Web-Worship: Called to This Kind of Endurance

Sunday 3 May 2020
The Fourth Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 2:19-25

I have never much cared for the Book of 1 Peter. I don’t think I’ve preached on it more than 3 times in my career. I’ve certainly never taken a class on it or led a study of it. And yet, this week, as I was picking out texts to preach during the month of May, I kept coming back to 1 Peter again and again. In fact, whenever 1 Peter was one of the available options, I ended up choosing it. And so, without it ever really being my intention, between now and Pentecost Sunday, we’re having a series on the First Epistle of Peter.

1 Peter is one of what we call the Catholic Epistles. The New Testament starts out with four gospels. Then it has the Book of Acts, which is a sequel to the Gospel of Luke and tells the story of the early church. Next we have all of the letters that claim to be written by the Apostle Paul, although scholars are now pretty sure that some of them were written by other people after Paul’s death. After the letters of Paul, but before the Book of Revelation, we have all of the leftover writings of the New Testament. Hebrews, James 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Jude. They are all titled as letters, though some of them don’t fit the letter form very well. Rather than being written to a specific church in a specific circumstance, they tend to be written with a wider audience in mind. That’s why they’re called Catholic Epistles. Catholic means universal or general. The Catholic Epistles or General Epistles, are thought to be addressed to a general audience.

First and Second Peter both claim to be written by the Apostle Simon Peter, one of Jesus’s closest disciples. Scholars are pretty much certain that 2 Peter isn’t written by Peter. In fact, even in the ancient world there were serious doubts about its authorship. 1 Peter is a little less clear. It’s possible that it was written by Peter. However, it has a lot more familiarity with Greek literary conventions than one would expect from a Galilean fisherman. Perhaps he had a really good ghostwriter. Or perhaps some of Peter’s disciples wrote a letter in his name after he died.

In any case, the first letter of Peter is a general epistle, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have context. It is addressed to a particular group of people. “To God’s chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora, who live in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” The geographical regions that are mentioned are all in modern day Turkey. You might remember that a lot of Paul’s missionary work was in this same part of the world. But Paul was mostly active in the cities and coastal areas. The areas mentioned in 1 Peter are much more rural and isolated. This letter is addressed to Christians who are not as connected to the mainstream of Roman imperial society. They live more on the margins.

And in addition to coming from marginal areas, they are described as marginal even within their own context. 1 Peter says that they are from the diaspora, from the dispersion. Diaspora is a term that most often refers to Jews who have been forced to leave the Holy Land for one reason or another. Wars, forced migrations, and persecution meant that Jews ended up being scattered all over the known world. By the time of the early church, there were Jewish communities all the way from Spain to India.

Peter also describes his audience as strangers or exiles. We might say immigrants or refugees. These are people who do not feel completely at home where they live. We don’t know exactly what has brought them to the backcountry of Turkey. They may have been part of Jewish communities that then became followers of Jesus. They may have been Jewish or Gentiles Jesus followers who migrated because of persecution against Christians. We’re not sure.

What we do know is that within these many communities, there is a sense of isolation. To some degree, there is a sense of powerlessness. There is a sense that they are trying to live their lives under cover. They are trying to follow Jesus in an empire that does not look kindly on Christians, and they are try to do so from a place that keeps them somewhat isolated from other Christian communities.

I’m taking some extra time with this because it has some unexpected connections to the situation we are in now. In the Pacific Northwest, we already know a bit of what it means to be a minority religious group. The largest and fastest growing religious group in our area is those who claim no religion at all. There are certainly still ways that Protestant Christianity exerts a kind of cultural privilege. Increasingly, though, being a Christian marks us as being peculiar. It is become countercultural to be a follower of Jesus. Which, of course, makes our experience have more in common with the early church.

But the COVID-19 crisis is actually making us even more like the early church. It’s giving us that experience of isolation. Our church activities seem more like they’re a kind of underground operation.

And in fact it’s not just our religious life. Everything we do right now seems like it’s underground. It feels like I’m some kind of jewel thief when I’m just going to the grocery store. I have to put on my mask. I have to be sure not to touch any surfaces that I don’t have to. I’ve got to keep a proper distance from everyone I might come near. I want to get over to that display of bananas, but there’s someone coming around the corner from the apples, so I need to wait until they pass or I’ll get caught. Maybe I can sneak around behind the grapes, and… phew… I made it without anyone breaking my six-foot security perimeter.

In the section of the letter that we read this morning, Peter is talking about enduring suffering because of circumstances that are beyond your control. He makes a distinction between suffering that comes from doing evil and suffering that comes from doing good. It is not commendable, we are told, to suffer because you have done something wrong. And this is something every parent understands. If you ignore the direction to wear a coat to school and then you get rained on, there is nothing noble about your wetness. If you fail to do your chores and then you don’t have time to play later bccause you’re stuck working on the chores that you should have done already, no one is going to praise you as a hero or a martyr. If you get detention because you started a fight on the playground, that is not commendable.

