For it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 1 Peter 2:19
THERE is a saying in theology, "lex orandi lex credendi." It means that people worship as they believe, and believe as they worship. It works both ways, but today's epistle puts that theory to the test.
Do we believe what St. Peter writes in the epistle we read for your worship today? That to suffer unjustly is a gracious thing in the sight of God? An act of worship as surely as the Divine Liturgy we pray this day?
You can be certain that you won't learn any such lessons in school, neither does the world's catechism have that as one of its "Chief Parts." but this is our faith: For it is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly."
To say that this word of God challenges us is an understatement. No one wants to suffer, justly or otherwise. We all love our skin too much. We all love our creature comforts too much. St. Paul affirms the same in Ephesians chapter five when he writes, "...for no man ever hated his own body, but nourishes it and cherishes it..." We are those "men." It is who we are, what we do, and we need not apologize for it because self-preservation is as natural as breathing. We cannot do otherwise. Yet the Word of God we hear today asks us to do just that; to act contrary to our nature, and to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, "who when He was insulted did not insult in return. Who when He suffered did not threaten His tormentors in return, but prayed for them, and entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly."
May we all learn to do that today; to entrust ourselves to Him who judges justly, because as you know people do not. Human reason, infected by sin, is like a computer teeming with virus, so that it can no longer do what it's supposed to do, so we should not be surprised when people act irrationally, unjustly, or ignorantly; not only not surprised, but we should expect this to be the case, expect public sentiment to lead to illogical behavior, to lead to irrational laws, and finally to persecution of those who won't go along with the program.
The believers to whom St. Peter writes were such people as all Christians should be; that is to say, people who don't go along with the program. Make no mistake about it. The hearers of Peter's sermon were good citizens, good neighbors and contributing members of society, so should we all be, but they would not worship Caesar. They would not burn a pinch of incense at the local Caesar shrine when asked, and it did not take long before a full blown persecution began that lasted for some 260 years.
Christians became persona non grata against whom all manner of assault was permitted. They suffered the whole range of persecution: verbal assaults, exclusion, fines, confiscation of property, imprisonment and often enough torture and cruel death because they would not worship Caesar, but worshiped Jesus instead. We should do the same, however much the world objects, and it does!
Our hymn, #430, "What is the World to Me," teaches us this in memorable words. In verse 5 we sing, "The world is sorely grieved, Whenever it is slighted. Or when its hollow fame, And honor have been blighted. Christ, They reproach I bear, Long as it pleaseth Thee; I'm honored by my Lord, "What is the world to me!"
At this time we still have religious freedom, but it daily becomes more acceptable to bash what Christians hold dear. What God calls good is now called evil by the culture; and what God calls evil is now praised in glowing terms. This is persecution.
One might posit that sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me, but it does hurt. To the person who has "the mind of Christ," who has captured glimpses of glory in holy worship, and who feasts on the Truth of God as given in Holy Scripture, it is excruciating to observe; to watch as America eats her young, as she praises and glorifies sins that run counter to nature, reason and anatomy, but we must be silent about it because our beliefs are no longer welcome in polite company or tolerated in the public square. Yet in the church we will not be silent, whatever the consequences might be.
Now it's true that, "we have not yet resisted to the point of shedding our blood," as the preacher to the Hebrews says, but many Christians have the world over, especially at the hands of Muslims, and the storm clouds are gathering. We may or may not be living in the "end times" as Christians use that term, but we are living in the end times of a brief day when the Christian religion was the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
We might well ask the question posed in Psalm 11:3, "if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" St. Peter answers this way, "...what glory is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if in doing good you patiently endure suffering, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you were called." Why? "Because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth. When He was insulted He did not insult in return; when He suffered He did not threaten, but entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly."
"He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree; so that we might die to sin, and live to righteousness; by His wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep being led astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."
We are those people so restored! As such let us follow the example of our Lord, and suffer patiently, but not as those who have no hope, yet rather as people who are conscious of God, and who entrust themselves to the One who judges justly. For He is our true Father and we are His true children in Christ. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras