Monday, April 03, 2017

Paying Attention

Paying Attention
2 Peter 1:16-21[1]
One of the benefits of living in the “information age” is that we have relatively quick and easy access to a lot of information. Many of us have at our fingertips the equivalent of an unimaginably large library with just about anything you might need. But at the same time, I think one of the great challenges of living in this age is that we have access to so much information. Without a proper framework for making sense of it all, it can just become overwhelming. Rather than putting forth the effort to sort out fact from farce, we accept as truth whatever seems convenient. Or what’s worse, we simply tune out.
Unfortunately, this also applies to our faith. With all the different voices claiming to represent Christ in our world, it can be confusing. Between television, radio, the internet, social media, books, and magazines, the fact is that those who speak for Christ do not speak with a consistent voice. To some extent, variety in the Christian message is to be expected. It comes from our different backgrounds and experiences and perspectives. That’s a healthy thing. But I’m afraid it goes beyond that. The collective voices of all those who speak for our faith disagree on matters that are fundamental, ranging from how we experience new life to what living out that life looks like to what our ultimate hope is. The resulting confusion can lead us to tune out rather than paying attention and trying to find a perspective that makes sense out of the teachings of Scripture.
The fact of the matter is that the Christian community has always had to deal with divergent voices that have made it challenging for people to know what to believe. Most of the apostolic writings in the New Testament bear witness to this. There was no mass communication technology in that day. The only methods the apostles had for dealing with this problem were to personally visit a church, to send a representative, or to write a letter. That’s why many of the New Testament letters were written in the first place: to clear up the confusion caused by rival preachers and teachers presenting views that called the apostolic faith into question.
This was the case for 2 Peter. In fact, much of the letter is devoted to refuting “false teachers” who contradicted the message of the apostles, who advocated a blatant disregard for the most basic ethical principles of the Bible, and who did all this in order to enrich themselves at the expense of their audience. As you can imagine, the response to this kind of flagrant deception was less than polite. In fact, 2 Peter is not unique in that. Most of the apostles saw those who were teaching with a different voice as a threat—primarily a threat to the well-being of those who were led astray by their “deceptive words” (2 Pet. 2:3).
In the case of 2 Peter, the primary problem had to do with the Christian hope. In the New Testament, that hope was focused on the return of Christ. Of course, throughout the history of the church, our faith in the return of Christ and the final fulfillment of God’s saving work has raised basic questions. What happens to believers when we die? Do we have to wait for the day when Jesus returns to be raised to new life? Are we looking forward to all of this taking place in heaven or on a new earth? It’s not hard to find conflicting views on these and many other aspects of our hope.
Apparently, 2 Peter was written long enough after Jesus’ resurrection that many were beginning to deny that there would be a “second coming” at all (2 Pet. 3:4). In response, the letter pointed to the transfiguration of Jesus as a foreshadowing of his return. Claiming to be a witness of the glory revealed at that time as well as the voice that attested Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved son, 2 Peter insists that “we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed” (2 Pet. 1:19). What those who were there saw and heard left them without doubt that Jesus would indeed return in the full majesty of his glory as Savior and Lord.[2]
Unfortunately, some have approached this passage as if it advocates that Scripture is to be accepted at face value. The truth is that kind of simple faith works for some people. But I find that unquestioning belief doesn’t go over too well with most of us. Scripture itself raises questions, some of which we cannot readily answer.[3] And any written document has to be interpreted—especially ancient writings that addressed a very different time or place. I think what all this means is that we’re going to have to put forth some effort if we’re going to “pay attention" to the apostolic message, "because it is like a lamp shining in a dark place until the Day dawns” (2 Pet. 1:19, TEV). I think that means more than a simple casual reading of select verses. It means serious and sustained study of the source of our faith.[4]
Cultivating faith has never been easy. There have always been those who raise objections they think clearly refute what we believe. There will always be a wide diversity of voices claiming to speak on behalf of Christ. It takes some intentional effort to sort through the tangle of sometimes conflicting messages out there. But it seems to me that our lesson for today points us in the right direction: the fundamental teachings of the Scriptures have always been our guide. That doesn’t mean we’re going to automatically find the answer to our questions simply by flipping through our Bible. We have to do more than that to be able to sort through the chaotic voices in our day. It takes systematic and serious study of the Bible. In order to find clarity, we have to do a better job of “paying attention” to Scripture.

[1] ©2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 2/26/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.
[2] Cf. Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Apologetic Use of the Transfiguration in 2 Peter 1:16-21,”  Catholic Biblical Quarterly 42 (1980): 509-514.
[3] Cf. Neyrey, “ Apologetic Use,” 517 (fn 50), where he points out that “the position of Peter as an intelligent interpreter of oracles and tradition stands in tension with other traditions that portray him as not understanding what he sees or hears” (e.g., in the Gospels).
[4] In this particular context, Neyrey, “Apologetic Use,” 518-19, makes a persuasive argument that the “prophecy” that is at issue is the transfiguration as a foreshadowing of the return of Christ. He says, “The parousia-prophecy has already been defended as regards its source (i.e., God, vv. 17-18) and its authenticity (έπόπται, v. 16); vv. 20-21 add the author’s apology for his interpretation (see 3:1-2, 9-13,15-16). In this framework, the author senses that his opponents consider this interpretation of eschatological materials idiosyncratic and self-serving; hence it is incumbent upon him to continue to defend his own credentials for leaving an accurate remembrance of these matters.” Contrast R. J. Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 224. While he recognizes that Neyrey’s view is held by the majority of NT scholars, he argues that the “prophetic word” refers to passages from the prophets of the Hebrew Bible which the NT authors used along with their eyewitness experience to confirm the promise of the return of Christ. 

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