However, if you see someone getting beaten up on the playground and you intervene to protect them, but you end up not only getting a bruising but also being sent to detention, then there might be something noble about that. If you miss the chance to play because you are doing chores for your sibling who is sick, that might be commendable. If you get soaking wet in the rain because you gave your coat to someone who needed it more, there might be something praiseworthy about that.

Enduring suffering for the sake of someone can be commendable. A civil rights activist who is put in jail. A first responding who is injured while responding to a call for help. A parent who catches a cold while tending to their sick child. We would prefer that these people not have to endure that kind of suffering at all, but when they do, we can acknowledge that there is some sort of worthiness to their suffering.

In the translation we read today, it says that kind of suffering is commendable. The NRSV says that it is a credit to the person who endures that kind of suffering.. The old King James says that it is thankworthy.

I was really curious about how this word read in the original Greek, and when I looked it up, I was really surprised. I was expecting to find a word that I didn’t recognize, but what I found was a word that is very familiar. The word is χαρις. It’s the word for grace. It’s used over and over in the New Testament. It is a grace if, through mindfulness of God, someone endures undeserved pain. It’s not that it’s about about scoring points for suffering, it’s that in those moments of undeserved suffering, there is an expression of God’s grace.

Peter says “You were called to this kind of endurance, because Christ suffered on your behalf. He left you an example so that you might follow in his footsteps.” Jesus’s suffering on the cross was underserved. It wasn’t that he did something wrong or sinful. He suffered for the sake of others. And through God’s grace, that suffering was transformed into something beautiful, into something that is commendable.

No one is being crucified as a result of this health crisis. But a lot of us are having to endure some form of undeserved pain. I know that I have things pretty easy. I still have my job. I don’t have to put my health at risk to do it. I can get food and anything else that I need without too much hassle. On the scale of suffering, it’s not very bad. But there still is some pain. I didn’t get to visit my dad for his birthday. I can’t visit parishioners in their houses. I can’t meet with anyone face-to-face. Those are the sorts of things that pretty much all of us have to endure. And the reason that we are enduing those things is sometimes not for our own benefit. We are all enduring social distancing for the sake of the most vulnerable in our communities, for those who are older or medically fragile. And that is an expression of God’s grace. It is the Christian thing to do.

But I am very aware that there are others who are enduring much more than I am right now. I think first of medical personnel who are actively putting their own health at risk in order to care for those who are sick. That is an expression of God’s grace. But it’s not just people in the medical field and first responders. I’m thinking about people like grocery store workers, restaurant workers, postal employees, agricultural workers, all those people who are still out there working, providing the things that the rest of us need to survive. I’m thinking about small business owners who are enduring great strain and risk right now. I’m thinking about those who are unemployed and without their normal means of supporting themselves. I’m thinking about those who don’t have a safe place to stay home. All of these people are having to endure pain that they don’t usually have to deal with. And it’s not because any of us have done something wrong. It’s undeserved suffering.

And in all of this suffering, there is the presence of God’s grace. God’s grace transforms what seems pointless into something that has meaning.

We are called to this kind of endurance, Peter says. Christ has set an example for us. I know that I need God’s grace to be able to endure what is going on right now. And I know that there are many people who are having to endure much more than I am.

But we have a God who sets an example of enduring for the sake of others. We have a God who was willing to take human and suffer even death on the cross for our sake. We have a God who knows our pain and who strengthens us to face whatever it is that we have to face.

And God’s grace is in all of it. There is grace that gives us the strength to endure. There is grace in the ways that one person’s suffering can serve to help and protect others. And there is grace also when we fail to endure, when we slip up, when we fall. There is grace and forgiveness.

That’s what I try to remember. We are all going to need a lot of grace to get through this together. We are all going to need to receive grace, and we’re all going to need to share grace. Thankfully, we follow a God who has no shortage of grace to spare. We follow a God who is defined by loving-kindness, mercy, generosity, self-sacrifice, and yes… grace. We can do this together. With God’s grace, we will endure. Thanks be to God.

Notes-N-News

Good morning! If anyone would like a Daily Devotions booklet mailed to them, please let me know. I have about 8 copies each of Christ in Our Home and The Upper Room. 

++May Newsletter Send in your thoughts, insights, or what you’ve been doing during this time of COVID19. Thanks in advance!

++Weekly Reflection Acts 2:23-24 In what ways is God freeing you from death or fear?

