Attack of the Dandelions
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that
someone took and sowed in his field;
--Matthew 13:31 NRSV
I’m pretty sure my neighbors are mad at me. My front yard currently looks like I have chosen to grow a field of dandelions. I’m not talking about a few of them but rather my whole yard is overrun by them. I just know my neighbors are shaking their heads at the disreputable state of my yard, and I have to admit it looks rather bad, but I really don’t care enough to do much about it. I think lawn care is the biggest scam out there.
I grew up under the demanding eye of my father when it comes to lawn care. He grew up a poor cotton farmer in West Texas, so I always felt his perfect lawns were somehow a reaction to trying to grow cotton in the unforgiving soil of Fisher County, Texas. Our lawns were always the envy of the neighborhood. When I became big enough to mow the lawn, my dad would check it over as if he were the groundskeeper of a PGA golf course. If I so much as missed a blade of grass, then I was sure to hear about it. My dad is a pretty easy going guy, but not when it comes to lawn care.
My feeling about lawns is that it was shared delusion of the post-war suburbs of the 1950’s. The makers of lawn mowers, hedge clippers and fertilizer knew a good market when they saw one and suckered everyone into making their front yards look like botanical gardens. The amount of chemicals my neighbors spray on their yards can’t be a good thing for the planet, and looking at nearby creeks around my house shows that the runoff of those chemicals and fertilizer is killing life all around my neighborhood. I’d rather save the water and the money spent on chemicals and let my yard turn back into prairie. That brings me back to the dandelions and the inevitable stern letter I’m going to get from the neighborhood association.
If there’s anything good to come out of my sorry-looking front yard, it’s that I’m understanding better how Jesus described the Kingdom of God. He said it’s like somebody sowed mustard seeds in a person’s field. The small seeds produced mustard plants that ended up taking over the entire field. I’ve never really looked closely at a mustard plant, but I’m here to tell you that if it’s anything like a dandelion then it spreads fast and shows no mercy. It sneakily spreads until that’s all there is to see. That’s a heck of a way to describe God’s activity in the world.
Despite our well-ordered plans that make us think we really are in control of things, reality keeps forcing us to admit we are not gods. The good news is that God’s plans end up being better than our own. God keeps working in ways we may not realize until we look out one day and see that God’s love shows up in the most unlikely places. God is sneakily sowing love, grace, blessing and joy that can’t be stopped by our misguided attempts to find these things in materialistic junk that can never provide them. Even when we blow it, God’s seeds keep sprouting and releasing the new life God desires. When we admit the emptiness of doing things in self-serving ways, we discover God has been busy preparing for us a world of beauty and wonder to enjoy.
In the same way I woke up one morning to a front yard full of dandelions, we have moments of clarity which reveal the never-ending majesty of God’s presence in our world. Sort of like a weed, God defies our best efforts to diminish and destroy what God is up to. Despite all the bad news we take in non-stop in this internet age, Jesus declares that all appearances to the contrary God’s love is not only still spreading but it will inevitably take over everything.
I wonder if my neighbors will believe that I let my front yard go to seed in order to teach my church about the Kingdom of God?
Nah, I’m pretty sure they won’t buy it.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
On Tuesday, the CDC Director stated that “fully vaccinated” people who wear masks can safely attend many indoor events including worship services. “Fully vaccinated” means you have received both shots (if necessary) of a vaccine and for two weeks after the last shot have had no COVID symptoms. Masks remain essential, as does social distancing, but the good news is that vaccinations are making things much safer for people who get them.
Attending an indoor event with a large group of people still remains risky, but our spaces are large enough that we can spread out and meet in a safe manner. For now, masks, hand sanitizer, social distancing, no congregational singing, no bulletins or other handouts and taking communion sitting in pews with provided communion sets remain necessary. People who have not yet been vaccinated or who refuse to get vaccinations are still at the same level of risk as all of us were over a year ago. We have not reached herd immunity, and it remains unclear how great the risk is of vaccinated people still passing the virus on to unvaccinated people through physical contact and close interaction even with masks on. The same principle still applies: Love your neighbor by wearing a mask.
Even though the same precautions will be in effect that have existed since we returned to in-person worship services, this new declaration by the CDC means fully vaccinated people can feel safe coming back to worship. Some people, however, who have compromised immune systems due to a health condition or other reasons should still exercise caution and consult their doctors about whether coming back to church is safe.
We will continue to stream worship services online via the church web site, YouTube and Facebook Live. This will always continue even long after the pandemic is over.
My hope is that our time apart over the last year will make us commit more than ever to worshipping together in person. The importance of seeing the faces and speaking in person to folks in your faith community matters just as much as it always has. Be present in our beautiful church sanctuary, hear the music live and enjoy the gift of being in the same room with your fellow believers.
What the writer of Hebrews had to say centuries ago still applies today:
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
I encourage you to make participating in the worship of God an essential and non-negotiable part of your weekly schedule. I understand all too well the demands upon people’s time and energy in our present culture, but if we claim God is the most important part of our lives then our actions should include making that time to worship each week. Now that vaccinations are making it possible to do so safely once more, let us make our worship service a central part of our life together as a church.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
P. S. If you’d like to read more about what the CDC Director said about attending worship services, here is a good article: https://religionnews.com/2021/04/27/cdc-director-masked-fully-vaccinated-people-can-attend-worship-indoors/
The Good Old Days?
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
--Isaiah 43:18-19 NRSV
Recently I listened to an episode of NPR’s Planet Money about the 1980 movie 9 to 5 starring Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda. If you are old enough to remember the movie, I bet the theme song by Dolly Parton is already running through your head! I remember seeing it in the theater and numerous times on TV and video. This podcast episode told the back story behind the movie and I was shocked.
Since I was a child, I didn’t really understand what the movie was about. I didn’t understand that the term “sexual harassment” hadn’t really been invented yet. Nor did I understand that the movie demonstrated what was the truth at the time (and is sadly still the truth in many companies today) that women held all the clerical and lower office jobs while only men were in management. I had no idea that many of the scenes in the movie were not over-the-top comedic situations made by Hollywood but real stories of women being chased around the office by their male bosses, forced to run menial errands by their male bosses that had nothing to do with their job descriptions and sexist and sexually suggestive comments and actions were the norm. Then and now, women were penalized at their jobs for taking time off for pregnancy, childcare issues and family emergencies. Of course there is also the drastic pay gap between men and women for the same work—even the optimistic ending of 9 to 5 demonstrated that sad reality would never change.
While 9 to 5 may have demonstrated the plight of White women of its day, it noticeably did not demonstrate the difficulties faced by non-White people of either gender. The Planet Money podcast stated there was only one non-White character who even had a speaking part in the movie. As bad as the office situation was for White women, non-White people weren’t even in the office at all.
I’m middle aged now, and I’ve begun to tell my children and remark to others about how things were ‘back in my day.” I have to remember that my nostalgia doesn’t make up for the suffering experienced by people who didn’t look like me. White folks have told me all my life about how great the 1950’s were without realizing that time was only good for them—Black and brown people did not share in those good times. I’ve realized I’m in danger of having the same kind of myopia. As much as I might look fondly back on the 1980’s, things still were quite difficult for women, non-White people and LGBTQ people. When I speak about the “good old days,” I must remember that a lot of things might have been good for me which were not shared by most other people.
History and tradition matter, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking everything in the past was good. God has been at work in the painstaking efforts for equal rights for all people not only in the past but also today. If we aren’t careful, our discomfort with change causes us to miss the work of God in the present along with the future God intends where all God’s children have equal value in our society.
These words may come back to haunt me someday, but I hope as I age that my cherished memories of the past won’t blind me to God’s saving work in the present and future. I hope I never get so nostalgic for the “good old days” that I stop working for a better future that all can share.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Thus says the Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel,
I will gather others to them
besides those already gathered.
--Isaiah 56:8 NRSV
Last week I saw the headline “There’s Room For Everyone In The Church Of Brandi Carlile” and I simply had to read the article. I can’t turn away from a sentence that includes the words “everyone” and “church.” I read the piece about the Grammy-winning Country star and I heard a story both familiar and new to me.
Carlile’s music defies categories. The list of Grammys she has won reveal this truth: “Best Americana Song,” “Best American Roots Song,” and “Best Country Song.” Her success in Nashville’s music industry which is dominated by heterosexual male music is groundbreaking since she is a married lesbian. Her embrace of faith despite organized religion’s rejection of her is remarkable. She has a new memoir which reveals the complexity of her music and her person.
