Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Easter (April 19, 2020)

1 PETER 1:3-9


M: Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
C: He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

In the name + of Jesus.

      St. Peter wrote his first epistle “to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion.” (1 Peter 1:1)  These were Christians who were scattered around the Roman Empire.  They were also enduring persecution for the Christian faith.  Currently, what we are enduring is inconvenient and annoying.  Depending upon your situation, it might even rise to the level of hardship, but it is not persecution.  If everyone is supposed to stay at home, it is not targeted at Christians.  But Peter's initial audience was most certainly suffering for the faith.  No doubt, some were wondering if it was worth it.
     When you are constantly having to deal with problems or uncertainty, that is what consumes your mind.  It drains your energy.  You are absorbed by your present situation. The persecuted Christians in Peter's day were wondering: “How long do we have to put up with this?  Will we be imprisoned, or will we have to flee from home?  What does our future look like?”  While our current situation is not nearly as intense, we ask similar questions.  “When we will get back to our work places?  How long will we have to wear masks?  When can I finally get a hair cut?  What will our future look like?”  St. Peter points you to a future without question marks.  We don't know what next week holds, but we do know what eternity holds.  Our living Lord grants us a certain salvation.
     St. Peter keeps us mindful of what is remains certain when our world is not.  “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...” (1 Peter 1:3-4)  Your inheritance is unfading; it will not lose value.  Your inheritance is undefiled; it will not become ruined or tainted.    Your inheritance is imperishable; it cannot die and will never come to an end.  It is unlike any treasure or any promise that is made in this world.  Yet, we tend to put our hopes and our efforts in this world.  And then we are frustrated when it results in disappointment.
     There is nothing in this world that is imperishable.  If you go to museums, you will find artifacts that are thousands of years old.  The empires they came from have been reduced to history books, and the artifacts from them must be kept under glass so that they are not reduced to dust.  All of the world's glory eventually fades away.  This is what the Lord says: “All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, and the flower fades.” (Isaiah 40:6-7)  That is not limited only to empires and kingdoms, but it also applies to individuals.  The beauty of mankind gives way to wrinkles, aching joints, and poor eyesight.  No matter how much power, fame, or wealth a man has, everyone is finally equalized by the cemetery. 
     It is bad enough that our world has been defiled with pollution, pestilence, and war, but it is worse that the heart of every human being has been defiled by sin.  Some will argue that people are basically good and will cite reports about acts of kindness to strangers.  They are not reported because they are normal; they are reported because we are surprised by them.  We have to be told, “A little kindness goes a long way,” because we don't have time for that.  We have to take care of our own interests, our pride, and our possessions.  Our hearts are devoted to ourselves above all, even above God.  We have become our own gods, for we love and trust what benefits our stomachs, our wallets, our egos, and whatever will gratify us in the next few moments.  Repent.  For everything our defiled hearts crave will perish.  And whatever is perishing will never satisfy you.  You will only perish with it.
     St. Peter was writing to a church which was enduring persecution.  It was a time of great uncertainty.  Currently, you and I are enduring the shelter-in-place orders which are supposed to keep us safe.  It is also a time of great uncertainty.  But these hardships can serve for your benefit.  Therefore, St. Peter says, “Now for a little while … you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)  So that we will not be entangled or engrossed in the things which do not save, our Lord is pleased to take them away from us.  He shows us how untrustworthy are the things we trust in.  We give them a value that they don't deserve.  Our Lord is reminding us that we don't need them, and he is purifying our faith by taking them from us. 
     Jesus does not want us to live with uncertainty or the kind of hope that needs you to cross your fingers for luck.  Christ has won your salvation for you.  It is not a hollow promise or even an iffy promise.  We live with those all the time.  Will the stay at home order end with April?  Will it go into May?  Will it come back in the Fall?  We don't know, and we are frustrated by this.  We want to know things will get better.  We do this because living in a state of pessimism and defeat is a soul-crushing way to live.  No one wants to live with such a dark cloud hanging over his head.  If this is how we feel when we are going through a pandemic which will eventually run its course, how much worse it would be to stare eternity in the face and to have to rely on what is, at best, iffy.
     The living Lord grants a certain salvation.  If you want to be certain that you will live in heavenly glory, then you must be holy.  Jesus grants you the certainty.  He is the one man who lived in perfect obedience to God's Commandments.  But Jesus delivers the credit of his perfect obedience to your account.  Since Jesus has clothed you in his righteousness, it is certain that you will stand in God's presence and dwell in his kingdom.  If you want to be certain that life does not end at a grave, then there ought to be proof of life after death.  Jesus is the one man who has overcome the grave.  And since Jesus is God, he assures you that his victory over the death is not for him alone, but for all who are marked in his name through baptism.  You can be certain of your resurrection from the dead to life everlasting. 
     The living Lord grants a certain salvation.  Jesus has cleansed you from everything which defiles you by bathing you in his holy, precious blood.  By your baptism, you have been crucified with Jesus.  Your sin was taken up by Jesus and removed from you.  He has not only won the full pardon for all your sin, he has also changed your heart and mind so that it is no longer controlled by sin.  He shows you and convinces you that he alone supplies you with blessings that satisfy and endure.  If you desire comfort and assurance, then make sure you are listening to Jesus far more than politicians, doctors, and reporters.
     Our living Lord gives us a certain salvation.  The inheritance you will receive is not kept on earth where all things will pass away.  This world offers no certainty, other than everything will pass away.  Jesus gives you a better certainty.  He gives you an inheritance which is kept in heaven so that it remains untouched by sin.  That is why your hope remains secure; for, it cannot be destroyed by anything—whether persecution or pandemic.  You have been “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.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)
     Your situation may not look pretty right now.  Times might be hard.  Frustrations and inconvenience may linger.  Questions go unanswered, or are not answered to your satisfaction.  But Jesus assures you of a future without question marks.  The glory that you crave will come.  You have a hope that lives because Jesus lives.  He gives you the kingdom.  And he does not leave you waiting; for the kingdom already comes to you now.  Whenever God's word is preached—in the church, online, or in home devotions, God's kingdom comes to you.  This is how God delivers to you his salvation, his forgiveness, and his peace.  These are not defiled by problems.  Their value does not fade in tough times or dark days.  And they cannot perish.  For Jesus lives.  Our living Lord grants us a certain salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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