not a cold proposition but a Person. That’s the good news: for God so loved the world that he sent a Person, Jesus. Peter then challenges them to be the good news in their hostile world in the same way – as living stones who are being built into something together.

The phrase “being built” reminds me of the psalmist’s description of being “knit together in my mother’s womb.” Just as God knits a single person together, so God is building a people together who will form one, interdependent unit. The present progressive tense of “being built” implies that this is an ongoing action, already in process. We are to become so built into each other’s lives – sharing decisions, money, hope, and struggles – that we are like interlocking bricks of a house.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Jesus, show me how I’m necessary in this spiritual house you are building. Help me to give and receive even more.

One of the most basic ways we practice “being built” together is through sharing our lives and our stuff in cells. Picture your cell in a circle and pray for each person – that they would feel valuable and responsible. Ask God if there is an opportunity for your cell to share more of themselves or their resources. Plan to tell your cell that you prayed for them, and what came to mind.

 

October 21, 2014 – holy

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt from it

Read 1 Peter 1:13-21

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do…

More thoughts for meditation

Peter’s main intent in this letter is to encourage new Christians (5:12), and it’s under this motivation that he brings up holiness. Unfortunately, the call to holiness can make us feel intimidated rather than inspired. One reason for that is because we forget what real holiness looks like. As Francis de Sales said, we are bombarded by “phantoms of devotion,” spiritual people portrayed in the media as judgmental, self-righteous, boring, and sexually repressed. That doesn’t sound like Jesus at all, and that’s who our holiness is supposed to look like.

In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard offers a more-down-to-earth description of holiness: “Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they… they are learning how to walk with Jesus and learn from him in every aspect of their individual lives.”

Suggestions for action

Pray: Jesus, you see me and know me. I want to learn to lead my life as you would lead it. Walk with me and teach me, so that I can be holy.

Reflect: What aspect of your life has Jesus been focusing on lately? What is he teaching you?

Sing: I want Jesus to walk with me.