Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 5, 2022
1 Peter 2:11-17
Before the reading of the Scripture
We are now entering the center part of Peter’s letter, where he creates a framework for his readers to live out their lives faithful to Jesus in a hostile world. Essentially, Peter advises his readers to take the high road. They may be marginalized people, but don’t fight back. We should remind ourselves, that in both the Old and New Testaments, we’re told that vengeance belongs to God, not us.
Living in a paradox
We live in a tension between the world upon which we walk and the kingdom that is not of this world where we are citizens. In a way, it’s a paradox. We respect earthly leaders, but we also realize our true loyalty is not to them or to a flag or a country. Our true loyalty is to God whose love for us is shown in Jesus Christ. God creates and owns the earth. We’re just given temporary residence here. We’re honor those in power on earth, Peter tells us, for the Lord’s sake. Or, as The Message translation has it, “Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens.”
Read 1 Peter 2:11-17
HELPING YOUR ENEMY IN LAURENS, SOUTH CAROLINA
In the mid-90s, in the down-on-its-luck Upstate South Carolina town of Laurens, John Howards, a white supremacist, brought the boarded-up movie theater across from the courthouse. He renovated the property and opened a museum celebrating the Ku Klux Klan. The “attraction” also featured a small gift shop, and a meeting place. He hoped to attract people into his movement.
Helping Howards was a troubled young man named Michael Burden. Howard essentially adopted Burden, helping him to get his life back on track. In opposition to their work was David Kennedy, an African-American pastor of the New Beginnings Missionary Baptist Church.
But there is a twist to this story. Burden marries a young woman who had two children. She was also suspicious of Howard and critical of the Klan and encourages her new husband to make a break. He does, but since he lived in a house owned by Howard, he now finds himself and his family locked out. Homeless and broke, who will come to his aid? Surprisingly, Kennedy, the pastor of the African-American church, shows up. He sees to it that Burden, his wife, and her children have a place to stay, food to eat, and clothes to wear.
Loving our enemy
The story sounds almost too good to be true. Does anyone really love their enemies in such a way? The preacher’s deeds cause him to receive much grief within his congregation. Members couldn’t believe their pastor helps a man who’d belonged to the Klan. But as one who takes the Bible seriously, Kennedy stuck to his guns and helps Burden and his new family navigate this difficult time in their lives.
Wonder why Jesus calls us to help those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us? Do we really want to help such people? Isn’t that aiding the enemy? Some call that treason. As Christians, the road we travel is not easy. Peter understands this.
The world is not our home
Our passage begins with the Apostle reminding his readers that this world is not their home. They are aliens, they are in exile. But just because this world isn’t their home, they shouldn’t just do what they want. This isn’t a “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” type of world. We must guard ourselves, our souls. Furthermore, if we take the high road, others may see our “good deeds” and come to understand there is something special about faith and be drawn to God through us.
Early Christian evangelism
Peter describes the type of evangelism common in the early Christian era. Back then, Christians didn’t hand out tracks or, from what we know, knock on doors. They didn’t hold massive rallies or run a PR campaign. Instead, they allowed others to see what they were about by how they lived. Christians didn’t just look out for themselves. People took notice when they saw the early church being concerned for others, especially those unable to help themselves.
Even though the world considered these early Christians evildoers, when they saw their good deeds, at least some reconsidered such categorizations of Christians. “Let your light shine,” Jesus says.
Demonizing those seen as different
You know, the world hasn’t changed that much. Why do you think Christians were seen as evil doers or condemned as atheists in the first century church? Why? Because they were different. When people are different from us, sadly, we often categorize them in a negative manner. We devalue them, or even more dangerously, we see them as less valuable. On the extreme end, as it was with Nazism or even with our ancestors with their treatment of Native Americans or African slaves, we view them as less than human. That’s dangerous.
If we take the Bible seriously, we can’t do that because we are reminded that all of us have been created in God’s image.Furthermore, as Paul points out in his letter to these same people, the church doesn’t consist of just who you see sitting inside buildings this morning, but those of all races and sexes and gender who believe in Jesus Christ.
As we saw last week, Peter says something similar when we talk about us being stones shunned by the world, but God brings us all together to create a new temple on earth. The old temple was soon to be gone. The church, of which we’re all a part, is now God’s temple on earth.
Role of those in authority
Peter continues this section by encouraging his readers to honor those in authority. Those with power, whether they are emperor or an elected representative, are used by God to help maintain peace and avoid chaos. Unlike today, those with power were not in the churches to whom Peter wrote.
How to live as a persecuted minority
Nonetheless, they were to do their parts to honor and obey the laws of the state, just as they were to work for the benefit of everyone. Peter does not allow his readers to hide. They are to make the best of the situation in which they live, not just for themselves but for everyone. Like Jeremiah writing to those hauled off into exile, they are to seek the welfare of where they’re at.
Like Paul, Peter speaks of the freedom we have in Christ. But he also reminds us that we should not take advantage of such freedom but use it to serve God and not to break the rules.
God wants us to be good, which means that we strive to be helpful wherever we find ourselves. And while Peter provides advice on how they, a minority community on fringe of society, are to get by, he sows seeds that will eventually challenge the pecking order of the Roman Empire. Yes, they’re to honor and respect and be subjected to the emperor. But then, Peter says, everyone is to be honored. The emperor is not that special after all. For even the emperor on this throne, as powerful as he was, sits below God.
Allegiance only to God
Our ultimate allegiance is to God. Yes, we should honor those elected to political offices, as well as those who serve the public good like police officers and sheriff deputies. But we don’t deify them. Nor should we overlook their mistakes or shortcomings. We honor them because God allows them their position of power so that they might help maintain order and to help society flourish.
