May 4, 2008

"Preparing For The Storm"
Scriptures: John 17:1-11; 1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  In the New Testament lesson read earlier Peter is addressing a congregation of Greco-Roman converts to Christianity. These converts had rejected the immoral behaviors of their society as well as their former religious beliefs. They were viewed with suspicion by the dominant society who believed that foreign religions were harmful to society, fearing that these conversions would reverse well established relationships and cause women to misbehave. Peter is hoping that by maintaining some of these hierarchical relationships, non Christians would glorify God because they approved of the Christian’s conduct. Rather than abandoning the world, Peter calls converts to critical, responsible service of God in the family and in other institutions of society. These Christians were living in tension between their rejection of some societal values and their acceptance of others. Peter was trying to prepare them for the storms that lay ahead.  

  We are getting pretty good about preparing for bad weather. Early warning systems are in place and every year we are reminded how to prepare for disastrous weather that might include tornadoes, hail and straight line winds. As a result people basically know what to do when the sirens go off, or even when threatening clouds appear. Peter knows that the new converts will face storms of persecution. They will be tested in their faith by those who would ridicule their belief and even their behavior. Peter wants to prepare them for those sorts of storms.  

  Even today Christians face persecution, especially in countries such as China, places where Hindu extremists have control, and where totalitarian regimes rule such as North Korea. We still hear about the international persecuted church. But persecution exists in America as well. There is a different kind of persecution that is harder to see but very real. Late-night comics ridicule us at times. We are poked fun of in cartoons like the Simpsons. We are often portrayed as judgmental and full of old and out of date ideas. We find ourselves in situations where being Christian is not the popular thing to be. We also find ourselves in disagreement with family and friends. But there is another more subtle form of persecution that comes from within. When some storm clouds of life begin to appear, unless we are prepared for those storms, that little voice of doubt begins to mock our faith and asserts itself, pushing aside the belief that we are God’s own and leaving us unprepared for the brunt of the storm. We become our own worst persecutors of our faith.  

  So how do we prepare for the storms of our lives in such a way that we move beyond our doubts into the certainty that God is with us in the storm? We become prepared for the storms by engaging in an active and constant prayer life. Peter says to cast all your anxieties on God. Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Resist the devil by being steadfast in your faith. Remember that God, himself will restore, support, strengthen and establish you. The best way to prepare for the storms of persecution from without and within is to maintain a steady relationship with God through prayer and spending time in scripture. Being Christian is not just doing good and behaving in ways that exemplify a Christian life, but is also a matter of the heart, being close to God through regular communication with God in prayer.  

  This is just a short reminder for us to remember to engage in activities that will maintain and strengthen our faith. Pray often, get into reading the Bible regularly, converse with others about issues of faith. Then we will be prepared for the storms of life that assail us.