Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (May 3, 2020)

1 PETER 2:13-25

YOU HAVE BEEN CALLED TO FOLLOW THE SHEPHERD.

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

In the name + of Jesus.

      The first thing we need to understand about our epistle reading is very simple, and yet ultimately important: This is the word of the Lord.  It is not a political position.  It is not propaganda.  It is not a call for civil rights, personal rights, or constitutional rights.  If you want to argue that St. Peter does not understand what it means to have the freedoms and liberties we do, you're right.  He doesn't understand it.  But he does proclaim to you the word of the Lord.  And you're right; St. Peter does not understand what it means to live with Donald Trump as president or Gretchen Whitmer as governor.  He wrote these words when Caesar had the name “Nero.”  He penned these words to people who were living under persecution, and he issued a warning that the persecution was about to get worse.  So, no, Peter does not understand your situation.  He was not an American who had the right to publicly spew out venom at his leaders.  But even if Peter had that right, this is what he wrote: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.  Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:16-17)  This is the word of the Lord.
     While we are all accustomed to the freedoms we have and we are grateful for them, it ought to be noted that maintaining your freedoms is not to be your highest good.  If it is, that makes you good Americans.  But it often seems we are more interested in being good Americans than we are in being faithful Christians, or that we are more zealous to support a political position than we are to uphold the word of the Lord. 
     Am I overstating it?  Consider this: Later in this service, we will join in this prayer: “Grant health and favor to all who bear office in our land, especially to President Trump, Governor Whitmer …  and all those who make, administer, and judge our laws...”  If I were to guess, at least one of those names made you cringe.  Perhaps you will not even add your “Amen” to that petition.  When St. Peter writes, “Honor the emperor,” and when St. Paul exhorts you, “I urge that prayers be made for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2), is your reply, “No”?  Understand that this is the word of the Lord.  Beware that your patriotism does not stand in contradiction to God's word.
     Better yet, remember what you were called to.  You have been called to follow the Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd does not lead you on a crusade for personal rights or to a national flag.  The Good Shepherd calls people out of all tribes and nations to deny themselves and to follow him—whether you live in a land of freedom, oppression, corruption, or violence.  The Good Shepherd does not promise to lead you to greater freedoms in this life or for better benefits for this world.  Jesus calls you into a kingdom that grants greater freedoms and endures beyond any nation in this world.
     You have been called to follow the Shepherd.  Jesus made this proclamation: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.  If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7,9)  The Good Shepherd is the only one who provides access to the freedoms that really matter and the only freedoms that last.  Jesus is the door through whom you are set free from sin and death.  Jesus is the gate by which you are supplied relief from the problems of life that truly produce pain and sorrow.  Jesus may not address a stalled economy or restrictive government mandates, but he does tend to souls which are crushed by sorrow, to hearts that long for peace, and to minds that seek rest from fear.
     For now, we must endure hardship. We all are frustrated by stay-at-home orders, restricted access to businesses, and the shut-down of schools and sports.  You may disagree with the course taken and the decisions made by our governing authorities.  If you do, know that differences of opinions are not sins.  But if you are mock or dishonor those who are in authority, that is sin.  For this is what St. Peter wrote: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.” (1 Peter 2:18)  You may have the right to voice your disagreement, but you never have the right to sin.
     You have been called to follow the shepherd who knows full well what it means to submit not merely to inconvenience, but to injustice and brutality.  St. Peter wrote, “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.” (1 Peter 2:21-24)   
     Although Jesus did nothing that warranted an arrest, he was tried and condemned.  The trial before Caiaphas was a farce; Jesus did not protest.  Herod's court did not care.  Instead of receiving justice, Jesus endured mockery and scorn.  Jesus patiently endured it.  Pontius Pilate turned justice on its head.  It wasn't right, but it also wasn't about Jesus exerting his rights.  Jesus did not call for rebellion—neither at his trial nor after his resurrection.  He humbly suffered for sinful arrogance.  He patiently endured shame for our impatience and pride.  He denied himself his benefits as God to atone for us who act as if our personal benefits and rights are what truly matter.  For Jesus, it was never about himself and his rights.  It was about him rescuing you from the condemnation you rightly deserve.  Jesus delivers these benefits to you.
     And St. Peter reminds you, “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example...” (1 Peter 2:21)  It is to God's glory that you have been saved.  But it is also to God's glory that you live as the people God has called you to be.  “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)  You have been called to follow the Shepherd, and he calls you to “honor everyone, love the brotherhood, fear God, and honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17) 
     But more than this, your Good Shepherd leads you to have a greater zeal for his word and his kingdom more than anything else.  This is why your Good Shepherd speaks to you.  He proclaims words of promise—that your sins do not condemn you and that no accusation can stick to you.  But he also speaks word of instruction.  When the Shepherd guides us on paths of righteousness, he speaks about forgiving those who sin against you, loving your neighbor and even your enemies, caring for the needy, serving selflessly in your vocation, and building your life on God's word.  For this is what the kingdom of God is about.  And when the Shepherd speaks to his sheep, he warns about love of money, love of oneself, and false prophets.  For these things result in condemnation, and the Good Shepherd wants to spare you from this. 
     You have been called to follow the Good Shepherd.  This is what sustains your life.  Worldly leaders are devoted to worldly problems.  Some decisions are good; some are not.  While you are permitted to disagree, and you can even tell your leaders that you disagree, but you are not permitted to disobey.  The Good Shepherd wants you to understand the difference between good and evil and differences in opinion.  For no one will be sent to hell for disagreeing on policies.  But whoever does not heed the word of the Lord will be cast into eternal darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 
     You have been called to follow the Good Shepherd.  And this Good Shepherd continues to provide comfort and guidance in a world that is easily thrown into disarray by governments, sickness, and difficulties.  The Good Shepherd even consoles and cares for us in the midst of pain and sorrow and death.  For he is the gate which delivers you through death and into everlasting freedom from sorrow and death, from sickness and pain, and even from annoyances and disappointment.  If you long for freedom that saves and endures, then listen to your Good Shepherd and devote your attention to him.  He shepherds and oversees your soul to protect you from all that would truly harm you, and he will provide for all that you need to sustain you to eternal glory and rest.  This is what matters, and to this you have been called.  Follow the Good Shepherd; for he alone comforts, consoles, sustains, strengthens, and saves.

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

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