Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - 1 Pt 2:11-20

                                                                                                            Easter 4
                                                                                                            1 Pt 2:11-20

            When I stop and think about it, it really is surprising that I am content and happy to live in Marion, IL.  The reality is that I am a sojourner and an exile here.  For starters, I am a Hoosier.  I grew up in Indiana, and while I live in Illinois I will always consider the state of Indiana to be home.  My perfect scenario would be to take Marion and move it to Indiana.  That’s true for many sentimental reasons and also because … let’s face it, Indiana actually passes a state budget each year.
            Next, I am a Lutheran.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I accepted the call to come this part of southern Illinois.  I left the Chicago area which is full of Lutherans – I mean the convention to found the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod was held in Chicago - and came to far southern Illinois where people don’t even know what one is.  An hour northwest of us that is not the case, but that hour makes all the difference in the world, and we might as well be on a different planet.
            And then, of course, I am a Cubs fan.  I left Chicago, the very location of Wrigley Field, and came to southern Illinois.  Once again, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into – no idea that this is rabid St. Louis Cardinals territory. The Cardinals go almost a quarter century without winning the World Series.  And of course I arrive in the very year when they win it in 2006 – and then also have to endure a complete fluke run in 2011. Thankfully the last two years have brought great relief and so I now know that I will be able to continue on as a pastor in Marion, IL.
            In the epistle lesson this morning Peter calls the Christians in western Asia Minor – modern day Turkey - sojourners and exiles.  He isn’t referring to the geography of where they live, but instead to their spiritual status.  They belong not to a fallen world but to God who in Christ has won salvation for them. That’s why Peter begins the letter by saying: “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.” 
            To be honest, there really isn’t any explicit Gospel in our text today.  The Gospel that is there is all quite implicit.  But the reason for this is that as Scripture so often does, Peter here is drawing out the implications for life of the Gospel he has just extolled.  As we just heard, he had begun the previous chapter by saying that we have been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
            Next, Peter had told the Christians that God had purchased them as his own in Christ.  He wrote that they were to live, “knowing that you were ransomed 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.”  It is this text that provided Martin Luther with some of the language for the explanation of the Second Article of the Creed which says that Jesus is our Lord “who 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.”
            This is what God has done for you in Christ.  And in Holy Baptism he applied this to you.  In this chapter Peter uses the language of baptism when he tells the readers that like newborn infants they are to long for the pure spiritual milk.  And then immediately before our text Peter announces what God has done through baptism.  He says, “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.”
            This is what you are: a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.  But that also means that now you don’t fit in with a fallen world – or at least, you shouldn’t.  And so Peter says at the beginning of our text, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
            This is not your world.  I don’t mean this creation. This creation will indeed be renewed when Jesus Christ returns and raises the dead.  You belong here because this is the very good home God made for you in the beginning.
            No, you don’t belong in the culture ruled by sin and the devil.  You don’t belong in a setting where the forces around you – the education system, the media, the entertainment industry, the government, the internet – are all leading you away from faith in Jesus Christ and toward every possible perversion of God’s will.  You don’t belong in the world that my pastoral letter to you this week describes. It’s not your home.
            But until our Lord returns, like sojourners and exiles this is the setting in which Christians will live. This is the setting in which you live.  And so Peter says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Peter tells us to live as what we are. We have been ransomed – forgiven – through the precious blood of Jesus Christ.  We have been born again through the work of the Spirit in the water and the Word of Holy Baptism.
            So Peter exhorts us: Live like you don’t belong to the sinful world.  He tells us to abstain from passions of the flesh because they wage war against the soul.  Now passions of the flesh include all of the ways that sin disorders our desires.  But it certainly includes the thing that I am willing to bet this language calls to mind: sex.  And since it does, let’s talk about it.
            As Christians we know that sex is God’s good gift.  It is the one flesh union that joins husband and wife together in marriage.  It creates life from the union of husband and wife, and provides the most profound intimacy that helps to continue to bind together the couple emotionally.  And it is enjoyable - really enjoyable. Now within marriage, that fact leads right back to sex producing life and sex bonding a couple together – all of which are very good things.
            But because of sin, people have since the Fall been tempted to use sex outside of marriage. They have wanted to use sex in ways the violate God’s ordering of creation.  The world in which the first Christians lived was one in which this happened in every imaginable way.  The use of prostitutes was legal and considered normal.  It was assumed that masters had sex with their slaves.  Pornographic art could be seen in many places.  Sexual sin ran rampant with almost no restrictions.
            Christianity was completely different.  It said that sex was to take place only between husband and wife, and that any other use of sex outside of marriage is a sin that brings God’s eternal judgment. The Lord Jesus taught that it’s not just the act that it is sinful, but that even the lustful thoughts are sinful.
And so as Christianity transformed society, our culture created expectations about marriage and conduct that were meant to hinder sexual sin. For two thousand years, that’s how things worked.
            And then in fifty year during the second half of the twentieth century the birth control pill changed everything.  Technology provided people with means to use sex as they wished, and western society ran with it. The result is that the world you now live in is no different than the one to which Peter wrote.
            So more than ever, we need to hear Peter’s words: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  Sexual intercourse with someone who is not your spouse is sin.  Living together when you are not married is sin.  Fantasizing –intentionally dwelling on lustful thoughts – is sin.
            And that brings me to the part of our world that is actually worse than the first century.  Looking at pornography in order to produce lustful thoughts and physical reactions is sin.  And as sin, it is destructive.  The pornography that you look at on all your different devices rewires your brain in ways that will hinder you from functioning in marriage as you were intended to do so.
            The world says that having sex in any way you want and looking at pornography is just fine.  God’s Word says that is it sin. We will listen to God’s Word.  One of the things that pains me most as a pastor is the knowledge of people who would be here if they had not decided to adopt the world’s view of sex. Yet, the Church cannot be Christ’s Church if she does not listen to God’s Word.
            You listen to God’s Word.  You know the ways that you don’t abstain from the passions of the flesh.  You know how those are true, not only for the Sixth Commandment, but also for every other commandment.  Because of this continuing presence of sin in your life, you repent.  You confess.  One of the most direct ways you can do this is by coming to your pastor for Private Confession.  Just as we heard for the last couple of weeks in our Learn by Heart text before the service, in Confession we confess the sins we know and feel in our heart.  And then something remarkable happens.  In absolution Jesus Christ speaks directly to you alone through his called servant and says: “I forgive you all your sins.”  You can’t get the Gospel in a more direct way than that!
            Through the Means of Grace faith receives forgiveness. The Spirit works through those means to build up and strengthen faith.  Forgiven, we are what God made us to be in baptism.  We are part of that chosen race; that royal priesthood; that holy nation; that people for God’s own possession.
            And the Spirit leads us to take up again that struggle against the old Adam still present in us.  We remember that we don’t belong to this world, and so of course, no, we don’t live like they do.  Instead we are those whom God according to his great mercy has caused to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.


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