Stewards of Grace Daniel 7:13-14, Acts 1:1-11, & 1 Peter 4:7-11 by William Klock The Feast of the Ascension reminds us each year that Jesus is Lord. The empty tomb…
Bible Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11, John 15:25-16:6 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Waiting Expectantly 1 St. Peter 4:7-11 & St. John 15:26-16:4 by William Klock This past Thursday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lord’s Ascension – one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year. It’s really sad that we don’t do more with it, because it really is just as important as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter when we look at the great events in the life and ministry of Jesus. It really ought to be our great festival here in this parish. We bear the name of Christ, who is the true, incarnate, and Living Word of God. Without the Ascension, Whitsunday has no meaning, because the coming of the Holy Spirit was the fulfilment of the promise made by Christ at his Ascension: “I’m leaving you, but I will send one to help you.” On Friday of this week one of you came by the house and left some flowers, but because we weren’t able to receive them in person and didn’t know who they came from – at least for a few hours – there was, for that short time, a certain ambiguity about the gift. They were appreciated and welcome, but not knowing the source made it difficult to know what to do. Just so with the gift of the Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that makes the Church the Church, it’s the Holy Spirit that works in us to renew our hearts and minds and turn them to Christ. It’s the Holy Spirit that actively works in us to stamp out sin and set us apart for God. It’s the Holy Spirit that bears witness of the divine origin of the Gospel message itself. The Spirit is a great gift. But that gift would never have come had Christ himself not Ascended, and without Christ’s promise to and commissioning of his followers at his Ascension, we wouldn’t know what to do with that great gift. The Ascension promise gives us hope. It tells us that Christ is not leaving us alone to do his work. He isn’t leaving to establish a merely heavenly Kingdom. He’s going to his heavenly throne, but he’s doing so, so that he can rule over his spiritual kingdom here on earth. But lest we become complacent, the Ascension promise also reminds us to get busy building our Lord’s Kingdom. He’s is coming back and he’s coming back soon. We have lots of work to do! And so here on this Sunday that sits between the Ascension and Whitsunday, we remember not only the promise of the Spirit that will be fulfilled a week from today, but we also remember the promise Jesus made of his sure, certain, and soon return to come back for his Bride, the Church. As we sit here in this season of waiting, the Lessons remind us of what it is Christ calls and prepares his people to do here in the world as representatives of his heavenly Kingdom. Look with me, if you will, at our Epistle Lesson from St. Peter’s First Epistle: The end of all things is at hand; therefore keep sane and sober for your prayers. (1 Peter 4:7) I don’t know about you, but I find it really interesting that the Apostle Peter tells us this first. “The end is near, so keep sane and keep sober.” First, this is a caution. Don’t freak out just because the end is near. Don’t run around like you hair’s on fire, screaming that the end is coming tonight, tomorrow, or next week. St. Peter also wants us to keep things in the proper perspective. He’s telling us that the end is near, that Christ will return soon, because he wants us to understand that this gives urgency to our mission. Think about it. If there’s no deadline, there’s not much incentive to get the work done. He’s saying, “The end is near. No don’t go running off in a crazed frenzy. We have work to do.” It’s just like the two angels we read about in the Ascension Gospel: Jesus ascended into heaven, and while the disciples just kept standing around staring up into space – I would bet for a pretty long time – two angels suddenly appeared with them and basically said, “Hey, why are you guys standing around staring into the sky? Don’t you realize he’s gonna come back. You have work to do!” There are a lot of preachers and teachers who seem to have missed the point of this. St. Peter’s point isn’t the precise timing of Jesus return, it’s that he’s going to return so we need to get busy doing what he told us to do. But a lot of preachers, instead of getting busy doing what Jesus told us to do, get fixated on the “time is at hand part.” For two thousand years we’ve had men missing the whole point, misreading books like Daniel and Revelation, trying to fit the current events of their day into what’s already come and gone in the past, and ultimately getting Christians side-tracked from the real business of the Kingdom. These off-base preachers get Christians all fired up, but not about our Gospel call – they get them all fired up about the end of the world that they think is going to happen tomorrow. But then it doesn’t happen tomorrow. Think of all the wasted energy that could have been put into just being the Church. That’s why Peter says, “Stay sane. Stay sober!” Look at the next verses: Above all hold unfailing your love for one another, since love covers a multitude of sins. Practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another. (1 Peter 4:8-9) People who are looking for one Lord need to draw closer together, encouraging one another, as the writer of Hebrews says, Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25) I find this really interesting. If it were up to me, I’d be saying, “The end is at hand. Get busy sharing the Gospel with the world out there.” But Peter says, “The end is at hand. Get busy loving one another. Show each other what grace is all about. Don’t be afraid to give of yourself to help others.” But you see, before we can go out into the world, the Church needs to be what it is called to be in and of herself. I think this is what St. John gets at in his First Epistle: “if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” If you think about it, it makes perfect sense, especially after what St. James told us last week about being doers, not just hearers. It’s love and light that gather in the outcasts. It’s love and light that keeps the flock from straying away. It’s love and light that feeds the sheep and tends the lambs. It’s love and light that are important to the Good Shepherd. If you think about this from the perspective of our Epistle last week, when our Good Shepherd returns he won’t come looking for his Church based on our right belief. No, he’ll come looking for us and will find us by seeing the evidence of our faith and belief worked out in practise. He’ll be saying well done, good and faithful servant based on our having shown hospitality, based on how we’ve treated each other, and based on the love we’ve shown. A master doesn’t reward his servant for knowing what he was supposed to do in the master’s absence. He rewards the servant for actually having done it. It’s just so for us when our Lord and master returns. And that leads us into the rest of the Epistle: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies; in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11) As we await our Lord’s soon return we really do need to see ourselves as servants – more specifically as stewards of what God has given to us. But we’re not just stewards in respect to God, were also stewards in respect to each other. As Christians we all make up the Body of Christ and God gives each of us gifts and abilities to use to build up that body. And not just to build it up, but to make it active so that it can do the work that God wants it to do. This has got to be the number one reason why the Church is so often ineffective. I’m glad this isn’t the typical Church, but neither is it perfect. In the “typical” Church 10% of the people do 90% of the work. It’s also usually true that 10% of the people give 90% of the financial support. Here’s something to ponder: What would happen if 10% of your body did 90% of the work. You wouldn’t survive. Thankfully God is gracious. Thankfully God has built his body in such a way that it doesn’t die if only 10% of it is working. But at the same time, the Body of Christ is crippled if the person gifted to be an ear is also forced by necessity to also be an eye and a finger, because the people gifted to be eyes and fingers aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do. St. Peter’s telling us here, if God has gifted you – and he’s gifted all of us generously – don’t hold out. He’s gifted you for a reason. Not using your gifts to build up the church is just as much a sin as anything else. We need to ask ourselves if we’re willing to give back to God for his service some of our time, talents, and treasure. All those things came from him in the first place. If we’re not willing to give a portion of them back to God, then we’ve got a big problem – not just personally, but the entire body – because were missing what God expects us to be using to fulfil his Great Commission. If we’ve got it all sorted out what we’re supposed to be doing internally as the Church, Christ’s Great Commission follows naturally. The waiting Church is called to be a witnessing Church. Look at our lesson from St. John’s Gospel: But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26-27) When the Counsellor comes. In the Greek the word is parakletos. It literally means, the one who “comes alongside.” This is the Holy Spirit, who was sent into the world once Christ had Ascended to heaven. He is the Spirit of Truth. The disciples had been with Jesus through everything, and most importantly, they were eyewitnesses to his death, resurrection, and ascension. They were called to go out and share what they had seen as witnesses, but Jesus says that the Spirit will “come alongside” as a witness too. And the Spirit did exactly that. The most profound instance was on Whitsunday itself. Pastor Bill will be preaching on this next week, but we all know the story. St. Peter got up to preach. He talked about what Christ had done in his life, death, and resurrection. He talked as an eyewitness, but it was when the Spirit came that the real work was done of changing hearts. There was a great sound like wind, tongues of flame came down and rested on their heads, and the believers there started speaking in other languages. Peter gave the message, but the Spirit backed it up with the authority of God. The Spirit gave the signs and wonders to prove the divine source of the message. And we see this throughout the New Testament. You always see the Spirit providing miracles to accompany the Gospel message of the apostles. The Spirit served as a witness to convince men and women of the truth of the Gospel. The New Testament period was a special time with a special need. Those early disciples were sharing a message to a world that had never heard it before and had no historical witness. They had the Old Testament, but the inspired books of the New Testament weren’t written yet, and so the Spirit manifested in ways and to an extent that it never has since. And this is why it’s so important that the inner life of the people of God be right, as we see St. Peter saying in our Epistle. We still do sometimes see the Spirit work those amazing miracles, but today the greatest miracle of all – and the greatest of all witnesses to the world – is the regenerated and renewed heart of the believer. We have the authoritative Word of God written to share with the world, and to back up its truth, the Spirit renews our sinners’ hearts and puts in them a love for God that should show the world the power of the Gospel. If the fruit of the Spirit are missing from our lives, half of our message is missing – we become hypocrites. And as we go out with our message, Jesus also give us a warning and an encouraging word here: I have said all this to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues; indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you of them. (John 15:26-16:4) Jesus promised the Spirit would come alongside. The disciples might not have understood why they needed a divine helper, so Jesus warns them, telling them that there will come a time – not very far off – when they’d not only be thrown out of the synagogues, but that Jewish and Roman leaders alike would put them to death. In his death and resurrection, Jesus had won the victory over Satan. Yet in his fury Satan, like some kind of Hitleresque madman out for world domination and learning that his chances have just been shot, goes on a wild rampage of fury just before he’s finally caught and dealt with. We see just this happening in the early years of the Church. The Jewish nation rejected the truth of God for a lie. They rejected God’s Messiah and turned on his people with a fury that can only be described as demonic. They not only threw the Christians out of the synagogues, but rounded them up and brutally put them to death. Saul of Tarsus was just one such persecuting Jew. But even after the Jewish nation was destroyed in A.D. 70, the Roman Empire rose up against the next generation of Christians in much the same way, until God brought about his judgment on them as well, ushering in his Kingdom. The blood of the martyrs became a witness of the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We’ve been spared the great tribulation that those early Christians experienced, but it’s still not always easy to confess Christ in every aspect of our lives. We can expect to be ridiculed for giving witness to him by what we are, by what Christ has done in us, and by what we do for him. But Jesus tells us here not to lose faith because our success comes slowly. He predicted this from the beginning. Jesus tells us that we run into opposition because the people around us don’t know him. And when that happens, what we need to do is to show those people Jesus. They need to see Jesus in us. They need to hear about Jesus from us. And that means being consistent followers of Christ. The need to see the Spirit bearing witness – backing up our message – through our own changed lives. Today as we gather at our Lord’s Table, we need to remember that here Our Lord gives us a foretaste of the marriage feast that waits for us in heaven. Those faithful martyrs of the Early Church built their hopes and future on and around the confident expectation of their Lord’s soon return. But we today still have the same hope. If anything I think we have even more reason to be hopeful, confident, and eager, remembering the final message of our exalted groom, “Behold, I come quickly!” For two thousand years the Church through all the ages has been kept conscious of her status as the bride of Christ and has hopefully looked forward to his return. What’s kept her hopeful is that each Sunday the faithful are able to gather here at his Table and remember to whom we belong. He says to us here, “Take and eat this, my body. Take and drink, this my blood. Do this in memory of me until I come again.” Each Sunday we see and hear him again – we hear him remind us of his soon coming in glory, and as we hear him, we trust in his promise and wait expectantly for the hour of his return. We are his people. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, we you for sending your Son to redeem us from our sins. We thank you not only for his coming, for his death, and for his resurrection, but also for his glorious Ascension, through which we have the promise of his soon return. We thank you for giving us the gift of your Holy Spirit as we await his return. As we wait, Father, let us put your gifts to use. Let us not be a complacent people, but instead let us be a people that puts your gifts to use: loving one another and showing your love to those around us in the world, that we may build your Kingdom in anticipation of your Son’s soon return. We ask this in and through his name. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:11-16 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter 1 St. Peter 2:19-25 & St. John 10:11-16 by William Klock Last Sunday we had a little bit of a history lesson about how new believers were brought into the Church in ancient times—how during Lent they were taught the faith and asked to make a real commitment to Christ and to his Body; how they were baptised at Easter, bringing them into the Body of Christ; how they were dressed in white robes to symbolise their having been washed clean by Jesus; and how they were given candles as a reminder that they now bore the light of Christ as they went out into the world—to be visibly different—to be Easter people who lived new life in the power of the Resurrection. These Eastertide Epistles and Gospels were selected to teach the Church what it means and what it looks like to live that resurrection life—to be a first course of lessons for those new believers, but also to remind those of us who have been here for a while—to call us back to those first things, those basic things of the faith that we sometimes take for granted or that we sometimes even forget. I think these lessons are especially important for us today—or at least they should be. One thing that strikes me as I read the history of the Church is just how effective those early Christians were in living out their new life, in holding high the light of Christ in a dark world, and in drawing others to Jesus. Those first three hundred years were a time of persecution for the Church, and yet the way Christians responded to that persecution, the way they responded to sin and evil in the world, drew men and women to Jesus in droves. They weren’t perfect. There were problems in those days. Plenty of Christians renounced their faith when persecution came, some fought back, but most didn’t. Most of those Christians lived their lives faithfully, even sometimes to the point of death, and because of them the kingdom grew. But friends, something’s changed since then. Eventually the light spread so far that people started to equate “Western Civilisation” with “Christendom”. We had, as much as we can say such a thing is possible, a “Christian society”. And then we got lazy. Committing to Jesus didn’t mean what it did in those early days—in fact, for the most part, we didn’t commit to Christ—we were just born Christians. We held the faith more and more superficially. And worse, since virtually everyone was a Christian and since we were all born into the Church, we stopped evangelising. Maybe we sent a few missionaries to darkest Africa or to pagans living on remote islands in the South Seas, but we didn’t do much at home. And gradually more and more people became nothing more than nominal Christians with no commitment to Jesus, and more and more they simply turned their backs on the Church—and the more who turned their backs on the Church, the more our society became less and less committed to Christian principles and Christian morality. And now we’ve realised what’s happening, we realise that we’re now in a post-Christian culture—we even now are beginning to experience occasional persecution for our faith, although so far in pretty minor ways—and we don’t know what to do. The early Christians knew what to do: When you’re in the dark, let your light burn brightly and hold it high! Draw others to it. But we’ve lost that. We’ve let our lights burn down. They’re dim. They’re not very effective. And we don’t really realise how dim they are—probably because there are so few truly bright lights for comparison. We wonder why people are turning away from our dim light, why they’re not interested. And so we try drawing them with other things. We set our lights aside and we try to legislate people into living like Christians—after all, there are still enough of us committed to Christian morality that, at least for a few more years, we have power at the polls and power in the legislature. But we forget that passing laws that force people to live by Christian standards in public, doesn’t change what they do in private and doesn’t solve their basic problem—they need Jesus. Or our churches turn to worldly means to draw people in. We turn worship into a show—“worshiptainment”—and instead of preaching the Scriptures, preaching Christ, preaching that men and women are sinners and that the cross is our only hope—we turn the pulpit into a platform for preaching self-help and tickling itching ears. Sure, we draw people in, but we’re converting them to programs and motivational speakers—not to Jesus. We entice people with what Jesus can do for them, but there’s little if any preaching on what we should do for Jesus. Jesus tells us that to follow him means to bear a cross. In today’s Church we’re happy to let Jesus bear his cross for us, but there’s little if any teaching on the fact that to follow him, we need to bear our own crosses—we need to follow him in his example of suffering. Sure, it draws people in, but it doesn’t make them Christians—it just gives them a false assurance that when they die they’ll be okay, when in fact they won’t. We end up with churches full of people seeking God’s blessing instead of fulfilling their true purpose and seeking themselves to bless God. Brothers and sisters, what we need more than anything is to be true people of the Resurrection. We need to let the Easter message sink in and really and truly transform our lives, so that we no longer live as we once did, we no longer live as the world does, but we live for Jesus and we model Jesus to the world around us. We take our lights—that light of Christ that was given to us in our baptism—kindle it, feed it with God’s Word, feed it with God’s sacraments, feed it with the Holy Spirit, feed it with our fellowship and our love for each other; feed it with the grace of God working in us so that it burns brightly—so that it shows radically transformed lives to the world. Think of all the people that St. Peter influenced by holding his light high and by burning it brightly. And yet think about what he was like before he was Saint Peter. He was a simple fisherman, probably a pretty “salty” guy. Yes, he was a Jew and must have been faithful to some degree before Jesus got to him, but his thinking was very worldly. It was far from Christian. When Jesus told him that his mission was to die, Peter was adamant: “No, Lord! No way, not you!” When the soldiers came to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus, Peter was the one who came prepared with a sword and attacked one of the soldiers, cutting off his ear. That was Peter: impetuous, violent, not afraid of a fight. How many people knew that Peter? I wonder how many people had maybe been in a barroom brawl with Peter at some point. And so it seems very appropriate that the words of today’s Epistle come from him. Look at 1 Peter 2:19-25 and consider the change that people who knew Peter would have witnessed in him. He says: For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. Peter was writing this around A.D. 62 or 63 from Rome. Since his time with Jesus he had learned something about cross-bearing and about persecution. He had faced the rabid persecution of the Jews, twenty years earlier he had been locked away in prison by Herod Agrippa. But he had endured persecution with humility because Jesus had transformed him—it was a work of grace in his life. The old Peter would have gone to battle—probably got himself killed resisting arrest or knocked heads together in a street brawl in Jerusalem. But Saint Peter was ready to count it all as the cost of discipleship—the cost of following Jesus. He was ready to take up his cross and follow his Lord—all the way to death, if necessary. He writes, literally, “For this is grace”—this is what it means to live your life in the grace of God, not by the desire of the flesh or the way of the world. You have the example of Jesus before you, showing you the right way to respond—to endure suffering and persecution with humility and grace. He says: For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? [That’s a no-brainer. Being punished for sin is just—it’s deserved suffering.] But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:20) This is where Jesus calls us to be different and that means this is one of those area of life that demands a change on our part. If we’re willing to suffer graciously for the good we do—for following Christ—our lights are going to shine brightly. History bears it out; when Christians are humble in the face of persecution, the Church always grows. The severity of the persecution may vary—there are times when Christians have been martyred for their faith and other times when persecution has been little more than an inconvenience—but Peter reminds us: this isn’t optional; this is what it means to commit to Jesus and to truly follow him. He just comes right out and says it in verse 21: For to this you have been called, [This is as much our mission as anything else. Why?] because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [All we have to do is look at his example.] