‘Finally, all of you, be like-minded,
be sympathetic, love one another,
be compassionate and humble.’
1 Peter 3:8
Television and radio drama series often begin each episode with two minutes of “Catch up” or “The story so far.” That’s quite useful when we dive into a text in the middle of a New Testament letter, in this case
1 Peter. The fisherman Apostle writes to Christians in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) living in a culture where they do not set the rules and in which their belief and behaviour presents a real challenge to the prevailing norms of society. This challenge may well bring opposition and even persecution, so Peter sets out how Christians are to act and react in what sometimes must have seemed a hostile environment yet one in which the Good News of Jesus was making tremendous inroads into both Jewish and Graeco-Roman communities. As they build a new community of faith in Christ Peter reminds them that they are “Holy”….different, set apart for God’s use and that their lives are to be shaped by the character of the Lord who saved them and not by the standards, philosophies and cultural practices of their friends and neighbours.
There is nothing here about withdrawing from the world into Christian cliques but rather a challenge to “Live the Difference” in a way that commends the Gospel of Jesus to the world around.
We should always beware when preachers say “Finally!”. Peter begins today’s passage with that word but his letter will go on for another two and a half chapters….and it’s full of good stuff! Here I want to draw out five words that describe the Christian community Peter tells us we are meant to become. Five words which echo the character of the Lord Jesus and which are as relevant for the Church today as they were two thousand years ago in a world where the challenges to Christian faith were strikingly similar to those around today.
The expression “Like-minded” is used in our translation. The picture of the orchestra beautifully illustrates what Peter is wanting. The Christian church was and is made up of people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages with varying political opinions, cultural priorities and experiences of life. In the world of the New Testament this included slaves and Roman Citizens, Jews and Gentiles, academic philosophers and down to earth businessmen…..a world not so far removed from our own as we might imagine. Peter thinks of the Church as bringing together all those different people with their experiences and having them play together in the Christian orchestra under the baton of the Holy Spirit. The orchestra is more than the string section, so the Church is to be more than any one ethnic group. The orchestra benefits from brass, percussion, woodwind: everything from the Royal Albert Hall organ to the triangle and harmony is achieved when every member wants everyone else to shine! I love the way Peter says “All of you.” Nobody gets to play in a different key or only join in when they get their own way. This is about “We” mattering more than “I”.
This word is all about the heart. It takes time and commitment to enter into someone else’s situation. It isn’t about invading another person’s emotional space but it is about the family seeking to understand what it is like to be elderly and alone, or the pensioner with their own list of grandchildren looking out for the needs of the single parent struggling to balance work and home.
“Love as brothers” isn’t a male-exclusive expression. It speaks of community, family, belonging. It reminds us that the Church of Christ isn’t a building to which we go (beautiful and sanctified by centuries of prayer as St Bart’s is) but a community of people…an “us” of which we are part. The Church must be a living, breathing, caring, sharing community where we can know and experience the love of God expressed through each other, no matter what rules of social distancing are in force. It’s not about how we share the Peace at the Eucharist, it’s about how we talk to each other, whether we take the trouble to ask how we are and then really listen to the answer. As in any family there will be folk with whom we naturally click and others whom we find more difficult (as they probably find us), but in the Christian community we can’t have wallflowers….people who are left by themselves while everyone else feels they belong….. because we follow the Lord who stopped under a tree and said he was having dinner with the hated tax collector Zacchaeus. We follow the Lord who sat down at a well in Samaria and talked to a woman who had been divorced five times. If God can put up with me in his family, anyone else must be a walk in the park!
This is where the rubber hits the road. If sympathy is getting our minds tuned in to God’s care for the rest of the Christian community then compassion is showing that love in action. Sympathy should make us really care about the needs of the person who is different from us, compassion does something about it. The person on their own gets invited to dinner (When this ghastly pandemic is behind us). The pensioner just out of hospital gets their lawn mown, the child struggling with maths gets help from the retired accountant in the congregation and the person who is lonely gets that most precious gift… our time.
On the top of our low-level kitchen bookcase, above the maps and recipe books, there is an olive-wood carving of the Last Supper. It was given to me by the Roman Catholic Church in Jersey at a dinner at which they asked me to speak not long before I left. It’s very precious to me because of the friendship and fellowship it represents. It is a constant reminder of one of the most poignant moments in John’s Gospel. The occasion where, at the time the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus quietly got up from the table, took off his outer clothes, tied a towel round his waist and washed his disciples’ feet, the task usually performed by the most junior servant. It doesn’t matter whether we are ordained or not, it doesn’t matter how old we are or what our role is in the church. Our attitude, as St Paul beautifully explains it in Philippians 2, is to be that of Christ. Wouldn’t the Church….any Church….our Church be a wonderfully attractive and relevant community if this described our life together?
The Very Revd Robert Key
‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ Philippians 2:5-11