April 30, 2017
The Third Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 1:1-23
Rev. Ryan Slifka
When thinking through this week’s scripture passage, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a scene from that great piece of artistic 80’s filmmaking: Back to the Future. Most probably have a general idea of the movie, but long story short Michael J. Fox who plays a high school student named Marty McFly travels back in time. And while there he meets youthful versions of his mother and father. His father, George, is really shy. So Marty gives him some advice on how to win her over. So there’s this scene where shy George approaches his Mother in a diner with her friends. Notepad in hand with the advice Marty gave him written on it. And he says: “Lorraine… I’m George. George McFly… and I’m your density. I mean, destiny.”
It’s funny because what he’s saying isn’t just a cheesy pickup line. It’s a cheesy pick up line that according to the story actually true. Because in the future that Marty’s from, they are destined to fall in love, get married, have children. They’re meant to be together. Destiny is this sense that the path you're on is where you're meant to be. It’s the way things are supposed to be.
Destiny, though, can be confused with fate. Fate says that everything is pre-set, pre-determined ahead of time. Fate is something that just sort of happens to you and you can't do anything about it. Different than fate. Destiny isn't something that happens to you, it's more something that you discover, something that you find. Or more likely, something that finds you. Something you receive and try to live out. Destiny says that there is an end point. In Greek--"telos" the "ends." There’s a place we’re supposed to be going. Whether we know it or not. Whether we believe it or not. There’s a destination.
Having a destination in life makes all the difference. And this is what this morning’s scripture passage is all about. It’s from the first epistle of Peter. Peter’s letter to relatively young churches in Asia Minor, which is modern day Turkey—which was not Islamic at the time, but Greek. And these people are among the first generation of people who have begun to follow Jesus. Unlike so many of our own contemporary churches, these people aren’t cradle Christians. Some are Jewish, already having this sense of ancient tradition. But for the most part, they’re relatively new to this whole thing. Most have come to faith as adults. Now, it doesn’t go too deeply in to the details. But the letter describes lives of brokenness. Peter says their lives were lived in “futile ways inherited from [their] ancestors.” Not necessarily evil lives. But lives that just seemed futile. Without meaning, purpose, without that destination in mind.
It's actually quite eerie how much this description matches the state of our own culture. While our lives can be full of fun, enjoyment, and even joy, we don't really have a real sense of purpose, a destination, what we're working towards. A friend of mine described the story of our lives as "you're born. You do stuff so you can make money. You use that money to buy stuff, including a house. You have kids. They grow up. You spend more money. You grow old and spend the rest of you money. Then you die. Repeat." While in years gone by people’s futures seemed a little too fixed, now we live with something of a crisis of meaninglessness. That “futility” Peter talks about. What are our lives for? What’s the destination that we’re working towards. Or is working towards us?
Regardless, those to whom Peter writes this letter to have experienced a complete turnaround. Everything has changed since they have become part of the community of Christ. And, for the most part, becoming Jesus people has resulted in a huge change for them. Lives which found little direction, little meaning, little hope. Their lives have turned around in ways they never thought possible, they’ve experienced grace and healing in ways they never thought possible. And it’s because they have been given a purpose in their lives. Their lives now have a destination.
Now, these communities are undergoing some kind of hard ship. It’s likely some kind of persecution. Unlike modern British Columbia, where being a Christian might get weird looks from your friends, or might get you made fun of or criticized by the wider culture, here following Jesus is risky. It’s costly. Could get you cut off from your family. Could make you an enemy of the state. Since they are undergoing persecution they're tempted to abandon the community, abandon the faith, and go back to the old ways.
But the new life they now experience, Peter reminds them, is well worth the risk. And he does it by pointing them back to Easter. But not as an event in the past. “Blessed be God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says. “By his great mercy her has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation read to be revealed in the last time.” Peter refers them back to Easter. Not as an event from the past. But one that is continually unfolding even now. One that has revealed the future to them. They have a "living hope." Their destination--their destiny--has been revealed to them. In fact, their destination has come to them in Jesus. Easter is not a one-time event. Easter is like the sneak preview of the world the way God has always intended it. It's also a revelation of the future. Peter here says “set your hopes on God.” A disclosure of the purpose of humanity. And indeed all creation. Because they know how the story is supposed to end, they know which directions to go. They can remain confident and joyful even in the middle of life's worse struggles and tribulations. Easter is not just an event. It’s an identity. It’s a way of living. Easter is our density. I mean, destiny. The destination makes all the difference.
Sometimes we talk about God having a plan for our lives. This is true. But it’s not true in the sense that God sets out all of the details. And that if something goes wrong it either means God is punishing us or there is no God. But remember that’s fate, not destiny. Our destiny. My destiny and yours is something different. The early church father Irenaeus once said that “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” Our destiny is to be fully alive in the way Christ was and is fully alive. To live in loving relationship with God, to be united with Christ, and to grow fully in to his likeness. Our destiny is to be part of the larger work of God’s healing of all creation. God has a plan, our lives get to be part of it. Easter not only shows us the path to journey on. It shows us where that path will lead us. The destination makes all the difference.
I'm reminded of a story I heard once about Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the midst of the suffering of South African Apartheid, no one knew how things were going to go. Once Tutu was speaking in a Cathedral in front of a crowd. Challenging the racism etc. of Apartheid. Tutu was under heavy surveilance by the government at this time. They felt he was so dangerous that they would have soldiers show up at church to intimate him and his followers. In the hopes they would abandon him and the cause out of fear that the soldiers would pounce. And this one day as the soldiers stood at the back Tutu said "why don't you quit your fighting? Why don't you join us? You might as well. Because we've already won."
Even though the odds were stacked against, Tutu had this confidence. He had a living hop. He had faith in the destination because he had faith in the living hope of Christ. A living hope that can not be destroyed.
So you can see, destiny, knowing the ends, having a sense of destination in life makes all the difference. I once heard former Moderator of the United Church of Canada Peter Short say that "hope enlarges the present." Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus is not merely an amazing historical event. But a disclosure of our destiny. It's the fountain that keeps flowing into the desert of our lives from the future where God has come to us from in Christ. It's the living hope that we can bet our lives on. Good times and bad. It means we can overcome anything. Because Christ has overcome all things that oppose us attaining the kind of full, authentic, joyful lives that God has always intended for us. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “we are an Easter people. And Hallelujah is our song.” Easter is our density. I mean, our destiny.
It’s our story. It’s our song.
It’s a song that can be sung in good times and bad.
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with God’s goodness, lost in Christ’s love.