What a delight it is this morning to read and digest God’s Word to us by the Holy Spirit through the quill of St. Peter, of old...
He had acquired an inspiring view of life – first as a fisherman plying the beautiful waters of Gennesaret, then as a disciple of our Lord carefully observing His skilled manner in dealing with the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, then as an Apostle who carried the Gospel to the far reaches of the globe -- and then finally in laying down his life as a great Martyr!
We are privileged to gain some portion of his wide and all-encompassing perspective... his fearlessness of life... his rugged durability of faith. He cast a wide fishing net in his youth. He cast a wide theological net in his advanced years!
And in our text this morning he is addressing Christians in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) who were undergoing persecution. Not organized Roman-style persecution – but local persecution! Insults... slander... social ostracism... physical abuse... sporadic violence. His goal was to calm them... settle them... encourage them... establish them in Christ’s Way.
He did this by reassuring them that everything happening to them has purpose before the Almighty! Support one another, he begins – and do not try to “go it” alone! To “shore up” their foundation, he tells them to be sympathetic, compassionate, humble with each other! He calls them to separate themselves from the ways of their persecutors. You do not want them to do this to you; make sure therefore that you do not do it to one another!
Instead of retaliating in kind, try blessing instead! Good for evil. Right for wrong. If you want God’s blessings, he says, you need to learn to give His blessings to others! Jesus prayed for those who nailed Him to the Cross! And then to bolster them he quotes a beautiful passage from Psalm 34:12-16!
If you would still enjoy life and see better days, make sure you do your part, he says! Guard your tongue from all manner of evil. Love and practice all things that are good! Seek peace, he reminds them – indeed pursue peace relentlessly!
And never forget that God favors the righteous (His eyes delight to watch them and His ears are always eager to hear their prayers)... and never forget the Almighty is against evil-doers! Commit yourselves therefore always to do the thing that is good... and see if God does not block the way of your adversaries! The Book of Proverbs reminds us that when a man’s ways please the LORD He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him!
And then he ends by adding that if suffering still comes for doing good, count it a blessing. For Jesus’ final beatitude in His Sermon on the Mount reminds us: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. St. Matthew chapter 5.
Therefore on the basis of all this, do not fear their threats... do not be frightened... But in your hearts revere Christ as the Lord.
We should find it most interesting to discover that in Christ’s School of Learning... s u f f e r i n g has a necessary and important role!
Verse 14: But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye.
The Buddhist world-and-life view, we should carefully note, holds the very opposite view of suffering. The Buddhist syllogism is as follows...
Major Premise: All existence involves suffering.
Minor Premise: Suffering is caused by desire (especially the desire for continuation of existence = the will to live).
Conclusion: The suppression of desire will lead to the extinction of suffering.
To reduce the Buddhist world-and-life view to simplest terms, we may say the will to live must be suppressed so that man can be delivered from the disappointments of life.
Evil for Buddhism is not sin! It is suffering! Disappointment! It is not having your own way! It is therefore a form of petulance (annoyance at not having one’s own way).
It is worthwhile to understand that Gaut’ama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was a prince – who was born in luxury... and who was reared in luxury! The seam of the civilization during which he lived was marked by wealth and leisure!
Buddhism reduces to intense “self-pity.” Nothing about watching out for others! Nothing about loving life and seeing good days! Nothing about God’s master plan for our lives that assures coherence and meaning and purpose!
What a far cry from the comforting thought stated by the Apostle Paul that All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose!
Instead of loving God and His people – and indeed instead of loving all our neighbors – in Buddhism we discover “salvation” through “escape from life”! From viewing life as an illusion!
This is only a stone’s throw away from the Stoics – who maintained the “sage” is the one who is able to live above the many confusing and conflicting emotions of life... and becomes immune to misfortune!
When compared to the durability and ruggedness of the Christian world-and–life view stated by the fisherman of old... Buddhism seems awfully shallow and comes across as incredibly thin-skinned!
Nor should we be surprised that the core tenet of Buddhism is really all around us in 2016! The Buddhist view is a world where no living creature should ever be refused anything! Such refusal is disappointment (suffering) and this is intolerable – and merits flight from life itself!
Many probably remember the “retro” television program from the last century -- Father Knows Best – starring Robert Young and Jane Wyatt. The struggles their family underwent were always resolved by the wisdom and experience and balanced counsel of the head of the house! In the same way, our Heavenly Father knows what is best! His ways, as pointed out by St. Peter are always best! Sometimes “suffering” is mixed into his plans for us – to winnow, to purify, to humble, and to redirect His children. When this comes, he says, happy are ye!
St. Peter’s counsel is so balanced... so weighty... so immovable... so wise.
But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye. Blessed. Fortunate.
Let us individually and collectively carry this with us through Trinity – and through life! World without end... Amen.