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [He was perfect in every way. Jesus never endured a just punishment for sin, because he never sinned.] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, [Think of him being beaten by the chief priest’s soldiers, being dragged before Pilate, being beaten senseless by Roman soldiers, and then being nailed to a cross while the crowd jeered at him.] but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:21-23) It’s not just that we have Jesus’ example to follow. Is suffering a hard thing? You bet it is. That’s why Jesus likens it to cross-bearing. But Peter also reminds us that we have hope and faith in a higher judge. Jesus trusted in his Father and so can we. We know that God has a greater plan for us and for the world. And if we are in Christ, we should have an eternal, not an earthly perspective. For the people of the world—the people living in darkness—this is all there is. You’ve got to look out for “Number One”, you’ve got to protect your rights, because if you don’t get the most out of life before you die, you don’t get another chance—there’s nothing more. That’s why the cross is foolish to the world. Why sacrifice yourself for others? If someone takes what’s yours or steps on your rights, you take them back, you put up a fight! That was Peter’s attitude when Jesus told him that his mission was the cross. That was Peter’s attitude when he drew his sword and attacked the soldiers. But in light of Jesus and his mission and sacrifice, Peter learned better. Jesus didn’t come into the world to demand what was his or to look out for “Number One”. In fact, his mission was exactly the opposite: to set the glory aside that was his by right as God and to allow himself to be crucified for the sake of the very people who crucified him—to offer his life for the lives of his enemies. And now Peter’s calling us to follow the example of Jesus. Our redemption has already been bought by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus, but as we follow his example of self-sacrifice, we bear testimony to what Jesus did. His death and resurrection brought light to us and by following his example we show that light to the world. Peter goes on: 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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24-25) Jesus died that we might live—that we might be made holy—and so he calls us to live to righteousness—to be a holy people. And that’s why we will face persecution: the world doesn’t like holy people—it’s hated holiness all the back to when Cain killed Abel. In a sense, persecution is the test of whether or not we’re truly following Jesus. Let me also say: Peter reminds us that suffering is a means of grace. There are circles in the Church these days that are teaching that suffering and sickness and persecution aren’t God’s will for anyone and that if you’re suffering any of these things, what you’re really suffering from is a lack of faith. That’s dangerous teaching, but it’s appealing. It’s infiltrated a lot of churches—including some in our own community—because it tickles itching ears and appeals to our worldliness. And yet that sort of teaching stops our ears to the voice of God as he tries to get our attention—as he tries to grow us in our faith, to grow us in his grace, and to kindle our lights to burn more brightly. Isaac Williams put it this way: “We speak of disappointments, of troubles, of enemies, and quarrels; nay, even of death itself, in another manner to that of Scripture. [We think of them as bad things.] For what is sorrow of heart within but the voice of the good Shepherd seeking us? what is affliction but His struggle in order to free and disentangle us from the thorns of the world? what are dissensions and ill-will from without but the means by which He would mould us more in conformity with Himself? what are worldly dangers but occasions of His drawing us more nearly unto His side? and what is death itself to the good Christian but the gathering of His own more securely into His arms, from which nothing hereafter shall ever draw them away?” It’s not that God wants us to suffer, but that he wants to focus our eyes on eternity and wants us to grow in holiness and in faith, and to learn to lean on him for our strength. And as we see throughout the Scriptures, suffering and persecution are often the most effective ways for us to learn these lessons. They are truly means of grace. And if suffering is a means of grace, then we know that God is truly looking out for us as we experience it. As I said earlier, St. Peter had endured his own share of suffering for his faith and these words of his would be particularly encouraging just a year or two after he wrote them, when Nero would blame the Christians for Rome’s burning. After the early persecution of the Church by the Jews, Nero’s persecution would be one of the most intense. Horrible things were done to the Christians in and around Rome, but as they were sent to the arena, or, like Peter, crucified, they could do so graciously knowing that the Shepherd and Bishop of their souls was looking out for them. And we have an excellent illustration of this from Jesus’ own lips in our Gospel—maybe an illustration that Peter had in mind when he wrote his epistle. Jesus says: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:11-16) Jesus isn’t just an example to follow in his suffering. He’s also our loving caretaker as his flock faces persecution and suffering—that is, after all, why he gave his life for us! As I was studying this week, I ran across this beautiful commentary on the Good Shepherd by F.W. Robertson: “Beneath the burning skies and the clear starry nights of Palestine there grows up between the shepherd and his flock an union of attachment and tenderness. It is the country where at any moment sheep are liable to be swept away by some mountain-torrent, or carried off by hill-robbers, or torn by wolves. At any moment their protector may have to save them by personal hazard…Every hour of the shepherd's life is risk. Sometimes for the sake of an armful of grass in the parched summer days, he must climb precipices almost perpendicular, and stand on a narrow ledge of rock, where the wild goat will scarcely venture. Pitiless showers, driving snows, long hours of thirst—all this he must endure, if the flock is to be kept at all. “And thus there grows up between the man and the dumb creatures he protects, a kind of friendship…You love those for whom you risk, and they love you; therefore it is that, not as here where the flock is driven, the shepherd goes before and the sheep follow him. They follow in perfect trust, even though he should be leading them away from a green pasture, by a rocky road, to another pasture they cannot yet see…Hirelings are shepherds, but not good shepherds…they are tested by danger…Now a man is a hireling when he does his duty for pay. He may do it in his way faithfully. The paid shepherd would not desert the sheep for a shower or a cold night. But the lion and the bear—he is not paid to risk his life against them, and the sheep are not his, so he leaves them to their fate…The cause of the sheep is not his cause.” Brothers and sisters, we can take comfort and ground our faith in the fact that we are his cause! We were Jesus’ cause in life two thousand years ago when he went to the cross, offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, and we are still just as much his cause now that our redemption is accomplished—even in our suffering. We were his cause when he made it possible for us to live as light in the darkness and we continue to be his cause as we live as his light—as he works in us graciously to kindle our light so that it will shine brighter. Every Sunday should be a reminder to us of this reality. As we gather to celebrate the Resurrection—that’s what every Sunday is—he comes to us as our Good Shepherd in Word and Sacrament. He, the eternal Word of God, speaks to us as we hear his Word read to us in the Scriptures and explained from the pulpit and as he graciously invites us to his Table to partake of his Body and Blood shed for us. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” Those words are fulfilled as he speaks to us from the Scriptures, where he reveals himself, his ways, and his truths to us. And yet what we do here on Sunday in hearing God’s Word, sets an example that we should all be following daily ourselves as we steep ourselves in the Scriptures. No day should pass without our reading at least a short passage of Scripture—without our hearing the Shepherd’s voice. Pious Parsch put it beautifully: “As often as we read the Bible, we should feel like sheep of the flock, lying at the feet of the Good Shepherd. He knows me, and it is my desire to learn to know Him better and better.” Can you say that yourself? But at his Table—in the Holy Communion—our Shepherd makes himself known in an even deeper way. The Word gives us knowledge of God, his ways, and his will, but the Sacrament applies the grace of the Word in a deeply significant way. The Holy Communion reminds us that our knowledge of God isn’t just head-knowledge—not just knowing about him. It reminds us that we know him personally—that we’re mystically united to him, our spirits to his Spirit. He says, “He that eats my flesh and drinks my blood, abides in me, and I in him.” By his shed Body and Blood he unites us with himself in loving fellowship and so as we come to his Table we should feel ourselves truly the sheep of his pasture. He feeds us here—feeds us with his grace—so let his grace kindle your light so that it shines brightly. Let him be your shepherd. Follow him even though it means taking up your cross. Pursue holiness even though it means sufferings, and let your light burn brightly for the world to see. Let us pray: “Almighty God, who gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly life; give us grace that we may always receive with thankfulness the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavour to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bible Text: 1 Peter 2:11-17; John 16:16-22 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Third Sunday after Easter 1 St. Peter 2:11-17 & St. John 16:16-22 by William Klock Today’s lessons dovetail off last week’s as we continue on with this look at what it means to live as Easter people—as people of the Resurrection. Last Sunday we heard St. Peter telling us that to follow Jesus means to pursue holiness and to be persecuted for it by the world. And we looked a bit at Peter’s own life so that we could see the amazing change that Jesus had made in his life. Thirty or forty years earlier, people who knew Peter probably would have laughed if you’d told them that he would write these words about enduring suffering with grace. Peter was the big fisherman—rough and tough and always ready to take a stand for himself and his friends. When Jesus said that his mission was the cross, it was Peter who shouted, “No Lord! Not you!” When the soldiers came for Jesus, it was Peter who expected trouble and was wearing a sword. It was Peter who attacked the soldiers rather than let Jesus be taken away to suffering and death. And now, thirty years later, he writes to his fellow Christians that to follow Jesus is to take up our own crosses—to endure our own suffering, and sometimes even death. What a change! And yet, brothers and sisters, this is the change that distinguishes the early Church from the modern Church in the West—even from the Church here in the Comox Valley and Vancouver Island. In those early centuries of Church history, Christians drew others to Jesus in amazing numbers. They converted an empire to the cross, mostly by being willing to take up their own crosses, by be willing to set aside their own rights and desires and ambitions, and instead, looking out for others—desiring to live by the example of Jesus. They understood the cost of discipleship, but they were willing to pay it because, as Peter puts it, they had put themselves in the hands of “the Shepherd and Bishop” of their souls. They were effective witnesses because they were a people truly, visibly, and dramatically reborn in the likeness of Jesus—people like Peter, the rough and tough fisherman, always ready for a fight, who changed his life and took up the cure of souls and eventually was crucified for his faith. They were lights shining brightly in the darkness. By contrast, our light is dim. And because our lights are dim, no one comes. Our churches are too often more obsessed with tickling itching ears and attracting people with worldly, man-centred teaching than they are with truly preaching the Gospel and committing themselves to holiness and to selfless sacrifice in the face of the world. As Christians we say we’ve entrusted ourselves to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, but for all intents and purposes when the world looks at us it still sees people who look for their security in bank accounts, houses and cars, jobs, and the accumulation of worldly stuff. When they see us, they see people that often aren’t much more holy than they are. And sadly, they see people who, when their rights are stepped on or who when things don’t go our way, fight back—people an awful lot like Peter before he was Saint Peter. And the end result is that the Church looks more and more like the world, her light grows less and less bright, she draws fewer and fewer people. Friends, the time is short. Don’t let us squander it. In our Gospel this morning we heard those words over and over: “a little while”. Jesus told his disciples that he was leaving, but not for long. In a little while he’d be back. He said these words as part of his farewell address to his disciples, just before he was arrested, and the immediate situation was his death. He would be gone and they would mourn, but in a little while—just three days—he’d be back and they could rejoice with him in the Resurrection. But Jesus words obviously refer to more than just what was going to happen that over the next several days. These words prepared his disciples for his ascension. He was resurrected on that first Easter morning and was with his disciples in resurrected glory for fifty days, and then he ascended—he went to his Father—and was gone again—and again, they might have mourned if it weren’t for the fact that they knew he would come back “in a little while”. And as St. Augustine said when he preached on this passage, these words are for all Christians, because we all live in expectation of our Lord’s return, and if it seems like it’s more than just a “little while”, that’s only because we lack eternal perspective—we don’t understand that our time here, even if we live to be a hundred, is nothing compared to eternity. Even if we wait another thousand or another ten thousands years for Jesus to return, that time is nothing compared to the eternal joys of the New Jerusalem. St. Peter takes up the same theme in the Epistle as he exhorts us to follow Jesus and live truly transformed lives—to witness the resurrection life of Christ to the world. Jesus encourages us, reminding us that this life, as we struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil—this life in which we face suffering and persecution, is just for “a little while”. And Peter tells us: Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11) “Be different,” he says. “Let your light shine brightly even though it means putting up a fight against all the worldly things that pull you in other directions and that would make your light dim. Just remember that you’re a sojourner, that you’re an exile