Here’s the paragraph in the aforementioned article by Elamin Abdelmahmoud that stood out to me:
One of the book’s most painful points is Carlile’s description of her botched baptism when she was a teenager. With all her friends and family gathered in church, a man she only names as Pastor Steve asked her if she “practiced homosexuality.” When she answered in the affirmative — something Pastor Steve already knew — he declined to baptize her. It was humiliating and life-altering for Carlile. She writes about how this moment pushed her further into music. (For days after, she could only lie in bed and listen to Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah.”)
This kind of story is familiar to me because I have heard countless tales of people being rejected by churches, especially LGBTQ people. It’s new to me, because I’ve never heard about such a rejection occurring at the moment of baptism—the symbol of both Christ’s and the Church’s acceptance of a person. I have no words for this kind of cruelty. Stories like this make me want to cuss, quit my job as a minister and never walk into a church ever again. But then, Carlile defies categories again, and instead of pointing the finger of judgment, she offers grace even to the minister who rejected her.
Humiliation like this could be anyone else’s supervillain origin story. But not Carlile’s. Her description of the episode urges restraint before judgment. I told her it read as almost protective, as though she were holding up her hand and begging the reader not to judge the pastor. Her face softened again, and she said, “No one but me saw his face. I saw what he was going through.” She means that in her deepest hurt, she allowed the inflictor to be fully human.
Grace offered to the one who hurts you is truly Christlike. It is a sad irony that the people rejected by the church so often are more Christlike than the Christians who reject them. The history of Christianity is one long list of people doing the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons.
As a minister, I’ve spent most of my time in churches struggling to be more inclusive and less of the rejecting sort with more failures than successes, so I wonder if I’ve missed out on what’s been happening all along outside church walls among the church’s outcasts. In Brandi Carlile’s case and apparently many other cases too, God has been gathering together all the outcasts for a different kind of church—one where there’s room for everyone. It’s as if God got tired of waiting for church as we have known it to catch up with what God has been doing all along: gathering the rejected and outcasts to create a community where none are turned away.
At the conclusion of this article, its author Abdelmahmoud describes the ending of a concert by Carlile at Nashville’s sacred Ryman Auditorium. Knowing Carlile’s history of rejection makes her moment of triumph in this cathedral of Country Music all the more sweet. This is the kind of church I want to go to, a place where the rejected ones take center stage to praise God.
That January night at the Ryman, Carlile ended the show and wrapped up her encores and the lights went out. But just before she disappeared backstage, she darted back to the center of the stage like she forgot to do the most important thing in her life.
In total darkness, her silhouette visible only by cellphone lights, she stretched out her arms.
Without a microphone, she started belting out “Amazing Grace.” Her hands invited the crowd
to sing along, and soon, the Mother Church was glowing with uplift and tenderness. Carlile
closed her eyes, lowered her voice, and let a choir of thousands take over.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with
our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and
heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son Jesus Christ.
--1 John 1:1-3 NRSV
Each Sunday at PHCC, I finish my sermon, say “amen,” go sit down and then I get to experience my favorite part of worship at our church: an elder giving a call to offering.
I love this part of the service, because church members share about, well, whatever they want to share about. Sometimes it is about giving faithfully to God’s work in our church and other times it is about something God revealed to them during the preceding week. I love it, because it is honest, often vulnerable and therefore real AND most of all, it is not me saying these things!
I’m deeply humbled to preach and lead worship, but I often feel like there is an unspoken understanding that I’m supposed to say these things since I’m the minister. Yet, when laypeople share in front of the congregation, they don’t really have to do this. I believe what church members share in worship often has a much greater impact than what I say as minister.
In many churches, it is common for laypeople to offer testimony to what God is doing in their lives. Sometimes this can be meaningful, but other times it can be someone who likes the spotlight getting attention only for themselves (the same thing can happen with ministers too). Sometimes there may be some questionable ideas shared, but other times there are moments of authenticity and vulnerability. There are risks in letting “just anybody” share in worship, which is why many denominations, including ours, have tended towards limiting this occurrence.
