Easter 6A I Peter 3:13-22
(Also for Christ the King Sunday)
Ridicule. None of us like to be ridiculed. None of us like to be laughed at and have people “snicker” at us. None of us like to be made fun of. All of us have rather “thin skins” when people laugh at us, especially behind our backs.
I can think back on occasions during my life where people made fun of me and laughed at me. I am thinking of one particular situation back in high school. I had a real problem with the skin on my face, with pimples, especially on the right side of my face. Those pimples were really bad. I graduated from high school, but my pimples came along with me to college. I remember my first year at college when I was eighteen years old and I had the biggest, reddest pimple you ever saw in your whole life. It was a big hummer. I remember walking into the men’s restroom in my dormitory, and there were about fifteen mirrors on the walls of that restroom. I would look into those mirrors and every mirror would gloooooow that great big red pimple. All fifteen mirrors laughed at me and my gigantic pimple.
At that time, I would go out with a young woman at college and she would go home to her college dorm and someone would ask her, “Who did you go out tonight with?” And in my mind, the young lady would nod her head in disappointment and say, “The guy with the big red welt on his face.”
I can feel it and see that time in my life as if it were yesterday. Yes, most of us have similar painful memories of where we felt ridiculed. You have your stories. I have mine.
We “feel the ridicule” for being a lot of things:
For being too tall. That is some people are embarrassed by their height.
Or for being too short. Some folks have thin skins and are defensive about being short.
For being too fat. “O, don’t ever say that word “fat” around me because I am sensitive.”
Or being too skinny. “There is nothing there on me.”
We sometimes cover it up when we don’t know how to operate computers or some other devise. We are sometimes embarrassed and cover it up that we don’t know what to do…because of our fear that someone may laugh at us behind our back.
The list goes on and on. The point is, all of us at times feel ridicule, where we think that people are secretly laughing at us, snickering at us, or putting us down. Sometimes to our face. More often behind our backs.
It is not only for being too tall or too short or too fat or too skinny but sometimes we get ourselves into situations where we feel that people are laughing at us or snickering at us behind our backs.
For example, I remember one event with all clarity where I was hung out on the line to dry. It was one particular event at the synod convention here in the Northwest Washington Synod where the 116 ELCA congregations from the great Pacific Northwest gather. There were 500 people gathered there together at this big convention hall in Bellevue at the Red Lion. It was 1991 when the first President George Bush had led a coalition of nations from the United Nations into battle with Iraq after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. I had authored a resolution to support the first George Bush in his defense of Kuwait and also support the United Nations and the leaders of the United States. I had felt the Lutheran church had been consistently anti-war and I wanted a resolution that supported what I felt was a “just war.” I had written a motion. I got up on the convention floor with 500 sets of eyes on me. I spoke for two minutes. I was cut off. Time was up. I could feel people snickering at me. I waited for the next person to get up at a microphone and make a positive speech supporting the United Nations and the first George Bush for the defensive invasion of Kuwait. Nobody did. NOBODY. I felt I was at the far end of the gang plank and they were sawing the board behind me.. I felt awkward. Humiliated. No one else got up to support the resolution. And I felt those 500 hundreds sets of eyes ridiculing me, snickering at me, enjoying my moment of misery. Yep, I clearly remember that day from fifteen years ago.
All of us feel ridicule at sometimes or another during our lives. We get ourselves into situations. We say something and we sometimes wish we would have kept our mouths shut.
Ridicule. That is what the passage from I Peter, chapter 3, is all about. Ridicule.
Simon Peter, the big fisherman, was writing to warn Christians in every generation and in every culture that we are going to be ridiculed for our beliefs about Christ, the Son of God, and we are going to be ridiculed for our behaviors. Inevitably, people “out there” will snicker at us, laugh at us behind our backs, quietly ridicule us because we hold Jesus Christ as our Lord and follow his ways.
No, not here at church. No, not here among Christian friends. No, not here within the congregation. But out there in the world.
At school such as my seventh grade confirmation students telling me their friends at school occasionally laugh at them for their Christian convictions. Out there in the world of work where I hear from you that your fellow workers sometimes laugh at you behind your back for your Christian convictions. Out there in the world of your neighborhood where sometimes your neighbors quietly think of you as being “the religious type” who NEEDS a community of Christian friends.
The Apostle Peter is saying that it is inevitable for Christians of every culture and every generation to experience ridicule from people outside the Christian faith.
