The epistle of First Peter was written to some Christians in serious trouble. In the land we now know as Turkey, their Christian faith and their Christian ways of living made them stand out as different in their culture. They aroused suspicions, sometimes the hostilities of their neighbors. These early Christians probably felt like some Muslims feel in America today.
These Christians dressed differently than the people around them. They prayed differently and people wondered if they were a threat to the Roman government.
Things got so bad for them that some were beginning to get discouraged. They were beginning to lose their faith and lose their hope.
So Peter wrote a letter to these discouraged Christians in Turkey to give them support and encouragement. Listen to part of what he said:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
In her beautiful book, Intensive Care, Mary Lou Wiseman, tells the moving and tragic story of the death of her 15-year old son, Peter, from Muscular Dystrophy. She tells about an astonishing thing that happened at the moment of his death.
Peter’s body was completely paralyzed in the final stages of his disease and the delirium of death was taking over his mind in the last few minutes of his life. He was moaning, random and disconnected in his thoughts.
“His voice,” wrote Mary Lou, “sounded so far away, so lost.” But then suddenly in a surprisingly clear voice, Peter spoke directly to Larry his father.
“Daddy, what does impudent mean?”
Bewildered and frightened, Larry and Mary Lou looked at each other. What could this strange question from their dying son possibly mean? Then again, “Daddy, what does impudent mean?”
Even though he had tears streaming from his eyes, Larry answered Peter matter of factly.
“Impudent son, impudent means bold, it means shamelessly bold.”
Peter paused for a moment. Death closing its grip on him. Then he said: “Then put me in an impudent position.” And sure enough, just before their son died, Larry and Mary Lou positioned Peter’s arms and legs in a position of bold defiance, (SHOW POSITION) an impudent position in the face of death.
Our word from scripture for the week is Hope. Peter’s story speaks to us of the nature of Christian Hope.
Christian hope is a kind of impudent position over against the power of death. Christian hope is not something sweet and mild. It is not wishful thinking. “I hope it doesn’t rain this weekend – I hope there is a parking space at work – I hope the economy gets better soon.”
Christian hope is not even about progress, the hope that human ingenuity will bring in a brighter tomorrow. “I hope they build an electric car that doesn’t pollute the atmosphere.
Those are good hopes. But when Christians use the word Hope we mean something different by it. Christian hope is the faith that in a world of violence and warfare and suffering that none of those things has the last word. That over against all of the visible evidence, love is finally stronger than hate. That life will prevail over death because God is bringing in a day when every tear will be dried, when justice will roll down like the waters and death will be no more.
This means that Christian hope puts us in a kind of impudent position over against the powers of destruction in the world.
My preaching professor, Tom Long tells the story of the 1950’s in the southern town where he lives. In that era the Ku Klux Klan used to march down the main st. of the African American community. The Klan, merchants of hate and racism, would hide under their hoods and robes and march arrogantly down the street. It was a frightening thing. People would lock their doors and shutter their windows when the Klan marched down the street.
But in the early 1960’s, Long notes, it began to be clear that the winds of change were blowing. Political change, yes. But more than merely political change. God was stirring up the waters, bringing in a new day. You could feel God’s Spirit moving across the Southland.
And with hope in the air, when the Klan tried once again to march as usual down the street, this time people did not lock their doors or shutter their windows. With hope in their hearts they were not frightened anymore. They stood on the sidewalk and as the Klan marched by, they laughed and laughed. And the Klan has never marched down that street again.
Christian hope is the confidence that God is bringing in a new day. A day of peace and righteousness. And it places Christians in an impudent position against the forces of destruction in society.
Wherever there is warfare, Christians call for peace because of hope. Wherever there is hatred among people, Christians are called to work for reconciliation because of hope. Wherever there is an illness or loneliness or despair, Christians are called to do works of comfort and tenderness.
This is not because Christians are better than any people. It is because Christians are people of hope. Christians believe that God is making a new creation. That war and poverty and disease and death are obsolete. But how do we know this is true? What is the basis for this hope that God’s future is one of peace and light and life?
Here’s the main reason Christians have hope, we believe we have already glimpsed this future! We’ve already seen what God is going to do and we saw it on Easter morning. On Friday afternoon the forces of violence, injustice and death proclaimed their usual victory. But on Easter God destroyed the powers of darkness and raised Jesus from the dead.
The resurrection of Jesus is God’s impudent position over against the power of death in the world. When God raised Jesus, God put Jesus in an impudent position over against the forces of hatred and darkness.
As the writer of I Peter put it: “We have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
One communion Sunday in Tom’s church the pastor stood behind the table and issued an invitation for all to come to the meal. He said: “If you are hungry for a world of justice, if you are hungry for a world of peace, if you are hungry for a world where every tear is dried and death and pain are no more, then come, come to this table and eat.”
The pastor says something similar every time at communion – so most folks heard it in stride. But worshipping with them that day was a homeless woman who had come into church to find some shelter against the cold. She came to be around other people and to worship. And when she heard those words “If you are hungry for justice, if you are hungry for peace, if you’re hungry for life, come.”
Well she jumped up from her pew, ran down the center aisle and fell on her knees at the table with her arms wide open. And they all recognized what was happening. It brought their own faith to new life. The woman had no place to lay her head, but she had the most precious possession of all, the gospel. She had hope!
In a world of hunger, of hatred, of warfare and despair, don’t forget, we’ve been given a living hope through the resurrection and now because of this hope we get out in that world and we work for the homeless to find homes. We work for the hungry to be fed at places like Grace Café. We work for the troubled to find peace because of the hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are placing ourselves in this world in an impudent position of hope!