Sermons

Sun, Apr 23, 2017

Living as resurrection people

Series:Sermons

Last Sunday, there was a referendum in Turkey... 

which entrenched and expanded the president's already considerable powers.

Turkey is now, effectively, a dictatorship.

Using the failed coup last year as an excuse–– 

which was largely provoked by his autocratic behaviour––

he has embarked on an audacious programme of increased human rights abuses:

a violent military repression of the Kurdish minority...

and a crackdown on political and media opponents––

whom he labels as ‘terrorist sympathisers’.

He has also stoked fears of foreign meddling in Turkish affairs...

and cynically played the ‘religion’ card––

suggesting that Muslim Turkey was being victimised by Christian Europe.

But, he hasn’t just targeted opposition politicians and journalists.

He has also persecuted civil servants, police, judges, and teachers. 

More than one hundred thousand have been sacked. 

About forty thousand have been arrested. 

Reports of beatings, torture, and rape of those arrested are common. 

Following his referendum success, the situation will only get worse.

But, in reality, it’s not the first time that we have seen that sort of thing––

the use of manipulation… 

intimidation…

bullying… 

and victimisation…

as a means of exerting control… 

protecting a privileged way of life…

and shoring up power.

In fact, it’s something that we have seen throughout human history…

down to the present time…

be it Adolf Hitler…

Stalin…

Idi Amin…

Pinochet in Chile…

Mubarak in Egypt…

Mugabe in Zimbabwe…

Omar al-Bashir in Sudan…

Bashar al-Assad in Syria…

the military junta in Burma…

the Khymer Rouge in Cambodia…

the Sinhalese majority in Sri Lanka…

the Indonesians in East Timor and West Papua…

the white government in apartheid South Africa…

or the colonial English in India.

The use of manipulation…

intimidation…

bullying…

victimisation…

and violence…

as a means of gaining power and staying in power…

as a means of protecting a privileged way of life at the expense of others––

at the expense of those who are weak…

poor…

powerless…

vulnerable…

and defenceless.

 

But, if we’re honest, it doesn’t just happen on the world stage, does it?

And it doesn’t just involve despotic rulers and abusive governments.

It’s really the history of the human race.

It’s the story of all of us:

schoolyard bullies…

discriminating employers…

our government’s treatment of asylum seekers…

perpetrators of sexual harassment or sexual violence…

abusive husbands and partners…

mean and domineering parents…

people who spread malicious gossip, rumours, and lies.

It happens on school councils…

in social clubs…

and in the church.

There seems to be something inherent in our nature as human beings.

Maybe it’s hereditary or evolutionary, a sort of primitive jungle instinct––

but we seem to have this tendency to exploit the defenceless… 

to victimise the vulnerable…

to exert power over those who are weaker.

 

The book that we know as the First Letter of Peter…

was written to churches throughout the eastern part of the Roman province of Asia Minor––

ironically, part of modern-day Turkey.

It was written to small groups of Christians who lived in largely rural communities…

far from direct Roman rule and influence.

They experienced discrimination, abuse, and victimisation from their neighbours… 

because they had renounced the worship of the traditional gods of their communities…

because they didn’t fit in…

because they were weak, powerless, and vulnerable.

And, in their suffering and victimisation, it would have been easy for them to lash out…

to become vengeful…

to resort to violence themselves––

as so often happens.

That was the situation that our author––

who wrote in the name of Peter––

sought to address in this letter.

He tried to encourage them to stand firm in the face of their victimisation and suffering.

And note how he does that in our reading this morning…

he focuses on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

“By his great mercy, God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”.

The author addresses the recipients as people who have been re-born…

through the death and resurrection of Christ.

In other words, through the death and resurrection of Christ…

they need to understand themselves as new people…

living a new and different life…

adopting a new and different way of seeing…

and thinking…

and doing…

and being…

and relating…

and responding. 

In particular, the author suggests that, as God’s people, they…

“were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors”.

In other words…

in the death and resurrection of Jesus…

God was working to redeem us from the futility and pointlessness…

of our self-serving, self-seeking, and self-destructive tendencies.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus…

God was working to overcome human violence…

the human propensity to victimisation…

the human need to seek power and control at the expense of the weak.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus…

God was showing us a new and different way to be human…

and a new and different way to live out our essential humanity.

As Martin Luther King jr once put it…

“Jesus eloquently affirmed from the cross a higher law. He knew that the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy would leave everyone blind. He did not seek to overcome evil with evil. He overcame evil with good. Although crucified by hate, he responded with aggressive love”.

 

It was to such a renewed and regenerated…

fundamentally different existence…

that the author of this letter called his readers.

He called upon them to recognise the fundamental futility of the way that our world works…

and the way that it has always worked.

He called upon them to reconsider the values and priorities of their society.

He called upon them to see themselves as an alternative society––

a counter-culture.

He called upon them to see themselves as new people…

different people…

reborn people…

people who imitated and displayed––

who lived out––

the fundamental nature and ways of God:

treating each other with love––

not responding to each other with violence or victimisation;

treating each other with respect––

not resorting to bullying or belittling;

and certainly not being motivated by self-centredness or self-seeking.

 

But, more than that… 

the author of First Peter was suggesting… 

that it was because they were doing that, that they were being persecuted.

And is it surprising?

Those who reject the ‘gods’ of their communities…

who step aside from cultural assumptions…

and who question societal practices…

are often the victims of reactionary forces;

they are often oppressed and persecuted by those who fear losing their power…

and who want to maintain the status quo.

That’s exactly what happened to Martin Luther King––

assassinating for challenging institutional racism…

and the way that the structures of American society perpetuate poverty.

And, of course, that’s what happened to Jesus before him.

But, as the author of First Peter reminds us here…

it’s only through death and resurrection that anything really changes;

it’s only through death and resurrection that there’s any hope for the world;

it’s only through death and resurrection that there’s any hope for humankind;

And it’s only when we confront the bullies and gossip-mongers… 

challenge the injustices…

renounce violence––

whether overt or passive––

and call into question those aspects of our culture that perpetuate victimisation…

that we actually fulfil our destiny as the people of God…

and truly live as resurrection people.

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