Aliens & exiles

We were unable to broadcast or record our 9:30am service on 30th April. Rev. Francis Jakeman has kindly allowed us to publish his sermon for anyone who missed the service this morning.

Readings: Acts 2.42–end, 1 Peter 2.19–end, John 10.1–10

The observant among you will have noticed that today’s Epistle came from the First Letter of Peter.

The very observant among you will have noticed that every epistle reading during this season of Easter comes from the First Letter of Peter!

Now, I Peter is not a book in the Bible that I’ve studied very much.

However, my interest was roused when I discovered that last year’s Lambeth Conference took I Peter as the basis for all its bible study.

I remember Bishop Steven telling us that he had been teamed up with various bishops around the world to study I Peter together on Zoom, before meeting in person last July.

So, why I Peter I wondered? What is so special about this book?

Well, the first thing to note is to whom the letter is written. We are told that they are exiles of the Dispersion. They are probably Jewish converts to Christianity who have been forced to leave Palestine by their Jewish neighbours. Now they are living in small groups in different places right across present day Turkey.

Like all refugees these new Christians find themselves as aliens in a foreign culture. They survived by keeping their heads down and accepting their lack of status. The letter makes it clear that many are slaves, and many are women.

Given that many of the bishops attending last year’s Lambeth Conference came from similarly small churches surrounded by a hostile culture, this letter had much encouragement to offer. Given that even we in England are now aware of being a minority in our own country there is also valuable encouragement for us, to glean from this letter.

Many of us have grown up as both Christians and citizens of Britain. With a foot in both camps, we have been taught to use our position and influence to make life better for everyone. Our support for Christian Aid Week next month is a good example of our sense of duty in bringing God’s kingdom closer here on earth.

But what about Christians around the world, and even in Britain, who have no position in society. Where is the ‘Good News’ for them?

In answering that question St Peter takes us straight back to Jesus. He reminds us that Jesus too found himself devoid of power. We’re told in today’s reading that Jesus ‘entrusted himself to the one who judges justly’. His willingness to suffer left us an example.

‘When he was abused, he did not return abuse. When he suffered, he did not threaten’.

To embrace this passive approach to suffering feels counter intuitive. Why should the bullies of this world get away with their evil deeds?

But that is to miss the point that St Peter is making.

What happens in this world is of course important, and where we can we are right to challenge injustice; but don’t let’s kid ourselves that a time will come when the world will at last be perfect, as it should be. That is not going to happen this side of the Second Coming.

Instead, let’s remind ourselves what God has already done! For us Christians new life has already come. “By his great mercy” St Peter tells us, “God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”

I said that St Peter took us straight back to Jesus. Thanks to our new birth we now belong to him. Thanks to him we are now “free from sins, so that we might live for righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed.”      All of this, note, is in the past tense. It has already happened!

Thanks to Jesus, life for us is now completely different; for as St Paul puts it in Colossians, God “has rescued us from the powers of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son”.  (Col 1:13)

On Easter Day there was a fascinating TV programme interviewing the Bishop of Dover, Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She became the first black bishop in the Church of England. In the interview we heard how she was born in Jamaica to a father who was around but never engaged; and to a mother who decided when Rose was 2 to go off to Britain. Rose was abandoned to be looked after by her aunt; until she was 9 when her mother returned to Jamaica.

Unfortunately, her mother returned with a new husband and 5 new children. Rose tried to integrate into this new family but never felt accepted. She once asked her mother why she was always so cross.     So, effectively an orphan, Rose realised that the only place she felt happy was in Church and that the one person who really loved her was Jesus.

As she said on the TV, ‘Jesus was indeed the one who saved me!’

That conviction has stayed with her ever since, and is the basis on which she lives her life. She belongs to Jesus, just as He belongs to her.

This new identity that comes from knowing all that God has done for us, frees us from undue anxiety. We will still be distressed to see the effects of evil in the world; distressed    –    yes, but not overwhelmed. For we know first hand that we are loved. We are not sheep without a shepherd. Even if there are times when we do go astray Jesus is always there. He is the constant in our lives. As St Peter tells us:

“He is the shepherd and guardian of our souls!”

Allelulia. Christ is Risen.