++Readings for April 26 Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
1 Peter 1:17-23
Luke 24:13-35

++Recent or Upcoming April Birthdays
Ruth Akiyama 20th
Esther Harris 22nd
Dean Kleinsmith 24th
Pastor David 29th

++Worship will be followed by Fellowship Time via Zoom 

This can be accessed with a computer, an internet device, or a telephone. Computer, tablet, and smartphone users can use this link: https://zoom.us/j/92182379580?pwd=V0pUbGVramhaM0hKVEpnbFFzQWtQUT09 . Those with the Zoom App can join meeting 921 8237 9580 with password 020535. If you’re using your standard telephone, dial 1-669-900-6833, then follow the prompts to enter the meeting ID 921 8237 9580 and the password 020535.

Bishop’s COVID-19 Notice #3, March 24, 2020

“Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”Luke 10:25b, 27
In the midst of a crisis beyond our imagination, it’s good to go back to basics:
Love God  |  Love your neighbor  |  You will live
Jesus doesn’t say that if you do this you will not get the Coronavirus or that if you get it you will not die. Jesus says that, no matter what happens, if you live your life in love with God and neighbor, you will experience the blessing of living life in all its fullness. I pray this for all of us who try to walk in Jesus’ footsteps.

LOVING GOD WHILE PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH
Suspension of In-person Worship and Other Gatherings through April
As your bishop, I am charged to lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church. For the love of God and of our neighbors in every place, today I am directing continued suspension of in-person worship through April 30, 2020. This directive is in effect for United Methodist Churches across the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington and anywhere in the Greater Northwest Area served by United Methodist clergy under my supervision. This suspension of worship includes Palm Sunday, Holy Week and Easter. It applies to both indoor and outdoor worship, weddings and funerals and to all days of the week. Please continue to conduct worship, bible study, prayer groups, and fellowship groups if you can do so remotely.
The virus is spreading in every state in the country in an invisible, vicious cycle. When a person becomes infected, symptoms don’t appear for up to two weeks. If they don’t follow hygiene and social distancing guidelines, they will expose others, who won’t show symptoms for two weeks, while they, in turn, expose others. In order to slow the spread of the virus, and to protect health care systems from being overwhelmed, each of us must take precautions to protect ourselves and others as if we are carrying the virus ourselves and as if the people around us are infected. This is what loving ourselves and our neighbors looks like for the foreseeable future, no matter where you live or whether you know anyone who has been diagnosed with the Coronavirus.

Holy Week and Easter
For churches that are unable or choose not to lead worship remotely, I am working with a team to produce an Easter Sunday worship video resource that can be accessed by local churches at any time and in any place with internet service. It will include a variety of voices, faces, and landscapes from a wide variety of people and places across the greater northwest. We will encourage groups to organize watch parties on Facebook to share Easter together/apart.

Communion
The bishops in the Western Jurisdiction are issuing a letter regarding the online celebration of Holy Communion when we are not “congregating” for worship. This guidance will be available tomorrow.

Closure of Church facilities to all except essential services
All United Methodist church buildings and other facilities are to be closed, effective March 28 to all but essential services and only to the extent allowed by state and local government restrictions or advice. Protective cleaning and hygiene practices are mandatory for all exempt essential services held in United Methodist facilities: 
1. Sanitizing cleaning of the building before and after every use
2. 6 feet social distance among participants
3. Handwashing with soap and water or hand sanitizer
4. Coughing and sneezing into tissues which are discarded into closed containers

LOVING NEIGHBORS
God loves the faithful, so the faithful can love God’s vulnerable children. This pandemic is putting many people at dire risk of disease, isolation, hunger, unemployment, mental illness. Protecting people from the virus is just the beginning. Our calling is to form life-giving relationships with people who are poor, homeless, outcast, unemployed, abused, despised or forgotten. In every place, I challenge you to think creatively about how your church can hear the cries of the needy and respond in ways that offer dignity, self-determination, and hope. Gift cards to grocery stores, drive-through food pantries, volunteers to purchase and deliver food to people with compromising conditions, phone calls, hygiene kits for homeless. If you ask people in your community what they need, they will tell you.

SHARING THE BURDEN IN CONNECTION
We know that this crisis will create hardships for local churches. Church budgets will be strained as people are laid off from their jobs, struggle to buy food and pay rent, and watch their retirement savings plummet. Your conference leaders are planning for reduced income in local churches and at the conference level. My priorities, as we make adjustments are
1. Finding ways to lighten the burden on local churches,
2. Protecting income security for clergy and staff in our churches and conferences,
3. Re-directing resources to relieve financial strain among the most vulnerable

We recognize that funds saved for a rainy day, are needed now. Watch for concrete plans.