A commentary on the Sermon on the Mount
This portion of Peter’s letter could be an expanded commentary on Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about loving your enemies and praying for your persecutors. The type of love Jesus calls us to show is agape, which means we look out for the best interest of the other.
Martin Luther King, Jr. once said he was glad God told us to love our enemies instead of telling us we had to like them. There’s probably an important distinction here. What can we do the make this world a better place. That’s what we’re called to do, no matter where we find ourselves and no matter how much we like or dislike others.
Let me close with a story.
The Battle of Shiloh
At the battle Shiloh, one of the bloodiest in the Civil War, Albert Sidney Johnston, the southern general who commanded the western troops of the Confederacy, saw many wounded Union soldiers on one part of the battlefield. According to Shelby Foote, a Civil War historian, he told his surgeon to treat them. His surgeon questioned the command since the battle was still ongoing and Johnston might need his help. Johnston insisted, giving him a direct order to tend to the wounded enemy soldiers.
Later that afternoon, a bullet struck Johnston in the leg. He bled to death. Had his surgeon been at his side, he could have probably been saved. Instead, he became the highest-ranking officer of both sides to die in battle in the American Civil War.
As I discussed last week, the Christian life requires us to have Jesus’ eyes. We’re to see people as Jesus sees us and do what we can to help one another. It may require taking a risk. Certainly, Peter’s readers took a risk, as did General Johnston and Pastor Kennedy. But then God took a risk on us by coming to us in the life of Jesus. Amen.
 Leviticus 19:18, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30.
 Psalm 24:1.
 This story has been made into a movie and is told in a book. See Courtney Hargrave, Burden: A Preacher, a Klansman, and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South (New York: Convergent Books, 2018). For my review of the book, click here or go to: https://fromarockyhillside.com/2019/03/06/burden-a-preacher-a-klansman-and-a-true-story-of-redemption-in-the-modern-south/
 Matthew 5:43-44.
 Matthew 6:15.
 Genesis 1:27. See John P. Burgess’ essay, “Facing the World,” in After Baptism: Shaping the Christian Life (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2005), 95-117.
 Galatians 3:28. Galatia was one of the churches to whom Peter has addressed this letter. See 1 Peter 1:1.
 See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2023/01/29/humbled-but-valued/
 The Romans destroyed the temple in 70 AD, probably just before or just after this letter was written.
 Jeremiah 29:7.
 See 1 Peter 2:13-17, The Message translation.
 Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007). 279ff.
 Matthew 5:43-48.
 This paraphrased quote came from the preacher at the recent Martin Luther King, Jr’s Service at Hillsville Christian Church on January 15, 2023.
 Shelby Foote, Shiloh (1952, Vintage, 1991), 199.
13 Replies to “LOVING OUR PERSECUTORS”
“What can we do to make this world a better place?” That is a huge question most people grapple with at some point. As a retired teacher, I certainly hope I impacted the lives of my students and helped them grow and learn. Now I’m focusing on kindness and understanding. When you are an older woman, you become less visible in our society. I have found smiling and being kind makes me more visible. Not that I’m striving for that. I think we need more smiling, kindness, and understanding in this challenging time.
It’s a question we need to be encouraged to ask more and more–too often we just focus on ourselves.
I’m currently reading a book you would find interesting: Pachinoko by Min Jin Lee (also a TV series I have yet to watch). It addresses the role of Christianity in WWII-era Japan and Korea. A bonus for you: they’re Presbyterian.
Pachinko sounds very interesting (I need more hours in the day to read). Have you read Pearl Buck’s “The Living Reed”? It is about three generations of Koreans, who live in Korea from the mid-19th Century to the Korean War. She is able to really take the reader into the culture and history. I read her book ~25 years, before spending a couple weeks in Korea, where I preached to the largest gathered crowd in my ministry.
Even though my great grandfather was a Baptist minister, I’ve never been particularly religious. So It’s always interesting to me to see what you talk about in church each week.
I like the thought behind “vengeance belongs to God, not us” because too many people get very angry when they are wronged and it would be better for them to let it go and let that person be judged by whatever higher power you believe in or even the judicial system than to take matters into your own hands.
I think there may be many reasons “vengeance” belongs to God and you’ve hit on many. Hold grudges is not good for our wellbeing and our perspective skews things the way we want to see them, which means our vengeance is really revenge.
I believe in helping the “enemy” in certain cases like this one. Burden had already broken from the Klan, so he was more ready for the help. But I don’t believe in helping the true enemy who’s insistant on hurting humanity. That’s condoning evil, in my mind. It’s a tricky, sticky business. We have to take care of ourselves in order to be of service. Sometimes the enemy’s venom is too destructive to our own souls and others’.
Anyway, I hope you’re well, Jeff.
I should have been a little clearer here. Helping the enemy doesn’t mean to help them do evil. If your enemy is out of ammo, you certainly shouldn’t offer to share! And sometimes helping them may also be “tough love,” as you strive to help them change (so it is not giving them what they think they want but what they need in order to have a productive life). That said, helping Burden to excel while he was in the Klan would not have been godly, unless you were helping him leave behind such hatred. And, yes, we have to guard our souls from the venom of others. Thanks for helping me clarify this, Robyn.
Your stories about the preacher and the general are excellent examples of living as we’re called to do.
I would agree. I would like to know more about General Johnston and if it happened as Foote told it (and why). Shiloh is one of Foote’s novels, but he does stick to what happened in the battle, but as a novel he could make up dialogue.
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