I grew up Southern Baptist where “testimony time” was a regular happening in worship, especially on Sunday evening worship when the pastor hadn’t had time to finish a second sermon for that week. (Yes, we were expected to go to worship twice on Sundays and the minister was expected to preach two distinct sermons each week) Often the testimonies were just the same people who liked to talk enjoying attention, although every once in a while something genuine might be shared. I’m well aware of the risks of the testimonies of laypeople turning into a shallow time of show and tell.
Churches that limit laypeople sharing their faith, however, make an equally erroneous mistake. When it’s only the “professional Christian” in the form of the minister speaking, a very clear message gets sent--regular people don’t have anything to say about God’s activity in their lives. Between the two extremes of sharing too much information and sharing too little, I think the latter is probably worse. What could be more damaging for the church than the idea that Christians have nothing to share about God?
I suspect one of the reasons the so-called “mainline” or non-evangelical churches have declined is because laypeople got the idea that they had nothing worth sharing about God. That’s the minister’s job and not ours! It’s a small step from thinking it’s not okay to share one’s own experience of God to believing one doesn’t actually have an experience of God at all.
Personally, I regret that in the Disciples of Christ the role of elder is largely determined by who is willing to speak or pray in public. Folks who don’t like to speak in public or feel they have nothing to share never do so. The entire church is impoverished because it doesn’t hear from all of its members--I guarantee you those who feel anxious about speaking in public still have something worth sharing which would benefit all of our faith journeys. I am really grateful to hear what our elders have to say, but I long to hear about what God is doing in the lives of all PHCC’s members.
Here’s an assignment for you. Spend some time praying, thinking and meditating on what you would want to tell your church about your faith journey and what God is doing in your life. Maybe speaking in public is too big of an ask, but what if you could write it and we shared that with the congregation? What would you share with your church? I’m dying to know.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
The Green Chalice
Today is Earth Day, and if you’re like me, you want to make a positive difference for the environment but yoy feel the problems we face seem larger than what any one person can solve. Beyond doing things like recycling and buying local, what can one person do? It can feel discouraging. If you can afford it, you can choose to drive a hybrid or electric car or even put solar panels on your home, but not everyone can take those steps.
What about what we can do together as a church? One of the reasons we create Christian community together is so we can make the world a better place. Pooling our efforts to make a positive environmental impact accomplishes several goals. Among those goals are making a greater impact together than we can do on our own, and building relationships with people in our community who share those values (Who knows? Some of them might even need a faith community). It can be difficult to know where to start, but thankfully our denomination, The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ has us covered in that respect.
The Disciples motto is “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.” What better way to live that out than by caring for God’s world which God has entrusted to us? The Green Chalice program was created to help congregations become good stewards of the earth and to recognize them for their good work. Its steps are simple, but their impact can be great.
2. Sign the Green Chalice Covenant
As children of God and followers of Christ Jesus, we covenant to:
Worship God with all creation and pray for the healing of the earth.
Study the climate crisis and engage others in climate solutions.
Repent and forgive for the harm we have inflicted on the earth that
Advocate for ecojustice public policies and witness by living
Rest in God’s good creation and invite others to delight in nature.
3. Make 3 Changes (some of these we already do)
Examples: Get an Energy Audit, Start or Enhance a Recycling Program,
Use Real Dishware, Stop using Styrofoam and disposable dishes,
Changing to efficient light bulbs, Install programmable thermostats,
Start a community garden, Serving local foods, Plant Native Species
plants, Plant Trees in the community, Participate in the Disciples
Coffee Program, Purchase Eco-Palms for Palm Sunday, Weave Creation
into worship in prayers, hymns, liturgy and sermons, Use Eco-Friendly
cleaning products, Provide Eco-Tips in Newsletters, Install Rain Barrels
for watering, Host a Farmer’s Market, Have a Green VBS theme, Partner
with Local Organizations for Advocacy, Do a creation care study series,
Observe the Sabbath.
That’s how you start. There’s even more a church can do, of course, and becoming a “certified” Green Chalice congregation is relatively easy. Most Disciples congregations, however, haven’t taken these easy steps. In the Greater KC Region, only two congregations (St. Andrew’s Christian in Olathe and Lee’s Summit Christian) have done so.
