We have reached the end of 1st Peter. At the end of such letters, people are often writing their last bits of advice and their last bits of encouragement. The letter writer of 1st Peter has stayed pretty well on track more or less. This letter is about the church, about suffering, and about life, And those 3 things in various combinations. 1st Peter wrote about the household of Rome, about who is in charge and whom would submit to who. But was also talking about the spiritual household, that is the church, that is the community, that is how they were are going to live as followers of Jesus together. And at some point, they were going to have to figure out how decisions were going to be made.
In those earliest days of the church, they were still figuring a lot of things out. They were still sorting out what it meant to be followers of Jesus. There was no single way of understanding who Jesus was in relationship to God and how the spirit fit in, there was no Unified way of understanding what it meant to be in community and church together, there was no unified way of understanding anything yet. And they were going to have to figure out who to listen to and when to listen to them. Remember this letter we think was written and shared after the execution of Peter and Paul who were the 2 driving forces of the church at the time. Who is going to be the leaders in the church?
Now for most of my life, I have rarely been in positions of leadership. I tend to be a board member because I spend a long time trying to sort out what is happening and trying to see all sides that someone else who is way more ambitious and driven has found themselves in the place in charge. I just finished reading a new fiction book about Achilles and the Trojan war, And they describe these leaders these kings, as those with Ambition and seeking glory and fame and fortune and Doing so in battle. it takes a little while for me to get into battle mode.
They say leaders are made not born, I wonder about the audacity that is nurtured in some people that make them convinced they should be and are capable of leading others without any questions. We could spend a very long time talking about what has happened in Christian churches Have chosen leaders because of their ambition and their charisma And they’re drive. They’ve put themselves as the elder over and above a community often without the education or the experience or the network to back it up. It’s why the ordination process in denominations often takes it some time and feels a little daunting because sometimes Jim Jones, The one who started a cult, shows up asking to be ordained and someone has to stop them and say no. A thing that actually happened
And we have this idea that it is a specific kind of person who can be in leadership in the church. I have this place in leadership because I have a very very nice area of education and training.. And then Other leaders of our congregation meet day as the council as they were appointed or elected to serve in those positions. We tend not to call them elders but I think We could. Then we think leadership in the church is taken care of.
That doesn’t seem to be 1st Peter’s understanding of elders. For our letter writer, elders are those with time and experience. Elders are those who have been through times of trials and struggles. The letter writer talks about themselves as an elder because they experienced the suffering of Jesus And maybe not in a way in which they saw it but a way in which they too had experienced persecution or abuse. For 1st Peter being an elder is not about how old you are it is not about being affirmed or elected, It might be all of us.
Because when I have chosen not to be in charge of something and instead just be a board member or an active participant, I tend to spend a long time listening and trying to gather information, try to see all of the things that are happening. Then I start asking questions. Questions that interrogate an idea and not the person, but remind all of us that we are better when we work together. It’s one reason I like the UCC so much, congregationalism is intentionally collaborative. It’s not quick. It’s takes longer and might be harder but it it reminds us that we do not go through life through this experience through our church through any leadership on our own. We need each other and that is what 1st Peter was beginning with from the very beginning these different churches from across different places they are connected intimately to one another No matter how differently they worshipped or they experienced Christ or they lived life they were connected they were the church universal they needed each.
I might have more education in This one area, And our metaphor here is the same one Jesus used of shepherds and sheep. One of the roles of the shepherd is the hold of the line, to keep the group together, and to keep us headed in a direction, focus us on our call and our mission of love. The metaphor could easily get lost, but I wonder if elders rise up as shepherds at different times. As we take this journey and we’re headed in this direction our elders are those are who recognize that someone is on a path that they’ve been on before. Our elders are those who have walked this journey ahead of us, who know the steps and the pitfalls, and who can prepare us for what is to come whether as individuals or as a community.
It might be a journey of faith, one that includes struggles and doubts and coming out on the other side. It might be a journey of loss and grief, And you realize you’re walking ahead ed of there’s someone who’s coming behind, And you can say I’ve been down this road that’s You’re traveling let me show you some of the steps let me walk with you let me show you That you’ll make it through. Maybe it’s a time of transition of changing jobs or kids leaving home or Learning what it means to combine households and you can say I’ve been on this journey you’re on me you’re on let me walk with you here.
Maybe you see someone in you recognize that where they are on their journey could be filled with loneliness or isolation or fear. The antidote to loneliness and fear and hatred and bitterness and bitterness is community. The antidote to persecution, to the persecution that the church was experiencing at the time, was community. The antidote to injustice and oppression in our time is community. It is an empathetic inclusive expensive community with an ongoing welcome that is willing to change and develop to include more people but is never willing to compromise its call of love.
There’s a church out west within the UCC denomination and they started using their marquis sign To express words of inclusion and welcome that wasn’t always well received by their small town. as they were putting up One of their inclusive LGBT messages, somebody stopped and wanted to talk to the pastor. the man who came by wanted to convince the pastor that what he was putting up of inclusion was wrong and the pastor was like no this is who we are as a church. The man asked “well if I joined the church, would I get to include this conversation so we could change the church? Make this message go away.” And the pastor absolutely said no not at all it is not a conversation we’re going to have, we do not compromise on love.
“Keep alert,” 1st Peter says because there will be those who try intentionally or unintentionally, to destroy and derail the call and community. The early church was experiencing persecution, they were being ridiculed and abused and sometimes killed because they were religious weirdos, outliers, and they humbly lived their faith, not forcing it on the culture. Just so you know, it’s not persecution if someone’s living with the consequences of being a jerk, even if you use Jesus as an excuse to be a jerk. But it is a 100-ism that try to destroy, try to consume, that roll over us, that destroy the connection. Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, anti-semitism, transphobia, That tell us that we are better or they are worse or less worthy, then we put systems in place to keep them down. We see it, again and again, systems that lie and slander and roar and consume individuals or communities.
This isn’t about demons and spiritual warfare this is about the live reality. This is about the shame someone gave you about something that says you are alone and no one will understand. This is about the lies that are whispered that you can do everything by yourself, that you don’t need anyone, that what it means to be grown in this world is to not need anyone. But it’s just not true. The future of the church is the same as its past, we are to be a community that comes together, supports one another, shows one another our struggles, and helps each other walk this journey of life in a way so that we are not alone.
It is about the lies that deny and destroy the connection that we inherently have by being creatures of the Creator, the connection that we remember and ritualize at the table, and the community that we nurture and advocate for.
These are the lessons of 1 Peter, we are connected, we are a community, we are the church. We are a community that welcomes, grows, learns, is becoming, and connecting. We are a community that, no matter the lies that try to divide us, are united in love for all of creation and humbly live that love. We are a community that is going to struggle and have difficulties and going to get through them, we have hope, we are hope, we share hope. This is who we are! We are leaders, all of us, walking this path together, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, always being humble enough to know that we can’t do this life on our own, through joys and celebrations, through struggles and traumas, through grace and forgiveness, we need each other.
So we come together in community, in person or online, so we know we are not alone. We walking the road together, that there is someone who can say, I’ve been where you are and I can help you on your way. We come to this table to unite with each other, the faithful throughout time and around the world, to remember that our true leader is found in Christ, who showed us how to love at all times and all costs. May those be our lessons from 1 Peter, as we too learn to navigate this faith and church in our world today