As we go through this pandemic, we are bombarded with conflicting testimony from scientists, reporters, leaders in government, health care and various industries. How do we sort through it all? The truth is that we live in times where we don’t know all the answers. The pandemic has put a big spotlight on the issue, but it’s always been there. We are not omniscient; only God is.
There’s a great tendency to fill in unknowns with our own answers and theories. The result is the erosion of trust and a culture where everyone has their own “truth.” This social reality impacts our initiative to give witness to our faith. Most of us concede we ought to be witnesses to the life-saving, good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ. We just don’t believe our testimony will be convincing or received very well. So, we just don’t talk about it.
The scriptures this week enter controversial territory. There are many theologians who will tickle your curiosities with interpretations offered on Christ’s descent into Hell and preaching to dead people (1 Peter 3:18-22 and 4:1-6). Lutheran teachers have long emphasized interpreting scripture on the basis on clear passages when you come to unclear passages. Thus, where mysteries remain, be humble and avoiding filling in the blanks with speculation.
From clear passages, we know the real controversial territory is our Christian witness. Peter pushes on a sore subject. He calls us to be prepared to be witnesses of the hope within us. He says Hope has power. He sees us as God’s supply chain distributing hope to the world. He doesn’t expect us to know everything. We don’t all need to be seminary graduates. None of us will ever know all the riches of the Gospel or its application to the peculiar concerns of every person in the world. Peter actually shows us the best witness is someone who is “doing good.” How we behave as forgiven and risen followers of Christ doesn’t change our place in heaven. But, our behavior does impact our effectiveness as witnesses to others. Each of us has an abundance of gifts and personal experiences with grace for God’s Spirit to bring hope to the world.
Set aside at least five minutes for these daily exercises and you will end up using them to be more confident and faithful witness to the hope within you. You can do this alone or in a family group. Take the grace you find and give it away!
Read: Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:13-16
Reflect: What is the reason for the hope that is in you? Take time to write down specific reasons you have. Among the things you might consider are Bible verses, the story of Jesus, memories from Christian mentors, insights from your story with God.
Read: For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 1 Peter 3:17
Reflect: The context of this verse is about settings when we speak of our hope and do good in the name of Christ. How are you tempted to do evil in denying Christ? What fears do you have in honoring Christ by speaking of Him and doing good in His name?
Read: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. 1 Peter 3:18-22
Reflect: We speak of it in the creeds, “He descended into Hell.” This passage has many interpretations but focus on the larger context of your witness. Jesus proclaims the message even to those who rejected God’s call. What is the verse proclaiming about your Baptism? How does this embolden your witness as a follower of Jesus?
Read: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. 1 Peter 4:1-6
Reflect: Like yesterday there are difficult issues with various interpretations. Focus on this clear teaching: you were raised with Christ in Baptism to live a new life (c.f. 1 Peter 1:3 and Romans 6:4). How are you suffering from repetitive and addictive sins? What thoughts sabotage the power of God to free you? How do you “arm” yourself with the will of God? How does the Gospel “preach” to your struggle?
Read: The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:7-9
Reflect: How has the pandemic impacted your prayer life? How is the Spirit teaching you and challenging you to exercise love that covers sins and shows hospitality without grumbling?
Read: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:10-11
Reflect: Take an inventory of the many gifts you have received from God. Make a list. What is the purpose of every gift from God? How are exercising each gift as God’s steward (manager) of grace? What adjustments will you make to increase your offering of glory to God?