(This sermon was part of our outdoor worship service & church picnic on June 5)    
      I am excited that today is the church picnic.  I enjoy the opportunity to worship the Lord outside.  I am excited to take part in a bunch of the fun games that are planned, even if I am the least competitive person you know.  I can’t wait to enjoy a burger and some potato salad with a cool glass of lemonade.  Today is an enjoyable day.  Really the only negative side of the church picnic that I can think of is the increased number of distractions.  That was true yesterday, when some of my normal Saturday pre-service routine was dedicated to figuring out how to worship without bringing seventy hymnals down here and what did need to be brought down from church for us to be ready.  And you aren’t immune to the distractions either.  Maybe a bug crawls across your leg during one of the hymns.  Maybe we will hear a loud horn blast during a prayer.  Perhaps as I preach this morning I will have to compete with a squirrel or bunny for your attention.  While some of those things may catch our eyes or attention for a moment, we want to try and avoid them right?  We want to avoid the distractions and focus on our God this morning.  That is really the message that Peter has for us today as well.  Avoid distractions.  We are going to see why it is so important that we do.  And we are going to see how God provides us with the means to avoid them.

          The types of distractions that we face as we go about our daily lives are numerous.  Peter has one particular type in mind as he brings his letter to a close.  He says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”  A continuing theme that we have seen as we looked at parts of 1 Peter together the past few weeks is how we are to handle suffering.  We heard that in those verses from chapter 4 today.  We are to be willing to suffer for our faith, to suffer for doing good, and to face suffering with certainty.  Now Peter brings in one more point.  We are to suffer humbly.  We are to put ourselves underneath suffering and not think of ourselves as those who should never have to face it.  If we don’t have this attitude, suffering can be a huge distraction for us, can’t it?  We wonder what God is doing that he would let this take place.  Maybe we even get angry at God that he would dare to let this happen to us.  Even if we don’t, doesn’t our suffering devour our time as we worry about it?  Wonder what we can do to end it?  How long will this have to go on?  What will be the results of it?  All very natural questions, but questions that consume our attention.  Of course suffering is not the only thing that causes us to worry or be distracted.  We worry about passing tests and finding work.  We worry about staying healthy and achieving our goals.  We worry about being a God pleasing whatever it is that we are.

          Now a lot of those things are not bad things to consider and weigh carefully.  It’s not wrong to have an active mind and a problem solving outlook.  But do those concerns and worries, the results of suffering, snuff out whatever time we might have to focus on our faith?  Are we just as concerned about growing in our relationship with God as we are worried about growing in our relationship with that special someone, or our kids, or our co-workers?  Do we spend as much time fretting over spiritual weakness as we do over physical weakness?  Do we recognize that all our concerns and worries, even the ones that might be about great God-given blessings, are distractions?  Distractions that make us vulnerable.

          That is where Peter turns our attention doesn’t he?  “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”  The command that Peter gives us, to be self controlled, to be in charge, to have a clear mind about everything, is impossible to keep when we are distracted by worry.  And the stakes are high, because our enemy the devil is looking to devour us.  The devil rejoices when people today deny that he exists.  Or when we take a Far Side approach to the devil.  You know, all the Far Side cartoons by Gary Larson, where the devil is just another guy who is just going to make hell inconvenient but not the end of the world.  But that is when he is most dangerous.  When we take our eyes off who he really is and forget how active he is around us.  How many of you would forget if you spent this service sitting next to a man-eating lion?  Why do we so often forget that there is a roaring lion who wants to completely devour us and lead us to hell?

