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LORD, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Good Morning!

Welcome to the fifth Sunday of Lent – our next Sunday being Palm Sunday.

We continue our trip to the momentous events of Holy Week, and they are soon upon us. The readings have been challenging of late, ones that lead us to look further into our faith and see how deep it really is.

In today's second reading, from 1 Peter, the apostle comes to us with words of comfort in times of trial. Lent can be seen as a trial for some -think of those souls giving up things like chocolate- the horror! In this reading, St Peter reveals the reason why we go through the trials of life and Lent.

First, here is some context for this reading. 1 Peter was written in the years of persecution by the Emperor Nero, he of the 'fiddling' fame. These cruel pogroms were carried out against Christians wherever they met, and what St Peter sought to do was to make the reader understand that this will happen.

Consider that Jesus Himself pointed this out in Matthew 10:21, as He spoke to the disciples:

"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved."

In verse 12, St Peter tells the believers not to be surprised at these events, but to view them as a test. In verse 13, he mentions that we should rejoice as we participate in the sufferings of Christ, so we may be 'overjoyed when His glory is revealed.'

Verse 14 is very direct in application –from the New American Standard Bible translation:

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you."

Now, to be reviled, and truly hated – I really don't know if I can relate to that myself – some of us may, but in the grand view, the word implies being seen as truly evil for believing in Christ.

In verse 15, he notes that we should not be seen as punished for any other crimes, which as noted in the King James version:

"Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler."

Verse 16 is one that I would like to make sure that any teenage Christian is aware, from the New American Standard Bible translation:

"but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name."

With these verses, we get to a very BIG question. WHY does the Christian need to be persecuted? Why is it God's will these things happen?

I mean, we believers are working to convert others to Christianity – I can remember discussing this with a friend, and he asked why we would want to get other people to come to this kind of faith, just so they could be picked on and made to look crazy.

Well, the suffering or the words of others are not what we look at, what to focus on – we look to His Glory and coming again to fix the world that is so very broken. And why is it God's will for these things to happen? I don't know, but I trust Jesus, and He knows why these things happen. Faith is to be the guide here. So how can we best show ourselves in this light of persecution and suffering? St Peter notes that it comes down to how we handle the trials we are presented with. Verse 17 and 18 note that the world is coming to judgment, and in the time of Nero, that judgment was coming and snatching people away. The apostle's counsel was to obey the gospel of God, and to be righteous in faith to Him in these trials. This was so they would be a witness to those with no faith at all.

Let's consider one word I read earlier - reviled. I had some evidence recently that would say that present day American culture is moving toward that sentiment toward the Christian.

I was at an event recently – a state championship for Destination Imagination, which I would call an odd amalgam of performance and troubleshooting – with hundreds of teenagers. In the rush of the event, I happened upon a teenager running by me wearing a large homemade button with a cross on it, and one of those red circles with a line through it, the international symbol for NO. I was quite taken aback by that. I honestly had NEVER seen such a thing before. I wanted to ask him about this, but lost him from sight in the crowd, For the next few days, I considered that button, and the sentiment it portrayed. It came back to mind as I examined the readings.

"Well," I thought, "Society, via the media, have succeeded in making a statement like that acceptable. Where does that leave us?"

As the hours and days unfolded, I examined other events in my and my family's lives, I realized that, in all honesty, this left us exactly where we needed to be – In God's hands, in His will.

As "people of the Way", to use that ancient term, we are called out to be different, and that's going to be hard.

It all comes down to some ideas that we hear bandied about in the world today, as things that are lacking.

Commitment. Trust.

Verse 19 reads:

"Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right." We don't trust because we have been, or seen others hurt, and we don't want that for ourselves. We don't commit as a society as we once did, and it is alien to the observer. Our witness is showing COMMITMENT to God, to entrust the result to Him, even in light of what is thrown at us.

This boy with the button, I wish I had found him – I would have asked the reason for the button, but more importantly, I want to know what he believes in, what he is committed to. Our witness is spoken by our lives and words, and most keenly in our actions. Lent is a time to examine these, and to concentrate on making us truer in our witness to Him. May we all find our trust deepened and commitment strengthened as we head to Holy Week.

Let us pray.

 

O GOD, who hast prepared for those who love thee such good things as pass man's under standing; Pour into our hearts such love toward thee, that we, loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen .

Charlie Niemi

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