Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 91:1-6, 9
1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11
Psalm 91:1-6, 9
You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress;
my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence;
he will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
Because you have made the Lord your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
This passage from 1 Peter feels strangely relevant. The world of today is vastly different from the world into which these words were written, but still we hear God speaking through the text and into our own stories.
Right now, many of us are working through incredible anxiety. And it’s not that kind of anxiety of an imagined threat. The threat is real. Covid-19 is real. 300,000 people in the world dead from a virus only half a year old (in humans) is real.
The writer of 1 Peter gives this advice:
1 – Humble yourselves
2 – Casts your anxieties on God
3 – Discipline yourselves
4 – Resist the devil
Humility doesn’t feel at all relevant to our situation today, but on closer inspection, I see its wisdom.
That December when we discovered bed bugs in our home, I hit a new low. Already overcoming obstacles, already beating the odds, already working overtime, already emotionally and physically exhausted, the life-altering presence of one itty-bitty bug rocked my world. All my clothing & all fabrics and linens had to be washed, dried, and bagged. The closest washer and dryers were a block away. All furniture was to be moved 4 feet away from every wall. But alas, the rooms were too small for that! The pest company came to treat and then surprised me with the instruction as they left that I should remain in this state of upheaval for another 2 weeks. If I was still getting bit after that, they would return for another treatment. And two weeks after that…the same. What I thought was a one day upheaval became a two week upheaval became a 4 week upheaval became a 6 week upheaval. I caught sixty some bugs within that time, as they kept multiplying, and I learned how to catch them in the dead of night.
I lived with the uncertainty of not knowing where they’d come from. It made me suspicious of everything & everyone & everywhere I’d been. I lived with the anxiety of somehow carrying them to another person, place, or household. How did they even operate? What was the science? How did I even make an informed decision? And I lived with the complication of living out of bags for a month and a half – my furniture and rooms all discombobulated, a pile of bags of clothes in the living room floor…at Christmas.
It was my first Christmas in my new apartment, and I longed for it to feel like home. I knew nothing makes a place a home like shared memories with family and friends, so my family had plans to come and celebrate Christmas at our place. And then this happened. And all our plans were to the wind. I couldn’t even trust passing a gift to family or friends, without fear I’d also pass them the plague.
And in a Covid-19 context, I am surprised how similar the experiences are: our routines are upheaved, our ways of being are being re-written, we cannot gather with others for fear of passing on illness or catching it ourselves, we cannot even shop for new clothes in a store, and our calendars and plans are all suspended indefinitely.
But of course, this time it is on a much grander scale.
And the stakes are higher: I’ve not heard of anyone dying of bed bugs (though it certainly could be possible).
But that moment in which I felt I touched bottom – was through a long night of losing my dinner in the bathroom. And in touching the bottom, I was able to push off and back upward, toward the light. In that moment I reflected on how often I’d been this sick: it had been rare. I realized that my health was a gracious gift of God. My health was a gift I’d never before paid much attention to. I’d taken it for granted. I realized that things could get MUCH worse than bed bugs. I realized that things could be much more grave than a stomach illness. And I was humbled, lying on the bathroom floor. Every gift of God that I had enjoyed was truly a gift. I’d not deserved them. I wasn’t entitled to them. And instead of complaining and bemoaning my situation, I started to give thanks.
Like Job, I’d felt very self-righteous. I’d not done anything to deserve these plagues. It wasn’t fair. But in the dark despair of a lonely night, stuck in the bathroom, I humbled myself and began to give thanks.
Humility is indeed crucial. And in this season of struggle, discomfort, and suffering, humility IS relevant.
Next the writer encourages us to cast our anxieties on God.
And this, my friends, is something I struggle to do. Can I do my best in a moment – with what resources I have, with what knowledge I have, and leave the results to God? Can I trust God with my deepest fears, hopes, and desires? Can I wake from a fitful sleep of nightmares and turn to God in prayer, in resting, in stillness?
The writer of 1 Peter knows well that we are not equipped or expected to shoulder the weight of the worries of our lives or of the world on our shoulders. That is GOD’s job. And so he encourages us to cast our cares on God, because God cares for us. We are loved with a unstopping, relentless, fierce, and steadfast love. We are loved by Almighty God. Can we not trust this One with all that matters most? Can we cast our anxieties on God?
Third, the writer instructs the followers to be disciplined, to keep alert. Temptation, fear, fear-mongering, lies, myths of scarcity, doubts of God’s love for us all come and stand tall around us, sometimes blocking out the sun entirely, especially when we feed them. And so we must discipline our mind. We must discipline our bodies. God has given us wisdom, education, resources, data, skill, and so much more for the business of survival and prospering. So let us do our part, let us discipline ourselves, and then may we cast our cares upon the God who cares for us.
Finally, we are instructed to resist the devil. These temptations and fears come to steal, kill, and destroy. They quench life. They rob us of peace and of freedom and joy. We are called to resist, standing steadfast in our faith – standing on God’s promises and in God’s presence, believing God’s word over our own fears. Scripture declares, “Resist the devil, and he will flee.” When we resist, when we stand firm, when we keep our eyes fixed and our minds set on God’s words to us, we renew our strength; waiting on the Lord, we mount up with wings, as eagles!
And so I find this instruction of 1 Peter quite helpful. Our God is not apart from all that we are going through. Our God is not far from the sufferings of this world. Our God is near to the broken-hearted. Our God hears the cries of the sick and the dying.
This whole world and everything in it belongs to our God, and nature itself obeys the command of our God.
While we cannot yet discern the path forward,…
While threat and risk emerge on all sides,…
Our God walks with us, in the joys and the pains.
So may we humble ourselves.
May we cast our cares upon God, who cares for us.
May we remain disciplined and alert.
And may we resist the devil and all our temptations,
That God’s words might reign in our minds and God’s peace in our hearts.
You are dear and dearly loved.
Rest in that love.