"Dreams and Schemes"   1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11           May 4, 2008
 
Business leadership guru Steven Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990) was on the New York Times bestsellers list for over four years and has sold millions of copies.
Corporate America has snapped up Covey's books and tapes and lined up to attend his seminars as though he were offering them insider-trading information. So what is Covey selling? The evangelical message that doing well means doing good and that doing good means being good.

A businessman notorious for his ruthlessness, announced to Mark Twain, "Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments aloud at the top."

"I have a better idea," said Twain. "You could stay home in Boston and keep them." --Clifton Fadiman, ed., The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985), 483.
The secret of highly effective people, Covey maintains, is a change of heart and a sense of soul. None of the "seven habits" Covey touts are all that startling. They include:

1. Be proactive --  
2. Begin with the end in mind --   
3. Put first things first --   
4. Think win/win --  
5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood --   
  
If corporate America is making Stephen Covey a rich man, convinced that his message of moral transformation is the key to success and well-being, why are our churches still half-empty on Sunday morning? Could it be that we have lost our ability to communicate the essential transformative message at the heart of the gospel? What Covey has done is to make it clear to his management listeners just how crucial their personal moral and spiritual health is to the welfare of the entire corporate structure. Now translate that into church membership.

The author of 1 Peter offered the Gentile Christians what was needed for them to successfully negotiate life in the midst of a hostile pagan culture. Their very lives and future welfare were threatened by the fact that they dared to be Christians in an unbelieving world. While they might not have felt like it, these struggling, isolated, new-to-the-faith Christians were leaders. They were first- generation believers -- the beginning of the Gentile church in Asia Minor. ///
 
What the "beloved" are experiencing, Peter defines as a "fiery ordeal" designed "to test" them. The use of the term pyrosis suggests the image from Malachi (3:1-5; 4:1) where the "day of the Lord" is likened to a burning "furnace" (NEB). The furnace image itself was drawn from the smelting process used to refine precious metals. The intense heat of the fire drove out all the impurities from the molten metal "proving" them to be pure. These Christians were going through a fiery ordeal.

However, Peter argues that they should not find this situation "strange." Christ himself suffered and was persecuted. The suffering these Gentile Christians experience shows they are identified with Christ. Peter's words are intended to bring a sense of unity between these Christians and the Christ they follow. Suffering is a sign of their imitation of Christ, not a sign of abandonment. What is your fiery ordeal today? Be assured, God has not left you alone.

In verse 14, Peter's reference to the Holy Spirit is likened to the Spirit of God "resting on you." It calls to mind the Hebrews' concept of God's shekinah, which attended the wandering Israelites in the wilderness. Once the tabernacles were built, this shekinah or Spirit of God entered the tent -- filling it with God's glory (Exodus 40:34-38).
 
These Christians experiencing the presence of God's Spirit are, in effect, the new temple of God. God's Spirit now rests upon them, even as God's (eschatological) fire is purifying them in that divine dwelling place. No wonder Peter declares that though they are "reviled" by the pagan culture they live in, these Gentile Christians are actually "blessed." Reflect back on Jesus' words in Matthew, chapter five, "Blessed are you when persecuted for my sake, for your reward will be great in heaven."

In order to stand firm in persecution, endure suffering, Peter uses a popular Old Testament image of "the mighty hand of God" to point out the huge gap between divine power and the humble human condition. We, as people, are powerless no matter what our position in life. An Italian proverb says, "Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box." However, that which is not possible for humans is possible for God.
 
The "hand of God" is the image repeatedly used in the Hebrew Scriptures to describe Yahweh's deliverance of Israel. God's "hand" is God's active intervention in human history for the saving sake of God's people. Peter suggests that by humbly putting themselves into "God's hand," the Gentile Christians can rest assured that God will "exalt" them. Humility is transformed into exaltation in the divine hand. Eschatologically, God sees the bigger picture, the end result.

Peter's phrase "in due time" suggests God's future kingdom. To make it through to this "due time," the writer offers a series of suggestions.
 
1.       First, he counsels, "cast all your anxiety on him" (v.7) -- a posture that further demonstrates a believer's humility before God and utter trust in the conviction that "he cares for you." Peter then calls his audience to "discipline" themselves. This disciplined or "clear-headed" stance keeps believers free from any mental confusion or momentary passions. Their hearts and minds are trained on God. Along with this disciplined stance, Peter urges them to "keep alert," a military term used to describe a soldier's attentiveness during his time on watch duty.

2.       The military image sets up Peter's warning of an impending "attack" from the "adversary," the devil. The roaring lion image, drawn from Psalm 22:13, highlights the very real danger this "devouring" devil poses to those who stand unaware and unprepared. But Peter implores this audience to "resist him" -- piling up another military image. Their resistance is to take the form of steadfast faithfulness. Their faith should gain greater strength, Peter reveals, with the realization that they are not alone. All Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world share in this same experience of testing and suffering.

3.       The final encouragement to their resistance comes in verse 10. The suffering Christian's experience is only "for a little while." Moreover, far from being "rejected," this experience of suffering indicates that they are "called" by God's "eternal glory in Christ." Peter makes the experience of suffering "for a little while" seem insignificant beside the reward that awaits -- "eternal glory." In this future glory, God will "restore, support, strengthen, and establish" the faithful -- four interrelated terms the author stacks one upon the other in order to demonstrate just how good God's intentions are for them.

Peter understood how tense, how testing, how terrifying the cultural situation these Christians had to learn to thrive in. If we compare Peter's admonitions in this text to Steven Covey's "Seven Habits" could come up with five "habits." Peter suggests these ways with which to live successfully in the midst of a foreign culture yet stand apart as members of the distinctive church community.

1. DREAMS -- Don't be afraid to dream God-sized dreams. Keep alert. Be attuned to everything happening around you without being sucked into any of it.
2. SCHEMES -- Lead a disciplined life that your dreams may come true. Keep a clear head about your life and your life projects. Let both the invitations and the insults pass you by, as you stay focused on God's plan and purpose for your life.

3. TEAMS -- Humble yourself in the realization that you cannot do it alone or "go it" alone. Admit your weakness in wanting to go through life solo, and rely on God's strength as well as network with others.

4. LEANS -- Cast your anxieties on God. Believe in God's care, trusting in God's love.

5. BEAMS -- Constantly beam in on God's word for strength, steadfastness and confidence. Firmness in faithfulness, both individually and as a community, is a byproduct of marinating one's life in the Word of God.

The first Gentile Christians struggling to maintain their identity and survive in a hostile culture must have learned successfully to adopt these "five habits" -- for they obviously inspired another generation to join them. The church is always dependent on the current generation to bring in the next succession of believers -- the church is always just one generation away from extinction.

Just as those first-century Gentile Christians had to learn to be spiritual leaders in order to survive and grow, so we too must be the spiritual leaders for all those generations of faith that will take us through the 21st century. Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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