Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Scripture for the Day: I Peter 4:7-11

In his book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden C. Lane explores the story of his mother’s death. She received a diagnosis of cancer late in life, and he prepared for a sudden loss. But she beat the cancer only to enter a painful battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He describes the many days of pushing wheelchairs, dealing with adult diapers and waiting by her bedside. Reflecting on her long journey to death, he says, “We adjust to traumatic experiences more readily than we might expect. Crisis brings its own rush of energy. There’s a strange comfort about the extraordinary, even the extraordinarily bad. We’re convinced that it simply cannot last. But sometimes it does” (94). 

Turning to scripture, Lane uncovers the tension between the dramatic and commonplace as familiar in the Bible. “It appears in the alternate poles of prophecy and wisdom literature, resurrection and incarnation, the excitement of the Exodus versus the boring years of wilderness wandering. One pole celebrates life at the center of action and change; the other speaks of the monotony of day to day affairs.” While he doesn’t mention it, I would add to his list the Spirit-filled early church in Acts versus the to-do lists and household codes of the pastoral letters.

Our scripture for today straddles this divide. 1 Peter is a letter to the early church in Asia Minor, Gentile Christians who are experiencing marginalization and abuse. In opening the passage, the writer disrupts any stasis by speaking of the judgment day: “The end of all things is near!” Later, he calls it “the fiery ordeal” and “the devil (that) prowls around.” Yet in response to this dramatic situation, he offers the most commonplace of commandments and the most unpretentious of advice. “Since the end is near,” he says, “Be disciplined in prayer. Do not complain. Be hospitable. Serve one another. Remember to love.”

To be honest, it’s not the word I would want to hear when confronted by the apocalypse. Ordinary actions in the face of suffering can feel so inadequate. How about a last-minute call to action? Shouldn’t they get ready to meet their savior? Maybe stock up on food (and toilet paper) and get prepared? If it was up to me, I would say something like, “The end is near – freak out! Drop what you are doing and run for the hills!” Instead, scripture looks at suffering – long or short, extraordinary or ordinary – and says be serious and steadfast. You know the way. Pray. Welcome. Serve. Love.

God, help us when the crisis endures, when the promised end isn’t around the bend. God, help us to have discipline in prayer, to open our lives to others, to offer our gifts in service and to love our neighbors well. To you belongs the power and the glory in the most extraordinary and ordinary of days. Amen. 

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