Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter - Exaudi 1 Pet. 4:7-11

                                                                                                            Easter 7
                                                                                                            1 Pt. 4:7-11

            We all know people who operate on their own time.  You can tell them to be at your house at 7:00 p.m., but you know that really means that they will be there around 7:30 p.m.  You can assume that they will be late to everything because that’s just the way they do things. They seem to be incapable of being somewhere on time – (and whatever names are going through your head right now, just be careful not to say them out loud).
            If you are punctual, this can drive you crazy.  I am certainly included in that category.  I was raised by parents who made sure we were on time, and they taught me that this is how you do things.  I learned that it is disrespectful of other people to make them wait, and so we need to do everything we can be punctual – to be on time.
            I guess this is part of the reason that I am a person who wants to know what time it is.  I like to know where I am in the day: How long is it until lunch? How long is it until I have to pick up the kids from school?  How long is it until I have to stop working on the model railroad and go to bed?
            I want to know what time it is.  My parents gave me a nice watch as gift when I graduated from high school, and so ever since my college years I have always worn a wrist watch. After all these years, it is second nature to glance down at it.  There are few little things in life that irk me more than when the battery in my watch dies.  When I can’t look briefly at my watch and know what time it is, it throws my whole world a little out of whack.
            In the epistle lesson for today, Peter provides instruction for Christians about how they are to live.  And he says that the reason we need to live this way is because of what time it is.  Peter’s reasoning was true when he wrote this epistle.  It is still true today and the events of our world are providing a reminder of this fact.
            It is kind of hard to miss the perspective from which Peter speaks in our text this morning.  After all, it begins with the words, “The end of all things is at hand.”  Peter writes in expectation of the return of Jesus Christ.  Two verses earlier he talked about how people “will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”  Two verses after our text he says that Christians will rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed.
            This perspective provides the framework for everything that Peters says.  And in fact he explicitly draws a conclusion from it when he says in our text,” “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.”  Because it is the time when the end of all things is at hand, Peter says, “be serious, keep your head.”
            The apostle says this because as he describes this time in which we live – this time in which the end of things is at hand – he wants us to know that it is a time when we will probably suffer.  He says this because in a fallen world, that is just sometimes what happens.  Sometimes things happen that are unfair and just plain wrong.  Sometimes God allows these things to come our way. 
            And more specifically in this section Peter talks about the fact that being a Christian may bring suffering – it may bring hardship.  Peter notes that Christians will live in ways that are different from the world.  Just before our text he writes, “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.”  Reject the ways of the world, and the world will let you know it is not happy about this.
            Immediately after our text Peter goes on to say, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”  Peter, like the apostle Paul, says that we share in Christ’s sufferings – we suffer because we are Christians.  But he goes on to say, “
If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”
            This reflection on life in the time when the end of all things is at hand is a good one for today.  Today in Confirmation we acknowledge that these young people have received a level of knowledge about the faith that we expect of our adult congregation members. 
            The reality is that the world we live in now is one that I could not have possibly imagined when I was confirmed in the early 1980’s.  Much of this revolves around issues of the Sixth Commandment.  “Friends with benefits,” living together outside of marriage, the acceptance of homosexuality, the legal recognition of same sex “marriage”  - all of these now define the world in which we live.  And in particular, when it comes to homosexuality our culture has now made it clear that no one will be allowed to speak out against it.  There are no protections – no freedom of religion – that can shield you.
            And then there are just basic issues concerning the authority of God’s Word.  Basics issues about right and wrong – whether such things exist.  You have learned that Scripture is the inspired and authoritative Word of God.  You have learned about doctrine that is true and doctrine that is false. The world says that the Bible is just a book written by guys who lived forever ago.  We now know better than they did and so we have to pick and choose the parts that are true.  It says that there is no such thing as true or false doctrine – there is just whatever is true for you and what is true for me.
            This is the temptation the confirmands and every one of us faces.  It is not something that is going away.  Instead, there will be more and more occasions when we will be called to join ourselves to the suffering of Christ. And honestly, we want to find every way we can to avoid that suffering.  We want a Christianity that comforts us, not one that brings challenges.  We want a hot tub, not a cross.
            Why would we ever choose to suffer with Christ?  Peter says it is because Christ has already suffered for us.  He writes, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”  Jesus suffered and died on the cross in order to take away our sin that separated us from God.  As the risen Lord he has given us the gift of Holy Baptism through which he applies that forgiveness to us and gives us the assurance of salvation and eternal life.  As Peter says at the end of chapter three, “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
            Jesus Christ has shown this saving love toward us.  And as we celebrated on Thursday, he has ascended and been exalted at the right hand of God.  He has told us to be ready because he will return at a time and an hour we do not expect.  We need to be ready because by his life, death and resurrection he has begun the last days.  As Peter says in our text, “The end of all things is at hand.”
            What does this mean for us right now?  How do we live as people who know what Jesus Christ had done and what it means?  Peter doesn’t want us to miss this, for he says, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”  The love we have received in Jesus Christ prompts us to love one another.  In Christ we have the source of love that can never be exhausted.  And it is love that covers a multitude of sins.  It conceals the neighbor’s wrongs and weaknesses as it protects and defends the neighbor.  It soothes over instead of riling up because it does not dwell on sin. 
            And finally Peter says that those who know the end of all things is at hand because of Christ will use the gifts God has given to them in order to serve one another.  He writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”  The gifts that God has given allow us to become instruments that he uses in order to serve and help those around us.
            In our text this morning, Peter emphasizes what time it is – it is the time when the end of all things is at hand.  He writes because Christ loved us and suffered for us in order take away our sins.  He writes because God has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Jesus has begun the resurrection of the Last Day.  He has ascended into heaven amidst the promise that he will return. 
            This is the time in which we live and so Peter tells us to be self controlled and sober minded for the sake of our prayers – he tells us to keep our head and turn to God in prayer.  He tells us to love one another earnestly since love covers a multitude of sins. And he tells us that as we have received gifts from God we are to use them to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.  


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