here in this world. It can pull at you all it wants, but the world’s business is not your own. Heaven is your business.” And friends, that why the early Christians were so effective: they knew that their home was heavenly and they made the things of heaven their business. They focused on the things of the world only so much as they had to. They took care of business here, whether that was work or family or even their recreation, but they didn’t live for those things. No, they lived for Jesus and they lived for eternity. They knew that it’s really his kingdom that matters. Think of Jesus’ own example. One day a scribe came to him and said, “I want to follow you.” And Jesus knew that this man wasn’t ready to count the cost. He told him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). Even when it came to family—and I think that’s the one thing, even when we’ve put God ahead of everything else in our lives we still often put our families before God—even when it came to family, Jesus knew that his Father’s kingdom was more important. When his mother and brothers wanted to visit him, he instead put his arms around his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Matthew 12:48). St. Matthew tells us that on another occasion, one of the disciples asked Jesus to let him go home to bury his father. Jesus said to him, “Follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” Another time he said to Peter, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). Jesus’ point wasn’t that we should abandon our worldly obligations, but that following him truly means putting him first. Again, in Matthew 10:37-39 he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” How do we shape up to those words in light of our own commitment to Jesus—or lack thereof? We say, “Well, Jesus didn’t mean those things literally.” And, yes, we might be right to a point, but how often do we say that and use it as an excuse to justify our lack of commitment to Jesus? He’s given us a new citizenship and with that heavenly citizenship comes a new mission. He makes us strangers and sojourners in the world. But so often we choose to live with a dual citizenship. We claim heaven as our home on Sunday mornings, but when we walk out those doors, instead of living like sojourners, we take up our full rights as citizens of the world. We sing praises on Sunday, we commit ourselves to God at his Table, and we go out with that command: “Go forth in peace to love and serve the Lord,” but instead we go out to love and serve the world. And then we wonder why we find it so hard to draw people into the kingdom of God. Peter goes on in verse 12: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. In Peter’s day there were all sorts of false accusations that were made against Christians. Because we worship only one God—something the Greek and the Romans just couldn’t wrap their heads around—Christians were accused of being atheists. People heard that Christians ate the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and accused them of cannibalism. Because Christians were truly committed to Jesus and refused to declare the emperor as their lord, they were accused of being disloyal. The list goes on and on, and so Peter says to them: Even as the pagans around you accuse you of all sorts of evils, making all sorts of false accusations, and even—as we saw last week—as they persecute you for your righteousness, live “honourably”. Literally, he says, live lives that are good and beautiful. Why? Here’s where Peter takes us back to that idea of cross bearing. I know a lot of Christians—and sometimes you and I are those Christians—who look at sin in the world and who experience persecution for our righteousness and we respond with a self-righteous attitude. It’s like we just can’t wait for judgement day so that all those dirtbags—all those people who laughed at our faith, all those gays and people having sex outside of marriage, all those druggies, all those atheists—they just can’t wait to see the surprised look on their faces when God judges them and they get sucked straight to hell. They forget that they’re sinners too. They forget that at one point they were dirtbag sinners that would be hellbound on Judgement Day too if it hadn’t been for Jesus. So Peter doesn’t tell us: Live good lives so that you can sit at the right hand of the Father on Judgement Day and smugly gloat at all the people going to hell. Live good and beautiful lives so that by your example, the pagans around you will see Jesus at work in you. Shine your lights brightly in the dark so that the men and women will see your light and be drawn to it. You ought to be concerned for their souls. When Jesus was dying on the cross he looked at the people gathered around him—the people who had crucified him and were jeering at him—and he cried out to his Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And as we bear our own crosses in the world—as we face the world’s scorn and false accusations—we should have the same attitude that Jesus did, as kingdom people with our eyes set on heaven, our first thought shouldn’t be how our rights are being trampled, but should be on the fact that without our witness, the souls of these people are bound for eternal damnation—eternity apart from God. Peter goes on and gives us a practical example of what this looks like: Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Peter 2:13-15) It’s was providential that Peter gave this particular example of submitting to earthly government, because this is exactly where the persecution would be coming from in only a year or two. And yet even before state persecution started, Christians were asking: “Should I submit to the emperor? If I do, how far do I go?” The Roman emperors and governors did some evil things. We think our society is evil and focused on death and violence and sex, but the Greco-Roman world was much, much worse. And so Peter says to these people, that God’s people aren’t going to change the world by revolting against the government. He knew this was a mode of thinking that Christians could easily fall in to. This was what the Jews were stuck on for most of their history: looking for a warlord Messiah who would conquer the Romans and re-establish the old Davidic kingdom. But Peter understood now that God’s kingdom isn’t about an earthly place or an earthly temple—it’s about his people, his body, his Church. And so he reminds these people that change happens—that the kingdom comes—not through revolution, but through revelation—through God’s manifestation of himself to the world through his own people. So, he says in verse 16: Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Here’s our problem: Jesus died and through his death he bought our freedom. But we take that freedom for granted—we take his sacrifice and too often we claim it as our own and then we just stop at that point. We’re Good Friday people, but we forget that real Good Friday people are alsoEaster people. We forget that true faith always shows itself in works that are good and beautiful, because Jesus didn’t just die to save us from the penalty of our sins—he also died to save us from our actual sins—he died to make us holy. Peter saw some people who claimed to be followers of Jesus—who claimed to have faith and claimed Jesus as their Saviour—but who weren’t showing that they’d made him their Lord and who weren’t living the new, risen life that true and saving faith brings with it. They were basically using the salvation that Jesus offers at the cross as a “Get Out of Hell Free” card—“I can do whatever I want now and because I’m a Christian I don’t have to pay the eternal consequences.” And Peter reminds us, “No. If that’s how you live, you bring shame on Jesus and his body, you drive people away instead of drawing them in, and ultimately you just prove that your faith isn’t real.” This is one of the mysteries—one of the paradoxes—of Christianity: Through the shed blood of Jesus at the cross we are made free and yet at the same time we are made servants (literally, Peter says “slaves” in the Greek). Jesus frees us from our sins, but if we’re free from our sins, that means we’re also freed to do what we were never able to do before: to love him, to serve him, and to live a life of truth and beauty, a life of good works pleasing to him. And that kind of life shows itself—and commends itself—to others as we: Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:17) “Honour everyone.” That’s the “Golden Rule”—treat others as you would have them treat you. As you deal with other people in the world, remember that Jesus loves them and died for them just as he loves you and died for you. It’s amazing how this works to change our attitudes toward people. Pray for your enemies and do good to them. It’s hard to feel self-righteous toward, or to judge and condemn people for whom you’re praying. Instead, you remember that they’re people who need Jesus in their lives. It reminds you to shine your light brightly—and all the more brightly the more they trouble and persecute you. “Love the brotherhood”. