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  • Amelia Moffat, Youth Min.

7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 1:6-14; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11; John 17:1-11

Peter calls what Christians are going through, in the 1st century, a “fiery ordeal” and tells us we “should not be surprised” when these ordeals do happen, because they will. Peter doubles down on his notion of the fiery ordeal as he warns, “Discipline yourselves…Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith.” Is this not the most visceral statement of all time about ordeals? Simon Peter seems to be claiming that challenges, “fiery” or otherwise, are not merely an inherent part of being human, but are also part and parcel of trying to live the life of faith; the God-given life of a disciple. But Peter is not only warning his first century contemporaries; he is also reassuring them. “Cast all of your anxiety on him” {that’s God], because He cares for you.” Then Jesus gives us even more ammunition in our struggle with adversaries of every kind, as He prays for God to “protect them [His disciples, us] in your name [– the Name above every name -] that you have given me…”

There is, of course, a uniqueness to Peter’s message of faith, faith in God’s presence and a saving love which sustains us through the fiery ordeals of our lives, even of evil itself. But Christians, in most ways, share the nearly universal challenges that all humans have faced and will continue to face. We are in a time that seems, for us, of unprecedented challenge in finding a way back to any kind of normalcy. What many are going through, as with any difficulty throughout history, can make seeing God’s grace extremely hard, too. That is why it is so important for each of us, as Christians in the world, to follow the example of Jesus’ disciples, as best we may, and be His “witnesses to the ends of the earth,” for the good of our fellow humans, and for the glory of God. We are called, even now, into communion with God and that means we are called into togetherness, even as God and Jesus are one.

There is a young man in our parish (anyone who is 10 years or more younger than me is automatically young 😊) who has, as much as anyone I have ever met, been through the “fiery ordeal.” Now, Peter may have been referring to the “fiery ordeal” as Christian persecution but anything that makes it challenging to follow God’s path for us in life, in varying measure, are ordeals. But this gentleman has been through more in his life than most people would in 2 or 3 lifetimes. I am not going to share his story because it belongs to him but he has been through losses alone that would derail most persons in their life. He has been subjected to persecution, too, unfair judgement, and ordeals of every imaginable kind: mental, emotional, and spiritual.

He called me the other night, a planned conversation, but it went, in many ways, like most phone calls or in-person conversations we have had. He wanted to share an idea with me, maybe get some advice, and we ended up talking for a long time. Every time I talk to him, I find myself smiling the entire time, inwardly and, usually, outwardly too. He exudes a positive energy, a light, a hope and joy that are clearly contagious. He has that effect, too, on everyone, as far as I can see. Though he went through the fiery ordeal he, by the grace of God, has found a calling in life, a purpose and a hope that I cannot imagine being extinguished. God – in His mercy, grace, and love – has brought my friend from the brink of the pit, as the Psalmists like to say, nay from the pit itself, into the radiant, shining light of God’s saving love. Yes, my relationship with this man is pastoral but I am not sure who is pastoring whom … because I feel incredibly blessed by his witness, in all of its fullness, to the hope that is found in God’s presence.

I share this story, without offering names or specific events, as a counterpoint that our scriptures make this week about the worldly challenges so many are faced with, Christian or otherwise. Yes, we are in a fiery ordeal of sorts, in our world, but Peter speaks into this first by warning us about the ravenous beast we could call fear that stalks the earth; the roaring lion called anger, depression, crushing anxiety, job loss, illness, death, envy, and blame all which seek to devour our hope, our future, our relationships, yes even our lives themselves.

Peter then pivots by claiming, as a counter to the ravenous adversaries of this world, we should cast all our anxiety on God because our Lord cares for us; love us, in fact. He continues with this: “Christ Himself will restore, support, strengthen, and establish” us. Our restoration is not a promise that the world will always be kind to us or will revert back to the comfortable world we may have known before COVID-19 reared its head. Peter is simply sharing the hope of Christ that was in him that tells him, and should convince us, that God in Christ will heal us and bring us into a new place of promise if we trust enough to cast our lot in and on Him. Because, His love endures….

Jesus goes further, not only in John 17, often called “the high priestly prayer,” but also in Acts. In both instances, Jesus is praying with all of his disciples for the final time. He prays to God, in John: “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Hmm. Christ is not only praying for the disciples that He has raised up, taught, loved, healed, ministered to, and prepared for this moment and every moment that comes after. He is asking the Father, God in whom He has complete trust, to bring the disciples together, in community, to support each other, after He is no longer physically in the world.

Unity is actually a huge part of the story here. The Holy Spirit does not, on Pentecost, come to the disciples as mere individuals but as a community. Jesus did not call, lead, and prepare His disciples for ministry as individuals but as a community with the command to love one another. And His disciples continued the mission He began, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, which Christ gave to them as a community of love and faith, not as individuals working alone. My friend above has been through an ordeal as an individual in which he felt, at times, completely alone except for the few family and friends who supported him. But he has communicated to me, many times, how his ultimate movement to a new life came through community, a chorus of people who nurtured, supported, and loved him along the way. We become strongest against the devouring forces that come against us when we are together, bonded in love and the hope that God has given us in Jesus Christ.

We come to worship, when we are able, together. We confess our sins, as a community. We sing, we pray, and we pass the peace as One community of God, in thanksgiving for God’s protection and love. We take the Eucharistic sacrament, even though we miss sharing physically as community right now, and we commune with God in a shared love for each other, a love that Christ prayed for us before He died. Peter reminds us that we “should not be surprised at the fiery ordeal” that crops up; it is inevitable. But, “Christ who will restore, support, strengthen, and establish us” is a more powerful promise than all that can come against us; a promise that we must and will share with each other and with the world. WE would do well to remember, too, that God’s gift of restoration and strength typically comes in the guise of one another, the community Jesus blessed and brought to life, come down to us through the ages, for our mutual blessing, hope, and joy. We are community, even if we cannot be physically together right now. “For where two, or three gather together, even online, in His name, there our Lord and Savior is, in the midst of us. Amen.

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