We start a new sermon series on Sunday, we'll explore Peter's first letter to the scattered exiles of what is now the northern and central region of Turkey. There are three basic angles of Peter's letter: he is reminding these Christians whose they are and what they are, he is reminding them of how they are to live based on whose and what they are, and he is instructing them on how to believe and obey God in the midst of ongoing various trials and sufferings.
These Christians live in a region of several hundred thousand miles, terrain that includes mountains, steppes, trade routes and port cities. These Christians have Christ in common, but not much else: life in a lively port city is different than in a prosperous trade town which is different than a tribal village of the highlands. Some Christians are Jews, some are God-fearing Gentiles, and some were Pagans; some have been Christ-followers since the Day of Pentecost almost a generation earlier, others are recent converts who know nothing of the Scriptures, Israel's covenant, or Yawheh's work in the world.
The whole region was under the rule of the Romans, their Empire had engulfed the area completely. The Romans required allegiance to the Emperor - a kind verging on worship. This kind of pressure was more predominant in the port cities and trade towns. The highlands, though within the confines of the Empire, were relatively unfazed by the beliefs and requirements of the Romans - instead, they stuck to their rural, ancient, unbending traditions. Christians in cosmopolitan Nicomedia faced the pressures of "atheism" if they didn't pay homage to the Emperor; Christians in prosperous Laodecia could lose business if they didn't toe the Roman line; Christians in the tribal steppes of Cappadocia could be beaten for offending the native gods. These pressures are on top of the various trials that come from being alive in an unjust, unmerciful, world.
I suppose Peter could have said stuff like: grin and bear it; get over yourself; oh yeah, you think that's bad, wait till you hear my problems; stuff like that. But instead, he patiently reminds them over and over again - you are God's chosen children, and though you live as Exiles in a harsh world - you will be resurrected just as Jesus was, and the effects of that future new life are coming into effect NOW! So you can smile as you suffer, for you know that just as Jesus suffered for our sake, we can do so for him. Through his suffering we found redemption, through our suffering Jesus redeems others. We belong to God, and for this we can be glad no matter how gaping the wounds in our life. And because we belong to God, because we are redeemed Exiles, because we rejoice in our hardships, we choose the following acts: we choose self-control, we choose holiness, we choose reverence, we choose love.
We could let the world tell us how to live, but then what would we have? So we live and love in a world that will someday pass away, but our lives and our love will endure, for it is a love born of adversity, for adversity, a love that will sustain us through adversity. And we know that we don't suffer alone, we suffer alongside God, and we suffer with one another - the very ones who we live amongst and love deeply. We love as Christ loved, we love because Christ loved.