Many of these changes not only help the earth but also help the church’s bottom line—an energy audit can lead to energy efficiency that saves lots of money. A United Church of Christ congregation in the Northland (Bethel UCC on Parvin Rd.) has space on their land like PHCC does. They installed solar panels outside their building taking advantage of generous incentives and not only have they cut their utility costs but they provide energy back to the grid which earns them money!
It doesn’t take much for a church to get started making positive environmental changes that can make a big difference. All it takes are a few individuals who care enough to make it happen here at PHCC. Are you one of them?
You can find out more by looking at Green Chalice on www.discipleshomemissions.org.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
This Father is Still Afraid
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
--Psalm 22:2 NRSV
Not quite a year ago, PHCC folks showed grace to me.
The Sunday after George Floyd was killed by a police officer who kneeled on his neck for over nine minutes cutting off his air supply, I just had to share with you some of my pain from the pulpit. As an interim minister during the Covid pandemic, I wanted to keep my sermons on relatively non-controversial ground, but as the father of two black sons I couldn’t stay in “safe” territory.
First, I shared my fears of being misunderstood. I shared my fears of being misunderstood as hating all police officers, judging all police by the bad actions of only some, saying the wrong thing which would shut down dialogue rather than creating opportunities for understanding and leaving people feeling judged.
Then I shared my pain that every time I saw video of a black man getting killed by police I could only see my sons. I asked if there was enough room at PHCC to share my fear and pain as the white father of two black teenage boys?
You responded with a gracious “yes.”
Today I still have the same fears: fears of being misunderstood and fears for my sons’ lives.
Not quite eleven months later, the officer who killed George Floyd has been convicted of murder. I feel relieved for the verdict but no less afraid for my sons. Each day seems to bring news of another black teenager shot by police. Each day still seems to bring news of a traffic stop over something inconsequential leading to a dead black man. Both of my sons will soon be driving on their own, which is scary enough for any parent, but I also think about what if one or both of my sons does something stupid or reckless or nothing at all and ends up shot and killed.
I’m grateful for the guilty verdict in the case of George Floyd’s murderer, but I’m no less afraid for my boys than I was yesterday before the verdict was announced. So, I’m asking you again if there is room at PHCC for me and my fear? Can I share it without folks jumping to one side or another, repeating the arguments of cable news pundits? Can I share my fear of being a white man ill-equipped to prepare black sons for the conscious and unconscious prejudice they will face? Can the parents of white children imagine what it would be like if their kids were judged the same way black kids are judged? Is such a space even possible in our day and time?
I wish I could speak authoritatively about systemic racism in our culture, but the more I learn as a white man about the white privilege I was raised with, the less I know for sure. My own sense of what safety and security mean in our culture goes out the window when I think about what might happen to my sons. I don’t know much for sure other than fear.
So, I name that fear before you in the hopes you can hear it for what it is and the hopes you won’t judge or condemn me for what it is not.
This morning Chalice Press, the Disciples of Christ publisher, sent out the following prayer. It seems like a good one for me to pray. I invite you to join me.
O God, Creator of each and every one of us,
We pray for justice.
We pray for the family of George Floyd.
We pray for those who fear each day they will be the next George Floyd.
We pray for those taking to the streets—to acknowledge justice served, to protest and work
where injustice remains. For all, we pray for their safety.
We pray for those who argue this verdict and hope they will someday see the error in their
We pray we will all learn how to repent of the sins of racism: where we see it in others and
where it lives in us, the sin we commit knowingly and the sin we may never recognize.
Above all, we pray and work for peace. Always, always peace.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
Loving Your Neighbor Across Time
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your mind.’
--Matthew 22:37 NRSV
Earth Day is coming up, so let me share some of my ecologically-minded musings with you.
Sometime long in the past, I can remember reading an essay by a Christian social justice advocate who was also a mom. In her essay, she complained about the amount of plastic present in the packaging of the snacks she had to bring for her kids’ soccer games. When it was her turn to be the parent providing snacks, for safety reasons she had to make sure each was individually wrapped by its producer. Rather than buying one large bag of oranges and slicing them up on her own, she had to purchase individual plastic cups of orange slices sealed with even more plastic. I remember agreeing with her about plastic waste but also thinking, “Who cares about packaged orange slices when there are giant corporations dumping toxins all over the place?”
