Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sermon -- 5th Sunday of Easter (May 10, 2020)

1 PETER 2:4-10


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

In the name + of Jesus.

      It almost seems that the best way to understand the depth of St. Peter's words in our epistle is to work backwards.  In order to appreciate what God has given you, you should understand what you have been delivered from.  St. Peter mentions that at the end of the reading.  “Once you had not received mercy...  Once you were not a people...  The Lord called you out of darkness....” (1 Peter 2:10,9)  That is what you were.
     For most of us, we have never known what it is to be outside the kingdom of God.  So, in some respects, those words from St. Peter might not feel like they apply.  If you were baptized as an infant and raised in the church, then thank God that you have always known his grace and that you have always had the peace of knowing you are a child of God.  But when you have grown up this way, you are in danger of drawing conclusions that are not right or fair.  First, you may think that your place in God's kingdom was somehow deserved.  Secondly, you may not have much compassion for others who still live in darkness, who don't know God's mercy, and who are not his people.  It is easy to look upon others and assume that they are not in the kingdom of God for good reason—they are too wicked, too stubborn, or too different.  But it may very well be that they are outside the kingdom of God because no one ever invited them to come and see.  Or when they did come and see, the family of God did not make them feel very welcome.  And if that has ever been the case with us, let us repent in shame.
     Every person on earth has a longing to be loved, to be desired, and to be accepted.  That is one of the reasons that Mothers' Day is such an endearing holiday.  Even if no one else loves you, your mother does.  She will listen to your stories, kiss your boo-boos, and tell you that your crayon drawing is wonderful and put it on the fridge.  Even when you were naughty, she still gave you a nice meal and provided clean clothes in the morning.  Even battle-hardened soldiers who have been wounded will long for their mothers.  The enemy may shoot at you; your sergeant may yell at you; but your mother will still love you.  She gave you life, and she loves the life that came through her.  She does not withdraw her love, even if you break her heart.
     But the rest of the world does not love you that way.  No matter what the group, they have standards which you must meet before you are welcomed in.  You need to dress the right way, like the same music, and have the same enemies.  If you are different, you might be tolerated.  If you are too different, you will be excluded or even mocked.  And because we all have a longing to be accepted, we wonder, “Why are they so mean to me?  What did I ever do to them?”
     Now, consider Peter's words again: “Once you had not received mercy...  Once you were not a people...” (1 Peter 2:10)  People who live in the darkness of sin and unbelief can only hope that God will accept them.  They can never know.  But even Christians sometimes wonder.  Like any unbeliever, we are also guilty of being wicked and stubborn and despising those who are different.  God has good reason for not being merciful to us.  We have given God a valid excuse for saying, “Those are not my people.  My people don't think, speak, or act like that!”  How can God accept what he has forbidden?  How can God lay claim to what he condemns?
     God lays claim to us because he loves what he has created.  All life came from the Father, and he loves the life that came from him.  Therefore, he was not willing to discard humanity because we have become wicked and stubborn and mean to those who are different.  Rather than withhold his mercy, he poured out mercy upon us—even before we asked for it!  Rather than forsake us, he became one of us and took up our cause.  Now you are the people of God because of Jesus.  For Jesus “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.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)  
     Now you are the people of God.  The Father does not merely tolerate you; he loves you.  He took great pains to make you his own.  He sent his one and only Son who did everything in order to make you children of the heavenly Father.  Rather than condemn you because you have been wicked or stubborn, he condemned his Son who bore the guilt of every wicked deed and stubborn heart.  Rather than withhold mercy from you because you have refused mercy to those who are different, he withheld his mercy from Jesus who truly is different; for he is without sin and full of compassion.  Jesus was cast into darkness at his crucifixion to bring you into God's wonderful light.  Nor did our Lord wait for you to clean yourself up before he bestowed mercy upon you.  Rather, in his mercy, he cleansed you of your guilt through Holy Baptism.  And there in Holy Baptism, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit put his name on you to mark you as his own.  Now you are the people of God—redeemed, restored, and forgiven through Jesus' precious blood.
     You have been set apart from everything that is cursed, and you are loved, desired, and accepted by God.  Just listen to the status you have been raised to: “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.” (1 Peter 2:9) 
     Now you are the people of God.  You have been brought into a kingdom that is not known for its borders, language, or ethnic background.  You are known by the Lord as those who are his chosen—set apart from eternity to be God's redeemed.  You are royals—sons and daughters of the King.  As priests, you are people who bear God's name and serve him in whatever vocation he gives to you.  Your service to God is not limited to what you do for church.  You are the people of God wherever you go and in whatever task you do.  Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or mopping the floors of that company, God views your work as holy—for it is done by his holy people for the good of your neighbors.  Just as you have been sanctified in the blood of Jesus, so also your labors are sanctified in the sight of God and pleasing as service to him.  This is how you are his priests—serving as God's people, bearing God's name, and being God's hands to the world.
     Now you are the people of God.  Now you have been shown mercy.  Now you are enlightened to know and cherish God's love for the wicked, stubborn, and different.  And that is why we ought to love others, too.  We do not demand that people match some criteria before we love them.  Since that is now how God loves, neither do we.  Like God, we also strive to love the wicked, stubborn, and different.  For, love and mercy are never based on someone else's worthiness, morality, or friendliness.  It is simply given because it is needed.  And we never want to give the impression that God loves, desires, and accepts only the right kind of people.  Rather, God has mercy upon sinners, cleanses them, and makes them his people—just as he has done for us.
     That is why St. Peter's picture of the church is not a building, but people.  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)  As living stones, you have been called to be like Christ who is the rock on which the whole Church is built and survives.  Even if access to a church building is restricted, God's people and promises are not limited in any way.  God's mercy still is bestowed through his word whether it is proclaimed online, spoken around the family table, or confessed to a neighbor.  God's love is demonstrated by godly lives that seek the good of others.  No one can bind these things, and there are no restrictions on them.
     So now, you are the living stones built on Christ.  Now you are the people of God.  Since you belong to Christ who has overcome death to live and reign forever, so also you shall overcome death to live and reign with him.  For God loves what he has created.  He has acted to redeem you and reclaim you; and through you he will act to redeem and reclaim others.  To him, you are chosen and holy.  To him, you are loved, desired, and accepted.  To him, you are family.  So, for him and in his name, we live and serve and proclaim and praise.

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

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