READ: 1 Peter 4:1-11
The year was 1939, and the German-born theologian and Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, had just escaped the Nazi death camps, arriving safely in the United States.
But there was something bothering the influential leader who left behind his Christian teaching and scores of young scholars in his escape.
Bonhoeffer explained in these words:
“I have made the mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make this choice in security.”
On June 20, 1939 — against the urging of everyone close to him — the 39-year-old Bonhoeffer returned to Nazi Germany.
He would give his life to help save those being persecuted and help his beloved Germany out of the horrific regime that had so constricted the nation.
And on April 9, 1945, after battling the Nazis from the pulpit and underground seminaries, Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in Flossenburg.
His death tragically came just days before the American liberation of the concentration camp.
But just before his death, he wrote these words:
“This is the end —for me, the beginning of life.”
When we read Peter’s letters, the overarching theme comes down to that heavily loaded Greek word Diakoneo.
It is basically translated into the English equally heavily loaded word Discipleship.
Disciple, meaning a serious love and respect for the community as witnessed by radical hospitality and service to one another.
It’s how we serve, stand in solidarity with and minister or wait upon one another.
In short, it’s all about being the Church in the World.
For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Church in the World wasn’t found in the safety and comfort of the institutions of academia in New York City, far from the terror and death of Nazi Germany;
No, it was found where not only Christians were in most need;
but non-Christians as well.
Predominantly, it was the Jews — more than 6 million of them — who were being killed by the Nazi regime.
And the Christian church had been taken over by the Nazis and instead of preaching the Church in the World, pastors and priests were forced to preach the Nazi propaganda.
Bonhoeffer knew he would suffer in helping “defeat the nation in order that Christian civilization may survive” so that the nation wouldn’t be victorious and thereby destroy civilization.
For those receiving Peter’s letter, which was probably written in the last quarter of the first century — which meant persecution of Christians was ramping up to a critical level — the call to suffer for one another was a hard pill to swallow.
Because standing up for someone else meant putting yourself in a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — position.
Suffering for Jesus
Both Bonhoeffer’s actions and Peter’s call to suffer are without a doubt extreme examples.
We have one of the foremost martyrs of the last century and an apostle who also gave his life for the name of Jesus Christ so far in this conversation.
You see, Peter is encouraging his audience of believers to stand firm against the practices that the unbelievers — and that is a large majority — are practicing.
These early Christians are being attacked for following Jesus and practicing Jesus’s teachings.
All the stuff that unbelievers practice and Peter admonishes — things like immorality, lust, drunkenness, gluttony, and excess — represent the dominant Roman culture, too.
So by refusing to take part in those things, Christians are making a political statement against the Roman Empire.
And that’s a big deal…
See it goes much further than what we may think it means.
And the more prominent and popular the Christians get, the more of a threat they are to the Roman social, religious and economic stability.
These were dangerous times.
And so Peter is encouraging the Church — that is, the people — to be strong.
Now, we’re wrapping up this four-part sermon series called “entrusted” today, talking about people.
In the past three weeks, we’ve said that God has given us gifts — specifically, money and talents, the earth, and our social position and power in this world.
Each of these gifts come from God’s love for us, but they also come with a responsibility.
That responsibility is to be good stewards by using, investing in, protecting and multiplying those gifts.
Today, we look at people in the same way.
Now, it’s weird to say “I have the gift of a person for you.”
But in essence, that is what God has given us.
Instead, we look at people as two ways:
The first is that when God created humans, God created one and then another to help.
God gave them reproduction and told them to multiply.
In essence, one of God’s gift to us was exactly that: Each other!
But God also gave us another gift when it came to people:
God showed us how to give of ourselves.
And perhaps God modeled that since the very beginning,
but the greatest example that we had came with the birth, life, teaching, ministry, suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It was Christ who showed us how to take care of one another.
It was Christ who showed us how to love one another — all people.
It was Christ who showed us how to suffer for one another.
And it was Christ who showed us that we too will be resurrected because of God’s great love for us.
Peter is encouraging Christians to be the Church — to be the people.
And he shows them how by pointing to Jesus’s love, suffering and sacrifice for all people.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer couldn’t sit still and feel at peace in New York City.
Not when he knew millions of lives were at risk back in Germany.