Of course, if you ONLY or PRIMARILY hang out with only like-minded Christians who belief and behave just like you, there will be little ridicule for being a Christian. But if you hang out people who are not like-minded Christians, you will run into ridicule, scorn and laughter. So…hang out with only or primarily Christian friends and you will never experience ridicule for being a Christian.
As we begin this sermon for today, I would first like to examine some background material about I Peter before we look at the specific Biblical text from I Peter 3.
There are three introductory comments that are helpful in understanding this epistle text.
It was the year 60-62 CE. Many Christian leaders had gathered together in the capital city of Rome. Rome was the most important and biggest city in the Western world and the early Christians were gathering there. At this time, Rome had become THE CENTER of the Christian movement.
Four of the greatest Christian leaders were in Rome at the same time. They were:
Peter. There was none other than Simon Peter himself who was the author of this book that is called I Peter. Simon Peter, the big fisherman, from the Sea of Galilee, had emigrated as a Jew from the land of Palestine. He crossed the Mediterranean Sea and ended up in Rome and in the year 60-62, “they” were killing Christians in Rome. Simon Peter was killed in the year 62. He was nailed to a cross and martyred like Jesus. Simon Peter requested that he did not want to be crucified the way Christ was crucified and so tradition tells us that they took the cross of Simon Peter and turned it upside down.
Simon Peter was the first pastor in the church at Rome. Peter was the first bishop in the church at Rome. Roman Catholics correctly inform us that Peter was the first pope in the city of Rome.
Second was Silas. The next person in Rome at that time was a person named Silas. Silas is the man who wrote this letter. Yes, Silas wrote this letter. If you had your Bible in your hands and you turned to the end of this book, you would find that I Peter was written by Silas. Most likely, Peter was not very good at writing and so Silas wrote down Simon Peter’s words and dictation. This book, I Peter, has the most perfect Greek language in the whole New Testament. This book has flawless, perfect, classical Koine Greek.
Now, Silas not only wrote for Peter but Silas also wrote for the Apostle Paul. Paul and Silas were traveling companions. The Apostle Paul was a missionary and Silas was traveling with Paul AND the Apostle Paul didn’t write his letters either. Paul came to the end of his letters and he wrote only his name, PAUL. Who did the actual writing of Paul’s letters? Silas. Silas also goes by the name of Silvanus.
Third was John Mark. The third person there in Rome was a person by the name of John Mark. John Mark wrote the earliest gospel by the name of The Gospel of Mark. Who was John Mark? He was a missionary with the Apostle Paul. But John Mark was the one who wrote down the reminiscences of Peter. At the end of the epistle of I Peter, we hear Simon Peter calling John Mark “his son.” In other words, Peter had fatherly affection for his son, John Mark. John Mark was not Peter’s biological son but his spiritual son.
Fourth was the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul, having finished his three missionary journeys, and having been in prison in Caesarea Philippi, ended up in Rome where he was preaching. Paul was in Rome momentarily before he went off on another missionary journey to Spain, perhaps to Barcelona, Spain. At this particular moment in the years 60-62, Paul was preaching in Rome.
So four important church leaders were in Rome in the year 62 CE. Rome had become THE CENTER of Christianity which would be spreading out to the whole western world.
The second introductory comment about the letter of I Peter: This was the time of Nero. What do you know about Nero? He was a Roman emperor. What else do you know about Nero? Nero was crazy. Why was Nero crazy? Because the Roman emperors practiced inter-family marriage. Among the Roman emperors, they married their sisters and brothers and cousins and when you marry people in your own family, your genes and chromosomes begin to go crazy. The Roman Caesars married within the Julius Caesar family and so these rulers were nuts. Nero the Nut. Fore example, Nero actually kicked his own mother to death with his own boots; he kicked his wife to death; he set the city of Rome on fire and played his violin as the city of Rome burned; he took Christians and wrapped them in oil clothes and lit them on fire; he covered the heads of Christians with honey and buried them with only their heads above the ground so the pigs could come and eat them; he fed the Christians to the lions in the gladiator games; he kicked all the Jews out of Rome. You may remember that the city of Jerusalem was about to fall, and so many Jews fled from Jerusalem and ended up in Rome in those days. Nero made it illegal for Jews to live in Rome. All the Jews were kicked out of Rome and the Jews had been bouncing around the earth for nineteen centuries until 1948 when they got a state for themselves, the land of Israel. And to top it off, Nero thought that he was God or The Lord and that all people in the empire should worship him with a pinch of incense and declare homage to Nero as god. In other words, Nero was a Nut.
