Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sermon for Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate

                                                                                    Easter 4
                                                                                    1 Pt 2:11-20

            This week Brittney returned to Marion after finishing her sophomore year at Concordia University, Chicago, which is located in River Forest.  There Brittney is in the teacher education program as she prepares to teach in the school of a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregation.
            Now I know from her Facebook posts (remember your pastor does see the things you post on Facebook and Twitter) that Brittney was looking forward to finishing the school year.  And what college student isn’t?  After a whole year of reading assignments and taking tests and writing papers, it is nice to take a break and have the whole summer off.  It’s nice to go home and see family and friends – to worship in your own home congregation.  While it is exciting and fun to be out on your own at college, there is something very comforting about a return home.  This is all the more true because you know it is only temporary – it’s just for the summer.
            In addition to all of this, I am quite certain that there is another reason Brittney is very glad that school is done and she has returned home to southern Illinois.  As a number of you are aware, Brittney is in the running for the title of “World’s Greatest Cardinals Fan.”  Now admittedly there is very stiff competition for this, but there is no doubt that Brittney must receive consideration.  She watches every game she possibly can and posts a running commentary about it on Facebook.  She wears Cardinals attire all the time. And Yadi?  Well, let’s just say that there may be some First Commandment issues when it comes to him.
            Brittney is a diehard Cardinals fan.  And for the last nine months she has lived in Chicago - on the north side of Chicago.  She has lived in the land of the Chicago Cubs.  She has lived as an exile – a foreigner in a world that is not her own.  And so I know that she is glad to return to southern Illinois where the Cardinal nation rules things.
            In our text today, Peter describes Christians as “exiles” and he explains what this means for the way we are to live in the world.  Peter teaches us that we are exiles because of what God has done for us through Holy Baptism.  He has set us apart as his own.  He has made us different.  And because he has done this, we now seek to live in ways that are different from the world.
            Peter writes this letter to the Christians in Asia Minor – what today is Turkey.  And he begins by addressing them as exiles. He writes, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.”  And then he immediately praises God for his saving work.  He says, “         Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”
            Peter tells us that we were slaves to sin.  Yet through Jesus Christ, God has freed us from that slavery – he has redeemed us.  Peter says that,“you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” This is in fact the verse that provides some of the language for the explanation of the Second Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism where we confess that Christ “has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death.”  Several times Peter returns to this fact – that Jesus suffered and died for us, such as when he takes up Isaiah chapter 53 and says “By his wounds you have been healed.”
            We are in the season of Easter, and Peter’s letter focuses our attention squarely on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He tells us that we have a living hope because of Jesus’ resurrection.  We have the hope of life – but not just any kind of life.  We have the hope of resurrection life on the Last Day when Christ returns. And not only that, but already now we have been born again. The power of the resurrection life of Christ is already at work in us because the Holy Spirit has given us spiritual rebirth.
            You have been born again in baptism.  In fact Peter calls these Christians “new born infants.”  Through baptism God claimed you as his own.  He set you apart.  Just before our text Peter writes, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
            But this means that you are different.  You live in this fallen, sinful world.  But you have been redeemed from that sin.  You have been born again as God’s royal priesthood, his holy nation, a people for his own possession. And Peter tells us that this has great meaning for your lives.
            In our text Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”  Just as he said in the opening sentence of the letter, Peter again reminds you that you are exiles.  You are Cardinals fans on the north side of Chicago. You don’t fit in, and you are not supposed to fit in.
            In our text Peter describes how the world slandered the Christians of Asia Minor as evildoers, even as we sought to live in ways that were good – ways that reflected God’s will.  In the next chapter Peter describes how Christian were slandered by pagans who “revile your good behavior in Christ.”
            We may wonder, what exactly is the behavior that would evoke this kind of reaction?  It appears to be the kinds of things that Christians were not doing.  Later Peter mentions, “For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.”
            The Christians were living differently.  They had left behind the behavior of their pagan world, and those around them noticed.  Their change – their refusal to live in the ways of the world – was a condemnation of those ways.  And this change would have touched their lives in a very public way.  The life of a first century Greco-Roman city revolved around paganism. The civic calendar was marked by the celebration of the pagan festivals for the gods of the temples there and for the deified Roman emperors.  These pagan festivals involved great processions through the city, feasts which used meat provided by the sacrifices, athletic games and theatrical performances.
            The pressure to fit in, to take part in these things would have been intense.  And in this way, the first century world of Peter and our twenty first century world are becoming very similar.  The world today says that there is no such thing as objective truth.  It rejects the idea of authoritative revelation from God.  Instead we are free to do what we want.  Sex can be used in any way we want.  Marriage can be defined in any way we want.  The only thing that is really wrong is to say that there is right and wrong.  To say that Christ alone saves and other religions do not; to say living together outside of marriage is sinful; to say that homosexuality is sinful and marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, all of these will cause our world to condemn you.
            Now one possible way to handle this is to cave – to acquiesce and become part of the world around us. We can adopt the ways of the world because it is certainly easier.  Needless to say, being a Cub fan in southern Illinois is a lot like being a Cardinals fan in Chicago.  It is hard, not to fit in.  And so, as some of you know, my son Michael one day clearly had something that he wanted to tell me.  With a very serious look he said that he had decided to become a Cardinals fan. When I asked him why he replied, “Because they are more better than the Cubs.”
            It would be easier to go over to the ways of the world because it looks “more better.”  However, Peter warns that this is an illusion.  He tells us that those who live in this way will find that “they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  God says what is right and wrong, and he gets the last word.
            If you don’t walk in the way of the world, at times there will be a cost.  At the end of our text Peter says, “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” There will be times when you will suffer unjustly.  Yet immediately after our text Peter goes on to say, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
            You have been called to this by God. And it is Christ who enables you to live in this way.  He suffered and died for you to redeem you as God’s own.  Through water and the word of baptism you have been born again.  As Peter says, “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”   Through the Spirit’s work in you God moves you as new man to live like one who bears Christ’s name.
            And you can do this in hope – a hope for the future that is certain because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, Peter began this letter by saying that according to his great mercy, God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”


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