Maybe he didn’t know what part he would play or what affect he would have on any of it;
but he knew how to follow Jesus.
He knew how to take care of this gift he’d been given.
This gift, not only of his own life, but the gift of others’ lives as well.
Didn’t matter if they were Christian or Jewish.
Didn’t matter if they were Nazis.
Because Bonhoeffer wanted to restore Germany.
That is radical hospitality.
True, he lost his life.
But also true were his words that his life was only beginning.
Peter says “…show sincere love to each other, because love brings about the forgiveness of many sins.” (Verse 8)
He says: “Open your homes to each other without complaining.
“Serve each other according to the gift each person has received, as good managers of God’s diverse gifts.”
Do you hear that?
Each person has received gifts.
We are to be good managers — good stewards of those gifts.
Those gifts from God are diverse.
We’re talking about one another!
Our radical hospitality and care for one another!
Today, we unfriend friends on Facebook because we don’t like their politics.
We avoid going to places for fear of having to deal with people who are going to want something from us.
We get our noses bent out of shape because of what people say or the way they act — even here in church on Sunday mornings!
These are easy things.
What about how we act toward people who really seem so different from us?
Different color skin, ethnicity, sexual preference, age, gender, ability, faith or lack thereof…
If you don’t think that happens, or that you and I are not somehow engaged in those social structures,
again, I say, take a look around us.
Do we live in a diverse neighborhood or town?
Do we hang out with people who are more like us or unlike us?
Do we practice our faith with those who are just like is — like here in church this morning?
Or do we go and live out our faith seeking to be radically hospitable toward others?
Trying to make connections, build bridges and use God’s gift of one another to make a better world?
Because that’s really what’s on the table.
We say it all the time here:
We want to see God’s kingdom here on earth,
and the way to do that is by loving one another,
and showing one another the expanse of that kingdom.
Truly, that’s exactly what Jesus was showing us..
That’s what Peter is telling us today.
That’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer did.
Investing in people
So what are some of the ways to invest in people?
There are thousands, but Peter goes with these:
Suffer for one another.
Practice radical hospitality.
Open your hearts, and your homes.
Share your gifts — as unique and diverse as they are.
In short, Jesus says “love.”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
Now, I know that we here are all Christians,
and we’re here this morning not to check some kind of box or think we’re filling some responsibility to earn points in heaven…
but that we truly are led by the Holy Spirit to be here giving honor to God this morning and to learn to become even better Christians…
I’m not admonishing anyone, nor was Peter.
But our potential for love — just like our potential for faith — is infinite.
We may never know the depth or the height or the width of that love that is within us…
but we catch glimpses of it all the time.
And we work toward plumbing those depths each time we practice love.
It may be a silly example — although I don’t think so — but the recent passing of Sen. John McCain has really taught us something.
I don’t care what your politics are,
but I, probably like you, have been engaged in so many conversations this week about how great a man Sen. McCain was.
And, too, how we need more John McCains in this world.
He wasn’t a prophet, but he represents something bigger than just himself;
he represents that kind of radical hospitality.
He was the guy who always reached across the aisle.
He was the one who would stand up for true justice against even his own party, and even if it made him unpopular.
Not that he wasn’t afraid to do so;
just that he knew what it meant to invest in others.
And of course, he suffered horribly as a prisoner of war.
He suffered and he worked and he believed and he loved.
He gave so much of himself.
That’s radical love, radical hospitality.
And maybe we don’t measure up to John McCain, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer or St. Peter or Jesus Christ…
But we try.
We take our positions and we use our gifts that we’ve been given the best we can.
And if your gift is time, money, a sympathetic ear, friendship, a ride, a cup of coffee on the front porch, babysitting, knitting a scarf, moving a couch, business advice, leadership, teaching, mowing someone’s lawn or just saying “good morning” to strangers passing by,
we all share that common love, just as Jesus did, with one another.
To not use that gift, is to not practice love.
But to use that gift, is to practice the kind of radical hospitality and love that Jesus exemplified in his life,
that Peter is encouraging us with,
and that folks like John McCain, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of others have showed us throughout the ages.
Love as Jesus loves.
Love one another as Jesus loves.
Share the gifts that we have,
and share the gift that we are,
and embrace the gifts that others are.