The third factor that gives us the background of the letter of I Peter was that it was also the time of Epicureanism. Epicureanism is a philosophy. It goes like this. “As long as it feels good, do it.” “As long as you want to do it, go ahead. Go head and do what you want to do, if it feels good to you.” That was the attitude of the day.
There was a very famous quotation at that time which said, “All roads lead to Rome.” For centuries, the Romans had been road builders. Today, you can still walk on those ancient Roman roads. But Seneca, the famous Roman philosopher, said, “All gutters lead to Rome.” All pollution. All vile. All depravity flows to Rome. For Seneca, Rome was the immoral cesspool of the empire.
Let me give you some illustrations of this moral decay. You read about the decay of the Roman empire. Let me give you examples. This is a quotation from Juvenal: “The best wife is a barren wife.” The Romans did not want to have children. It was not fashionable to have children. In fact, historians tell us that abortions were more common than births in Rome in those days. The Romans had all kinds of medicines and potions for abortion.
Juvenal also said: “The only virgin in the city is the woman who has not been asked.” At that time, prostitution was legalized for the first time for the benefit of the Roman army. At that time, homosexuality was accepted as part of their world view.
At the end of this epistle, Peter calls the city of Rome “Babylon.” Babylon had become a symbol of degradation, perversity, and immorality.
Into that situation of Epicureanism, “do it if it feels good,” there was a total loss of what we feel is morality. Rome was a city and a culture that was morally bankrupt. We find numerous Christians gathering together in the capital city of Rome. Nero the Nut was killing numerous people, including Christians. It was a time of total religious and moral bankruptcy.
Into this situation, Simon Peter wrote is what the city of Rome and the culture of Rome NEEDED was Jesus Christ. What the city of Rome and the culture of Rome needed were people who were truly committed to Jesus Christ as their Lord. In their hearts. In their minds. In their daily lifestyles. Rome needed Christians who confessed in their hearts and lived out with their lives that Jesus ruled them. And they would be ridiculed for it. That is what this lesson is all about.
Would you please turn to your bulletin insert and let’s do a brief Bible study?
The epistle reading is from I Peter 3:13-22. As we know, Peter was the leader of Jesus’ disciples and was the “big fisherman” who had emigrated from the Sea of Galilee to Rome. Peter was now a devoted disciple and was the first pastor in the city of Rome. We recall that Silas wrote down Peter’s dictation and with perfect Greek.
13 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? Underline the phrase, “eager to do what is good.” Near the word, “eager,” write down the words “zealous” or “passionate.” Christians are people who are passionate to do what is good. This phrase will be used several times in this short text.
What does the city of Rome and the culture of Rome need? Followers of Christ who are eager to do what is good and right. Followers of Christ whose moral lives set a different standard from the Romans. Followers of Christ whose life styles are beacons for others to follow.
14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Circle the word, “suffer.” We human beings suffer for many reasons. We suffer from accidents when someone is severely injured or killed. We suffer from illnesses such as cancer or heart attacks. We suffer from being in the wrong place at the wrong time such as living in the African Sudan where civil war has been going on for three decades now.
But Christians also suffering for doing what is right. I see that all the time. You take care of wives who have Parkinson’s Disease. You care for aging parents. You care for children who have been permanently handicapped by an old car accident. You embrace the suffering of others and take it on you as your own. This is the way Christians live.
Circle the word, “right.” And the word, “good,” in the previous sentence. Christians are those who know what is right and good in the sight of the Lord God and we do such things.
Do not fear what they fear, The “they” are the Romans, the “world,” the inhabitants of the city and culture of Rome. They fear death, disease and suffering.
and do not be intimidated, The world outside will always try to intimidate us.
15 but in your hearts Underline. Christianity is a heart religion, a soul religion. The heart is the controlling center of human personality and strongly influences the way we think and the ways we act. Our hearts are our core, our nucleus, the guiding center of our lives.
sanctify I like the word “reverence” better. In our hearts, we revere; we reverence; we have feelings of deep respect and holiness.
Christ as Lord. Circle the word, “Lord.” This is the key to the text. In our hearts, the controlling center of our lives, we reverence Christ as Lord, ruler, guide, number one power. Jesus Christ rules us.
In the Old Testament, the name of God was The Lord. In the New Testament, Jesus Christ is The Lord. The Roman Emperor claimed to be Lord but he was a fake, a crazy nut. Any human being who claims to be God is a nut.
