Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Touching Base - Part 285

25 Oct 15
Series: Living in the Margins
Part 5 - Faithful Presence
1 Peter 2:18-25

During our series, Living in the Margins, based on the book of 1 Peter, we are going to be turning our Touching Base into a prayer guide. This aligns with how we want people to be growing at Bethel. Being prayerfully engaged is one of the marks of a disciple, it characterized Jesus’ life and ministry and is essential as we learn to walk with Jesus. We encourage you to use this prayer tool in your Life Groups, and in your personal prayer time.

Like the recent TBs, this one is also a prayer guide. And while the sermon isn’t about prayer, the Big Idea does fit well with the theme of prayer.

Consciousness counts. That’s the Big Idea.

Of course consciousness matters. To be unconscious is a decidedly unproductive state. We can hardly imagine what a state of unconsciousness might be like because, by its very nature, we are not aware when we are lying on the street after falling off a bike. But consciousness is a continuum. Sleep is not as profound as a coma: you’re hopefully rousable, and can often remember some events of the night.

Consciousness in the sense of being aware and mindful of something – like being conscious of your appearance – is also a continuum. In our text this Sunday, 1 Peter 2:18-25, Jesus’ most headstrong and impulsive disciple calls us to be “mindful of God” (something he probably had to learn), to be conscious of Him and His attributes and claims even as we go about the day-to-day activities of being employees.

While not a substitute for clearly expressing our thoughts to God verbally, is not the state of being mindful of God minute-to-minute a form of prayer? What does the term “contemplative prayer” mean?

Like many passages in 1 Peter, the chunk from 2:18-25 starts with practical instruction and then goes into the big theological reasoning backing it up. Practical: Servants (employees) respect your bosses even if they are crooked, since enduring unjust suffering is valuable (v. 18-20). Transition: Do this since it’s your calling and Christ is your example of this kind of behaviour (v. 21). Theological reasoning: Christ is sinless, didn’t engage in crookedness even when up against it, and didn’t threaten when under extreme pressure. He died, was wounded, and is now your Overseer (v. 22-25).

This passage not only tells us how to act as employees, but also completely how to live as exiles on the margins. And this is the very same thing as telling us how to live as Christians in the world. The two are the same: we’re not expected to be at the center, not asked to change the world per se, and shouldn’t anticipate wielding power in the traditional sense. Actually, what we can expect is suffering. And then Peter tells us how to conduct ourselves when that inevitably happens.

Pray for your boss. And not only for “the good and gentle, but also [for] the unjust” or crooked (from the Greek scolios, meaning crooked, like scoliosis of the spine).

The consciousness of the Christian matters. The key to verse 19, which tells us to endure unjust suffering, is the little phrase, “being mindful of God” or “because you are conscious of God”. That’s the only way enduring sorrow can be sweet and seemly to God. The verse is nothing without that little bit; without it, the verse would be merely masochistic or about encouraging martyrdom in the distasteful sense. Consciousness counts.

Now here is where it gets interesting. This is where it gets really practical.

A book (a bit dry) by a sociology professor at the University of Virginia, James Davison Hunter, overhauled my personal view of this. Rooted in scripture, he says the 21st-century Christian should not be simply “defending against” the world’s culture, or trying to be “relevant to” it, or even striving for “purity from” it. Instead, we should practice “faithful presence within” it. This is a stance that can be exercised best by sojourners and exiles, just like Peter’s audience. And this is exactly what Peter is suggesting. It is a consciousness that is both glorifying to God and intensely practical. The servants/employees of 1 Peter 2:18 were surely being instructed to practice Faithful Presence as they worked for crooked bosses. This theology is “an acknowledgement of God’s faithful presence to us and that his call upon us is that we be faithfully present to him in return”.

“When Christ was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (v.23) This state of consciousness was practiced by the Son of God Himself.

Did Peter know what he was talking about? The above verse is likely based on his actually witnessing Jesus’s behaviour before the High Priest, even as Peter was thrice denying he knew Jesus.

Practicing faithful presence while conscious of God’s faithful presence to us – entrusting yourself to him who judges justly – is a stance that should pervade all our prayer.

Eric Prost

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