1 Peter 1:3-9
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Faith is a precious thing. Looking out in this room, I think we all know pretty well how precious a thing it really is. Faith is what gets us through this life in one piece. Faith that God is doing wonders all around us. Faith that the darkness that currently is will not persist. That every dark night of the soul gives way to a beautiful morning of something new, and amazing, and wonderful. Faith is the trust that something is the way we were told about it. It is a commitment to the reality we know to be real, even in moments when that reality is obscured. Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish Philosopher of religion called it, “loyalty to an event, [and] loyalty to our response.”
Faith is not a blind insistence that things are ok when they are not, it is a recollection that good things have been in the past and will be again. Faith is meeting God and trusting that the moment we felt, the moment where Heaven and Earth met, even for a minute, is something that can and does happen more often than we might realize. Faith is the knowledge that though it may take many forms, the presence of God in this world is an eternal reality, It is like knowing that my friends and family, far away from me physically, still continue to be my friends and family when I do not see them. I know that because I have the memory of the time we spent together and I am willing to be loyal to that reality in the time between when I saw them and when I will see them.
The first people to hear 1 Peter read to them are described as not having, “seen,” Jesus. This just means that they joined the community of the faith after Jesus’s ascension. They were not gathered there in Galilee while Jesus was preaching and teaching, but they heard the teachings of apostles and believers and received the Spirit through the faith that was fostered there. They, like us, were not firsthand witnesses to Jesus’s work on Earth, but they met the Lord in the gathering of the faithful, the sacraments celebrated together, the testimony and work shared with one another.
We too were not there when Jesus was working in Judea, but we have known Jesus working in our world and in our time. We’ve seen healing in broken hearts, lives turned around, and miracles worked. In our time, in our homes, we have been able to connect to the work of God and come to faith. Those moments that first showed us God’s power, mercy, love, these all are the things that we are ultimately staying true to in our life. For me, that was a spiritual experience in the middle of a worship conference. For other people, something much subtler is at work, a movement of the heart that leaves you weeping in an aisle at Kroger or reflecting on God’s goodness in a moment of prayer.
1 Peter does not leave us to just reflect on faith or the moments that we have held dear, the letter is written to people who are experiencing a lull in a difficult time of life. The early Church was treated as a nuisance in many places, and sometimes that nuisance identification rose to the level of a threat. Two largescale persecutions of Christians, and many smaller ones, took place over the course of the first two centuries of Christianity. 1 Peter was written after the second great persecution, to a church that was afraid their community would turn against them. The group did not currently know persecution, but the threat lingered as long as they were living in a world that saw them as a threat.
We are blessed to be in a place and time where persecution is not something Christians have to face. We talked recently in our Bible Study about the Beatitudes and how Persecution differs from general antagonism. Persecution occurs when loss of life, safety, or property occurs because of one’s identities or belief. The Church in America therefore is in a better position to persecute, still holding the majority of the seats of power in the nation, than to be persecuted. No, most of the time any negative response we get to our faith falls into the category of another teaching of Christ, mundane revilement and bad-mouthing. Although Jesus also says that it is only a virtue to be treated this way if we were not that antagonists, so we must be careful before we claim to have even received that treatment.
The reality of persecution is not something we face, but we do suffer. We suffer illness, doubt, deep depression, anxiety, physical injury, and all other manner of human conditions. We suffer. There is no doubt about that, no need to put it in any prettier terms, we are people who are pained and subjected to all kinds of trouble. Blessed as we are, with relative abundance and a community that cares for us when things get thin, we still face hardship. Life is expensive, life is short, and life is often quite painful. That is a fact of life, and anyone saying otherwise is trying to sell us something.
1 Peter does not ask us to take this hardship and thank God we get to suffer. No, suffering is always bad, or we would not call it suffering. If we were supposed to thank God for our trouble we would not pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Avoiding pain is always better than suffering. Instead, 1 Peter, and scripture generally, sees pain as inevitable. We will suffer, sometimes due to nature and sometimes due to our faith. What we do with it is where the shift in our perspective has to come. Not a perspective to suddenly make the pain worth it or good, but to see in the troubles we face a reminder of how precious our memory of God’s goodness is.
Think of when you stare into the sun, and the little after image of the light is imprinted for a moment on your retina. A little purplish splotch that has the exact shape of the sun, but is not the sun. It fades, but even as I describe that afterimage, I can see what it looks like slowly humming against my closed eyelid. When I look next at the sun, I see that that splotch was not anything like the sun itself, dull and fading while the sun is bright and ever burning. Yet, looking at the fullness of the sun, I see how one reflected the other.
When we are in the dark times of life, it can feel like our image of God is fading. We forget the good times when God felt close, the memory of that singular moment we first met God, and the subsequent moments we felt them once again, all seem distant. As someone with depression, my regular memories can feel this way. I remember that I was at one point happy, but how happiness feels, that escapes me. Yet, with the serotonin supply in my head and our experience of God’s grace, we do eventually find the memories fully realized once again. The image of God we kept close in our heart, dim though it had begun to seem, now burns brightly again. The happiness, the peace, the joy, comes alive once again.
When we make it through the hard times, staying true to the God who saved us, we see just how precious our faith really is. It is not that we must suffer to know what is good, instead we, through suffering, see something good return to us. Reunions are often sweeter than first meetings, because they resolve the pain we first felt in being apart. Suffering can make good times feel sweeter, because we missed them so dearly while we were away from them. If we are in a good time now, let us commit each happy moment to memory. If we are in a dark time, full of doubt or fear, or just plain sadness, let us honor the memories of good things – of faith, hope, and love. If we remain loyal to that memory, to the response it created in us, even the darkest days will be something we can overcome. More than that, let us remember that every dark night gives way to a bright dawn. – Amen.
 Abraham Joshua Heschel. “Faith and Belief.” In Man is not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux) 1976