          It’s because of the distractions.  The word used for the devil here calls to mind a plaintiff or accuser in a court room.  The devil wants to convict you as guilty of sin and deserving of hell.  If someone was accusing you of stealing hamburgers (we will stay with the picnic theme) and the person who was accusing you sat you down at an empty table in an empty room and put a plate full of hamburgers in front of you and then sat down to watch you.  Would you eat one?  Of course not.  You know what he is doing.  The devil wants you and me to fall into temptation.  He wants us to sin and weaken our faith.  He is not going to appear to you and say, “Hey, I think you should do this so that I can accuse you before God of breaking his law.”  No, instead what is he going to do?  He will pick his times.  He will wait until we feel like we have the whole world on our shoulders.  One fire after another to put out.  Tons of feats we want to accomplish.  And in the midst of all our obligations and things we have to get done…he slips in temptation.  So subtly and as such a small matter among all the big things we are dealing with that we don’t see it for what it is.  The roaring lion opening his mouth, ready to devour and damn us.  If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, than an overwhelmed and worried mind is his playground.  We have to avoid distractions because of what’s at stake.

          Ok, so just remove all the worries, concerns, problems, and pains from your life and let’s go play softball.  If it was that simple we would.  While there are probably a handful of distractions that we could simply get rid of, a lot of those distractions are big deals.  How can God expect me to fully focus on him with all these situations going on?  And really, one might say, all we have done so far this morning is added one more.  I’m worried about how well I avoid distraction.  God does not just tell us we need to do a better job.  He doesn’t just say well you better try harder.  God himself provides you with the means and the opportunities to avoid distractions.

          The first opportunity God gives you is prayer.  After Peter encourages us to humble ourselves under suffering he says this, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  Suffering is something we naturally want to fight against, not submit and humble ourselves under.  We don’t want to go gently if we have to suffer.  But look at the confidence you can have in the midst of it.  You can throw upon God all your anxiety.  Your every care and concern.  And God means it when he says all.  Do we only think of prayer as a means to bring big problems to God?  Why do I think of this passage more of as a shut in visit passage?  When someone is very sick or hurt.  Why isn’t this an everyday passage for all of us?  You can take all your worries to God.  None of them are too big.  So pray about finding a job, or finding a God pleasing spouse, or facing illness with courage.  And none are too small.  So pray that God bless your efforts in athletics, or that he watches over you during that home improvement project. 

          And as you pray, as you chuck all your worries into God’s hands, what does he remind you of?  He cares for you.  God is not distracted or annoyed by your prayers.  You are his concern and he is focused on you and your needs.  Even when you suffer, you can humble yourself and face it, because you know God cares about you.  We can leave the outcome of this suffering in his hands.

          Another way that God helps us to avoid distractions is giving us one another.  How does Peter encourage us to resist the roaring lion?  “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.”  This is not a misery loves company type situation.  This is an “I see my brother or sister standing in faith despite suffering, and I can do that too” type situation.  We have brothers and sisters who face the same worries, distractions, and temptations that we do.  They are on the other side of the world and at the picnic table next to you.  What a blessing it is for us, to gather together and encourage one another.  To be mutually edified as we hear the promises of God together.  As we spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  As we remind one another to cast our cares on God.  If the distractions and worries of life are overwhelming, come and be with your brothers and sisters in Christ. 

          Finally, as wonderful as the gifts of prayer and fellowship are, Peter saves the best for last.  “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”  Peter says to you and me remember who is at work here.  Remember who is telling you to stay focused.  It is the one who called you to eternal glory in Christ.  A glory that you and I have enjoyed witnessing these past few weeks as we saw our Risen and now Ascended Lord.  A glory that we too shall share because that Savior promises us that he will take us to be with him and he will not forsake us now.  Being reminded who God is, the one who calls you to glory, he tells you what he will do for you.  After a little while of suffering and worry and distraction, he will put things in order for you.  He will establish you and make you strong.  He will lay a solid foundation for you.  We can avoid distraction when we remember who our God is, the one who calls us to glory, and what he is doing, making us firm and secure in the midst of trials.

          Peter essentially ends his letter with these words, “To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.” We will join to pray shortly, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.”  Let the power of God distract you from the worries of this life.  See the powerful blessings he gives you in prayer and each other.  Rejoice in the power of Christ that will sustain you now, make you strong, and will bring you to eternal glory.  Amen.