Today is Christ the King Sunday and we proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives.
We remember the contemporary praise song:
“You are the Lord of creation, the Lord of my life, the Lord of the land and the sea; You were Lord of the heavens before time began, Lord of all Lords you will be; I bow down and worship you Lord; I bow down and worship you Lord; I bow down and worship you Lord, Lord of all Lords you will be.”
What the city of Rome and the culture of Rome needed were people whose hearts, minds and daily lives were ruled by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; Circle the word, “defense” which means “explanation” or “accounting.” That is, at ALL TIMES, be ready to share with other people why Christ is Lord in your life and what that means.
For example, my simple explanation of why I am a Christian is this: “The best way to live is to love as Christ loves. There is no better way to live your life here on earth than to love as Jesus Christ taught us to love. That’s just the way it is. And we then discover that the love of Christ is not only for this life but for eternal life. From the Bible, we know the “steadfast love of God lives forever.” In other words, when I die, I don’t simply die but continue in the love of God forever. Yes, that is Christ means for me. Love for this life. Eternal love for the next life.”
What is your logic, your explanation, your simple accounting of why you are a Christian?
As Christians today who live in the equivalent of the city and culture of Rome, we all need to be ALWAYS ready to make our defense or explanation to those outside the Christian community.
16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Not with the spirit of self righteousness and “you will go to hell” if you don’t think the way I think and act the way I act.” Not with self righteousness but gentleness and actually reverence and respect for other people.
Keep your conscience clear, Underline. Do what is good. Do what is right. Keep your conscience clear. This is the third time in this short text when Simon Peter reminds us that we Christians have a higher moral standard than “the world” around us, a higher moral standard than the city of Rome and the culture of Rome, a higher moral standard than the city of Babylon.
so that, when you are maligned, Circle the word “maligned” and write in the word, “ridiculed.” It is inevitable that we Christians will be ridiculed for reverencing Christ as Lord in our hearts, minds and daily conduct.
those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ Underline the phrase, “for your good conduct.” This is the fourth time in this short text that the Apostle Peter highlights that we Christians are to live lives of good conduct.
may be put to shame.
17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, Underline the phrase, “for doing good.” This is the fifth time we hear about good conduct. And Christians suffer when we take on the suffering and pain of other people.
if suffering should be God's will, There are times in our lives where suffering is God’s will for us.
than to suffer for doing evil. We suffer for doing evil. Not only us personally, but our families, friends and spouses. Yes, there is much suffering in life not caused by accidents, illnesses or being born at the wrong place in the wrong time. There is one HUGE load of suffering that we bring on ourselves and our loved ones because of stupid choices and actions on our part.
This sermon is already too long. We must close. I will simply tell you one story.
I am now quoting from Pastor O’Neal in a sermon he preached fifteen years ago. Pastor O’Neal asked: In the 1960s, what were the three most serious problems youth faced in high school? The answer? Conflicts with teachers, running in the halls, beer. Thirty five years later, in the mid 1990s, what were the three most serious problems that youth faced in high school? Muggings, rapes, and guns.
Has our world and culture changed? Changed more than we even realize. Here in our cities which are morally bankrupt and our culture which is morally decadent, what America NEEDS more than anything else is Christ. What American needs at this moment in our history are people who believe deeply in our hearts that Jesus Christ is our Lord. That Jesus Christ is the Lord of our hearts, the Lord our minds, and the Lord of the way we live lives of good and wholesome conduct.
As the song says, “What the world needs now”… is not “love sweet love” but the mature love of Jesus Christ living in our hearts, minds and daily conduct. And the world out there will ridicule you for that.
(I have repeatedly learned that when I have memorized the flow of the sermon and give it out of my heart and head, it is MUCH MORE EFFECTIVE than when I creatively read it. The only prop I had for this particular sermon was the bulletin insert; the rest just flowed. Yes, I forgot sentences and thoughts without “my crutch called a manuscript.” But something else positively happens when the flow of the sermon has been memorized. It has something to do with “out of his mouth shall flow rivers of living water.” When words and spirit flow from my mind and heart, the spirit of the sermon has captured me and my heart and it seems to more effectively capture the listener’s heart as well. So…take the extra two hours AFTER you have written your sermon and memorize its flow so the sermon can be delivered spontaneously. Some scholars have called this “live communication” verses dead//read communication.)
Back to Top