Fast forward more years than I want to admit, and I’ve been thinking about all the plastic my family uses. Is this something that happens to people when they have children and reach middle age? I made dinner last night and all of the food came in some kind of plastic packaging, even the organic healthy stuff, and most of it was of a sort that can’t be recycled. I just stared at the packaging for a moment in amazement.
I think like most people I don’t want to pollute the environment, and I think like most people I feel sort of powerless to make change on a large enough scale to matter. When you live in a state where your politicians hold safe seats in Congress and in the state legislature AND they routinely deny climate change is real, you can write all the letters to them you want but you are just wasting paper—paper they probably won’t recycle!
I’m well aware of the good modern plastics provide for us. I’ve seen the commercials made by the plastic companies. Plastic helps save food from spoiling and waste. Plastics help save lives with advanced medicine. Plastics can be recycled. Etc. Etc.
I’m also aware that most plastic we use never gets recycled but rather goes in landfills where it will take 10,000+ years to break down. Ever since China stopped importing our recyclables some years back, the market fell for paper, cardboard, and plastic leaving recyclers with nowhere to sell the stuff we throw in the recycle bins each week. Almost daily, more news appears about the amount of microplastics in our rivers, lakes, oceans and even the air we breathe.
All of this leaves me staring at the amount of plastic involved in my family’s average meal and wondering if that meal was worth the amount of plastic that will take 10,000+ years to break down? We recycle and even wash the food particles off our plastic, because food contaminates plastic making it non-recyclable. We compost food waste, and we try to reuse plastic whenever we can. Yet, none of it seems like enough.
As a Christian, I’ve been taught all my life that the second greatest commandment is loving others as I wish to be loved. It comes right after the first commandment to love God. So many Christians envision a future that ends with a fiery cataclysm which could come any day, but those of us who reject such a view are left with an indeterminate future. This means the command to love others includes more than just people alive now but also others in the future.
Decades ago, I read a book by a Christian ethicist named Robert Parham titled Loving Our Neighbors Across Time. I’ve forgotten what the book said—probably the same stuff most environmentally conscious Christians say—but I’ve never forgotten the title. People I will never meet will live in the far future with the plastics I use every day for the most ordinary things. Jesus commanded me to love them too. It doesn’t seem very loving to leave them my mess.
If you’re reading this, maybe your reaction is like mine was years ago when I read a Christian mom’s lament over plastic-encased orange slices. You have more pressing things to worry about. Maybe sane people don’t look at their groceries and think about their neighbors centuries in the future or maybe we are all insane not to do so.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
The Joy of Hope
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone
who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
I Peter 3:15
Hope is just a four-letter word until it is truly experienced.
We throw this word around rather loosely these days.
“I hope to find it on sale.”
“We hope the Chiefs will go back to the Super Bowl.”
“I hope I get that promotion.”
All these little things are more like wishes than anything else. They are what we would desire to happen. And really, they are fleeting sort of “hopes” that change with very little effort or thought. Real hope is much bigger, and we often express it as well, but most often it hinges on doubt.
“I hope the doctor can save him.” (But in our thoughts, we prepare for the worst.)
“We hope for a brighter future with less violence.” (But the world is so evil.)
“I hope that the homeless find homes.” (But it’s such a big problem, there is so little I can do.)
Here in I Peter hope is so much more. Hope is a noticeable quality that others see in us. It is a way of living that breaks through doubt an offers an assurance of things to come. True hope is not a wish for something, but rather a strong trust that our Lord and Savior will provide for us in our every need.
When we “revere”, or better yet sanctify or set apart in our hearts that Christ is Lord we have assurance that our hope is not in vain. When we fully accept Christ’s Lordship over our lives, we have an abundance of assurance that all will be well. That does not mean everything will turn out perfectly and there will be no pain or sorrow, but in those dark moments there remains a glimmer inside of us that knows God is in control and that He will provide for us.
When we have that glimmer, that small flame in our hearts, people notice. It does not mean we never doubt, nor does it mean that we are always happy. What it means is that we have accepted that Christ’s love will pull us through the most difficult moments and that when we reach the other side there will be joy. We are living for that joy. And when we live hopeful lives, that joy spreads to others around us.
There is an old song “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”, and a line from it goes, “Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime”. God didn’t promise us that life would be without thorns, but He did promise that the Son would shine in us if we accepted Him fully into our lives.
Our hope is not a wish. Our hope is eternal and when we accept the assurance of Christ in our lives daily, our hope turns into joy the whole world can see.
For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching
ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires
--2 Timothy 4:3 NRSV
My oldest son just turned 18 and although we are having a family party for him this weekend, on his actual birthday we told him we would go out to eat wherever he wanted. He chose IHOP, because he wanted some kind of pancake concoction. I was disappointed. I’m not a big IHOP fan. Waffle House you betcha! But IHOP, no. But it was his birthday, so we went to IHOP.
In these COVID times, we sat socially distanced from other patrons, but I couldn’t help overhearing a conversation from another table. Like a submarine sonar array my minister ears picked up on someone quoting scripture and talking about God. My ears tend to do that. I couldn’t get the gist of what was said, but I heard quite clearly one person say, “It’s like the Bible says, people will have itchy ears and be led astray.” “Itchy ears?” I thought. “Does it say that in the Bible?” Oh, I can’t wait to look that up!
Ministers get excited about weird things.
It turns out the phrase “itching ears” occurs in 2 Timothy chapter 4 where the author says, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.” “Aha!” I thought. “This is a warning against false teaching with the whole itching ears thing as a pretty hilarious metaphor for people being led astray.” No wonder, this wasn’t a part of my spiritual vocabulary. I try not to be a self-appointed guardian of what is true and false doctrine. I’ve tried out that role and I’m really bad at it.
This verse is a part of a much broader discussion of what it means to be a Christian today and throughout Christian history. Is there a set group of beliefs a Christian must hold to in order to be truly Christian? If so, who decides what’s on that list and what is not? How do you guard against Christianity being an abusive power structure on the one hand and a relativistic free for all on the other? Religious wars have been fought between countries and at family dinner tables over such questions.
Even Bible scholars fight over these issues. Conservative scholars assert 2 Timothy was written by the Apostle Paul near his death bed warning the Christians coming after him to adhere to the teaching of the apostles. Scholars of other varieties assert 2 Timothy was not written by Paul but by people a generation or two after him who wanted to control the young religion and clamp down on its burgeoning pluralism. Depending on one’s point of view, this verse is an example of defending the faith from heresy or of ruining the faith by the exercise of abusive power.
A quick google search shows this verse is used by Christians concerned with purity of belief and virtually ignored by Christians who are open to mystery and more porous spiritual boundaries. I tend to fall in the latter group. The weakness of all assertions of what constitutes “true” Christianity comes down to the trustworthiness of the person making the claim. With so many different Christians claiming their particular take is the only real truth, how is one to know?
I’m pretty sure most Christians who quote this verse regularly would accuse me of having “itching ears,” because I wouldn’t be comfortable with their particular brand of Christianity. I guess I’m guilty as charged. My ears do seem to itch when I hear most Christians talk.
My ears itch when I hear someone using Jesus as a prop to justify their particular brand of politics which happens to hurt the sort of people Jesus chose to hang around.
My ears itch when I hear the Bible used as a weapon to hurt children and teenagers who are transgender, gay, lesbian or bisexual.
My ears itch when I hear Bible verses quoted to declare women are inferior to men.
My ears itch when I hear God used in some wack-o conspiracy theory.
My ears itch when churchgoing Christians say and act in ways less loving than people of other faiths and no faith in similar situations.
My ears itch when Christianity is equated with patriotism.
My ears itch when being a good Christian is described as being healthy and wealthy and those less privileged are disparages as lacking in faith.
My ears itch when Christians claim to “believe” sound doctrine but demonstrate nothing of Jesus’ love in their actions.
My ears itch when I hear Christians of conservative, liberal or whatever variety speak without humility and without at least admitting the possibility they might be wrong.
But what if my ears aren’t itching in the way 2 Timothy 4:3 describes? What if my ears are responding to Jesus who said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them listen?”
I hope so, but maybe I’m just a heretic.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.