LET’S MAKE IT A STANDING DATE…
Every Wednesday morning through April, clergy and lay members of the Annual Conference can join a Zoom webinar with me and other conference leaders at 9 am PDT (10 am MDT, 8 am AKDT). If you want to be part of these gatherings, mark your calendar now for this hour every Wednesday and watch for the links.

May God bless you and take care of you;
May the GOD be kind and gracious to you;
May God look on you with favor and give you peace.


Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Stanovsky: Local Church Responses to COVID-19

For the bread of God…
comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
John 6:33
Friends and Colleagues in Christ, grace and peace be with you as we navigate the life-changing and uncertain waters of COVID-19. YOU HAVE BEEN AMAZING! As I surfed a variety of online worship experiences these last two Sundays, I saw people singing, praying and preaching their hearts out. My deep gratitude to each of you who is trying something new in response to new and challenging circumstances.
At the same time, we know this isn’t going to work for everyone or every place. There’s nothing wrong if your church decides to send out printed bulletins and sermons or joins another church for its online worship. If you try something and it doesn’t work, ask for help or try something different. There isn’t one right answer for all the circumstances and capacities of our churches. Adaptive leaders don’t follow the crowd, they use the resources they have (or can get) to address the circumstance they face.

You have a lot of Unanswered Questions
Easter. You want to know about Holy Week and Easter observances. I promised I’d let you know by Tuesday, March 24 whether I will extend, amend or lift the suspension of in-person worship in our churches. I will keep that promise. I hoped to have a decision today, but in consultation with other conference leaders and crisis response advisors, I am waiting to make a final decision. It is likely that I will extend the suspension of worship through at least Easter, April 12, 2020 and perhaps beyond, so be prepared for this possibility. We are planning to offer an online alternative to local worship on Easter in case in-person worship continues to be suspended.

General Conference. Annual Conferences. Jurisdictional Conference.
We learned yesterday that May’s General Conference will be postponed. Leaders across the Greater Northwest Area, and the Western Jurisdiction, are closely monitoring the recommendations of public health agencies, with the wellbeing of potential participants our utmost concern. I’ll let you know as soon as decisions are made about Annual and Jurisdictional Conferences.
Finances. We know that we are in the midst of a dramatic economic downturn. We don’t know how long it will last, or how deep it will crash. We know that others are experiencing loss of employment or income. We do know that some local churches are already experiencing reduced income. Your conference leaders are exploring ways we can relieve pressure on local churches, and ways in which we can sustain essential conference functions through this time of scarcity.

SOUL WORK: Caring for relationships and spirits as well as bodies.
We know that human beings are vulnerable to insecurity and isolation as well as to the virus. I share your concerns about how damaging fear, scarcity and isolation can be toward maintaining a balance between 1) protecting and preserving physical health and 2) concern for spiritual health and nurturing relationships. At our best, we see and tend and invite the wholeness of the persons we serve to show up in worship, in prayer, in play – in Church. And we know we aren’t really whole on the phone, or online, or with 6 feet of separation.
How do we deepen our confidence in God and each other and cultivate human community while practicing safe distances from each other? One pastor shifted from saying “social distance” to “physical distance,” emphasizing the importance of drawing near to one another socially, despite physical distance. It’s a challenge. But it’s not impossible. I know you are rising to it and sharing creative ideas: from online worship to drive-up food pantries and parking-lot meet ups for neighborhood prayers.

What hope does God offer?
Your faith in God should be a resource for you in these times.
COVID-19 is causing far-reaching, long-term changes in our daily lives and in the human race, globally. We experience the effects in our daily lives: empty store shelves, restricted activities, unusual awareness of every sneeze, throat tickle, morning cough. How many will lose their jobs? Homes? Pensions? How will we eat? We worry for our parents, grandparents, children. Some families are living in tighter contact than usual and experiencing both the blessings and curses of close community.
The Bible acknowledges that life comes with blessings and curses. Full times and lean times. And the Bible also shows us that bad news isn’t the final word. We are living in the imperfect, uncertain, dangerous, perplexing world God reveals in the Bible.
As Christians, we have a relationship with a Savior who comforts the afflicted, rescues the perishing and welcomes strangers. We know him as a man who lived in a world of human misery, and he went out of his way to reach out across social distances of every kind. We know him as God-with-us. And Jesus invites us to be partners in God’s saving grace by being with others. Jesus knows our strength better than we do. Listen for the voice of the Savior, saying, you are living through a time of trial. I see you. I am not causing this disease. It is part of an imperfect world. I am with you, leading you to be a blessing in a world of hurt.
I’ve asked you not to share Communion for a while. But don’t forget the bread and the cup. Life, given for you. Love, poured out for you. Jesus says, this is me: my body my blood. Cup of Salvation. You don’t need the symbols to experience God’s real presence. Remember God’s love for you. God puts you in the world to love one another.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky