1 peter 3.13-22
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, 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 made subject to him.
Growing up this passage was taught as an exhortation to witnessing to people. We were to always be ready to tell people about our faith in Jesus. And if they didn’t like us because of it, well, Jesus suffered too and so that should be okay with us. There is also a dangerous message that gets passed around because of this passage. A message that says that God sometimes wills people to suffer. This is the message that gets said to people who are victims of domestic violence that tells them to stay with their abuser because maybe God is willing it. I want to state an unequivocal HELL NO to that. This passage isn’t about some internal spiritualized stuff. This passage is about corporate hope, about resistance to empire, about standing up for what is right.
I read this passage in an entirely new light these days. In a world that is so full of violence, oppression, brutality, etc. what does it mean to live with hope? What does it mean to live without fear? In a world where frequently the people who do good are murdered (Oscar Romero, Jean Donovan, Harvey Milk, the list goes on) what does it mean to have hope?
I believe that God has called me to live differently. To live with hope and with gentleness. To live a life that resists the empire at every turn. When I am called upon to answer why I live the way that I do, I want to be prepared to give an answer with gentleness and love. I also love this idea that IF we live a hope filled life, people WILL ask us about it because it’s so out of the ordinary.
It’s easy to give in to despair. Last night in my state an amendment was passed that allows a ballot measure to be put on the ballot next November about whether or not the state constitution should be amended to ban gay marriage (which is already illegal in the state). I sat in the house gallery for four hours listening to people make speeches and begging their colleagues to vote “no”. As midnight rolled around the vote was taken and it passed. In the next 18 months millions of dollars will be flooded into our state. We’ll have to listen to divisive campaign speeches and hear hateful things. And it’s easy to feel that there is no hope. Not just about gay marriage, but about the state of the world. It seems like there isn’t much gentleness in people. There isn’t much compassion. There aren’t too many people living (not just talking about, but truly living) with hope.
And at the same time, as I was preparing to walk into the capitol I received an email from my mom who simply wanted to tell me how much she loved me. If you had asked me three years ago if I would be getting an email like that I would have said no way. Progress happens.
I have a lot more thoughts about this marriage amendment, about my views about gay marriage, about my role in politics as an anarchist. I’m planning a much longer post about those things for later this week.
But for now I want to concentrate on this idea of living with hope. Not a cheap hope, but a hope borne out of hard work. A hope that sweats and bruises and bleeds. A hope that is willing to suffer rather than compromise. A hope that is filled with love for all people, the oppressed and the oppressor alike. I don’t have any easy answers about what the future looks like, but I know that if we can love one another, bear one another’s burdens, serve one another, care about the least of these, then we can start to build this new world that we want to inhabit.
* Are you preaching on this passage next Sunday? What questions are coming up for you?