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ—love the Body. Show the world what it means to be in love and fellowship and communion with each other. Too often people look at the Church and they see fights and splits and people who don’t get along—and that’s shameful. The first place to witness the love of Christ is right here in his Body. And then Peter says, “Fear God. Honour the emperor.” He brings all this back to where he started. Live in this word as sojourners and exiles. As you live in this world, remember that you’re just passing through—that it isn’t your true home, because your true home and your true citizenship are in heaven. But remember too that God has given you this temporary mission here for a reason—he wants you to be his ambassadors. He wants us to show the world what his kingdom is like and to draw others to it, so he says, “Don’t do anything to deliberately offend the world. Show the people around you respect and honour. Obey the laws and rules. But remember that God is your final authority. If there comes a time when you have to make a decision between obedience to him and obedience to the world, always follow him—but as much as it is possible, be a good ambassador of the kingdom of God and don’t give anyone reason to despise it. This week we were down in Victoria. It’s tourist season and there are Americans everywhere you go, and as an American I found myself cringing. There were so many bad ambassadors. These days Americans aren’t the most popular people on the planet, and as an American living in Canada I find I want to be a good ambassador—I want to prove people wrong when they say nasty things about Americans. But as I walked around Victoria, an awful lot of people were instead proving those accusation true. Brothers and sisters, as Christians we’re often bad ambassadors in the same way. People accuse us of being self-righteous, holier-than-thou hypocrites. Peter tells us to prove them wrong by being good ambassadors, but too often we actually prove them right. And, brothers and sisters, we prove them right because too often we’re too attached to the things and to the ways of the world. We need to cut ourselves loose from the world. Again, we need Jesus’ reminder that it’s just “a little while”. When it’s hard to endure suffering, when it’s hard to endure persecution, just remember that this time is only “a little while”—he’ll be back soon. And when it’s hard to turn our focus from earthly thing to heavenly things, we need that reminder that the things of earth are also just for “a little while”—they have nothing to compare with the things of heaven—the things of eternity. Please pray with me: Father, in our collect this morning we asked you, “grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ's service that they may renounce those things that are contrary to their profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it.” We ask that again, and we ask that you would remind us that we are here for just “a little while”. Strengthen us to persevere in the face of suffering and persecution and remind us that because our time here is so short, our best investments are the ones we make in your eternal kingdom. Give us grace that we might shine as bright lights in the darkness of the world and use our lights, we pray, to draw others to you. We ask this in through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 Peter 4:7-11, John 15:26-16:4 | Preacher: Mr. Jim Louttit | Series: The Church Year
Bible Text: 1 Peter 5:5-11; Luke 15:1-10 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Third Sunday after Trinity 1 St. Peter 5:5b-11 & St. Luke 15:1-10 by William Klock As we read in our Old Testament lesson this morning, the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed: Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you. (Jeremiah 31:2-3) Jeremiah gave this word of encouragement by reminding the Jewish people of their past. Their ancestors were rescued from the sword and torment of Pharaoh, and by God’s guidance found their way into the wilderness of Sinai, where he met them at the mountain, gave them the Law, and made them his people. God saved his chosen people from suffering and showed them grace, promising them that he was their God and they were his people. It’s the great event of redemption history that backs up the words of assurance spoken through the prophet saying, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” And yet these words of loving encouragement—words of God assuring his people that he has been, is now, and always will be faithful to his people—were spoken by Jeremiah, whom we know as the “weeping prophet.” These words were written to a downtrodden and defeated people living in a wasteland that had once been the kingdom of Judah—the great kingdom built by David and brought to worldwide preeminence by Solomon. The kingdom of God’s chosen people had fallen to Babylon, and the policy of the Babylonian king was to consolidate his empire by destroying a conquered nation and exiling her people. Relocating them in a land foreign to them so that others could be settled in that country, rebuilding it, and making it their own. He had learned how to destroy cultural and national identity, and that became the foundation of the Babylonian Empire’s stability and greatness. The people of Judah had been taken away—the royal family, the court, the merchant and entrepreneurial class, the artisans, and the scholars had been exiled to Babylon, and all that remained were the poorest of the poor, picking through the rubble that had once been Jerusalem as they looked for shelter and some meagre scraps of food to keep themselves alive. Jeremiah wrote his words of encouragement as he saw that destruction. He draws on the words used by Amos: “Fallen is the virgin Israel.” Israel’s slavery in Egypt had been bad, but at least they had maintained their identity as God’s people, but this captivity under the Babylonian king was worse, because the people no doubt saw themselves losing not only their promised land, but their identity too. It had never been this bad for God’s people. And yet Jeremiah stepped into the despair and proclaimed the love of God for his people. He preached to them the loving and gracious message of God—that in his providence he had seen fit to bring them low, but only so that he could bring them up to greater heights than they had ever known: For thus says the Lord: “Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, ‘The Lord has saved his people, the remnant of Israel.’ Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, the woman with child and her who is in travail, together; a great company, they shall return here. With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will make them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born. (Jeremiah 31:7-9) Today we see the fulfilment of that prophecy in the person of Jesus in our Gospel lesson, as St. Luke shows us the Messiah preaching Good News to those downtrodden by sin and as he presents himself as the Good Shepherd gathering in his wayward and lost sheep. The problem is that most of us won’t listen to him, won’t follow him, won’t even acknowledge our need for him, because we’re too proud to admit that we need a Saviour. It is passages like our Old Testament lesson that remind us that when God’s people think too highly of themselves and rely too little on him, he will take away his blessing and put them in a desperate physical state as a way to underscore their desperate spiritual state. It is only when we truly understand where we stand before a holy, righteous, and just God as sinners that we can appreciate the love, mercy, and grace that he has shown us in giving up his Son to make the payment for our unrighteousness. It is only in understanding the just wrath from which we have been saved, that we can understand the full measure of grace we have been given. And it is only when we understand the grace that we have been given that we can effectively be the Church—the Body of Christ and people of God—in bearing witness to the rest of the World of the power of God and the immeasurable sweetness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. St. Peter reminds us of all this in his first epistle which we read earlier: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:5b-7) The apostle quotes from Proverbs 3:34: “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” It was pride that got Adam and Eve into trouble and it’s pride that still gets us into trouble today. Pride hurts our witness as individuals, but it also hurts the ministry of the Church collectively. The gateway to God’s grace is humility, and taking up the sin of pride is to turn our backs on the grace of God. If you look back to Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount and his description of Christian character in the Beatitudes, you’ll remember that he starts by telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are poor in spirit—to those who know they are spiritually dead. He then goes on to describe the Christian as one who mourns for his sins and who is meek in his character. The Christian is one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. You see, we can never—we will never—turn to the righteousness of Christ if we are not first humble. The proud man has no need of a saviour, because as he sees it he’s not so bad off and can fix any problems he’s got all on his own. But the humble man knows his own sinfulness and knows his inability to redeem himself. He knows that if he is to enter God’s holy presence it can only be to beg for mercy. And so that person, when he finds God’s grace through the sacrifice that Jesus made for him, can do nothing but continue in his humility—continuing to mourn his unrighteousness, treating others as better than himself (because he knows that anything good he has is Christ’s, not his own), and he hungers and thirsts first for the righteous covering of the shed blood of Jesus which makes him acceptable to God. But it doesn’t stop there, because he also seeks for the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in his life so that he can gradually grow to be more like his redeemer and put away the unrighteousness that drives away our holy God. And so here St. Peter gives us a warning that God gives his people throughout Scripture: clothe yourselves with humility. We are not to seek to exalt ourselves, but to wait for God to lift us up. Look at the example of Jacob. He spent his whole life trying to exalt himself—even his name means “supplanter.” He was born holding onto Esau’s, his twin brother’s, foot as if even at birth he was trying desperately to make his claim on being the firstborn. He lied, and cheated, and stole to get ahead in life, always wanting to get on top of the situation he was in, to have the better hand. He was the man God had chosen to be the father of his chosen people, but before he could use him he had to be humbled. And so we see God meeting Jacob not in the comfort of his parents affluent home in Palestine, but on the wilderness road as he was fleeing from the murderous rage of his brother. God came to him and made a promise to exalt him, but Jacob wasn’t ready yet. He took God’s promise and went on with his life in the same old way, looking to exalt himself by his own hand. Again Jacob got himself into trouble, and again God met him in the wilderness while he was on the run. This became the pattern of Jacob’s life: every time he tried to exalt himself, God brought him low and then came to him with his promise – and as Jacob failed to grasp the divine message, each time God brought him lower and lower. Finally, at rock bottom, Jacob finally learned the lesson that God was trying to teach him. He finally learned that God will exalt those who humbly turn to him for life. Jacob ended his days in prosperity in Egypt, living there at the invitation and on the royal hospitality of Pharaoh—but not until God had taught him the necessity of humility. God also brought low the children of Jacob. In his providence he allowed the Israelites to become slaves to the Egyptians. In Exodus we read about their plight and the abuse and oppression they suffered at the hands of the Egyptians. But God allowed them to be brought low so that he could lead them out and show his gracious love to them in the wilderness and make them his bride. Without being brought low, they would never have appreciated their need for a redeemer. The story of redemption as we see it played out in the pages of Scripture teaches us that men and women only come to God when they understand that they can’t save themselves. Most of us know people who found Christ only after hitting rock bottom. And we want to ask why God has to bring people so low—allowing them to lose their jobs, their homes, even their families. Why couldn’t God simply show them their own sinfulness and their need for a redeemer? It goes back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:5, “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’” The people around Jesus considered it blasphemy when he proclaimed the forgiveness of sins—that could only be found by going to the priests at the Temple to offer an atoning sacrifice—only God could forgive sins. Anyone can claim to have forgiven sins and give a false assurance of pardon, but only God can make good on that claim. So Jesus did something that only God can do: he healed a lame man’s physical ailment to demonstrate that he had the power to forgive his sins. Jesus still does that very same thing. We hear the message over and over and over that Jesus forgives us. Maybe we even pick up a Bible and read it there. But we don’t believe it until God takes away everything and leaves us not just spiritually empty, but physically empty too. At that point we have to put away our pride—because we’ve got nothing left to be proud of—and as we see God lifting us up both spiritually and physically we have the assurance that he’ll make good on his promises to us. In the Gospel today we heard Jesus parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin: The shepherd notices that one of his hundred sheep is missing from the flock, and so he heads off into the night—knowing full well that the could run into a bear or a lion in the dark—to track down that one lost sheep so that he can then carry it back on his shoulders rejoicing. The poor woman who lost a small coin searches everywhere for it, looking under the furniture with a lamp and desperately sweeping the floor in the hope that it will turn up, and when she finds it she rejoices. The third parable in the series the familiar story of the prodigal son in which the father waits daily at the end of the road anxiously waiting for the return of his son—the son who had wronged him and squandered his inheritance partying in a foreign city—but awaiting his return nonetheless, so that he could lovingly embrace him and welcome him back to restored fellowship in his family, not just as one of his hired hands, held at a distance because of the wrong he had done, but truly as his own son. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and so is it any wonder that he told those three parables to answer the accusation of the Pharisees: “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” We can take a lesson from our Gospel as we see that Jesus went not to the self-righteous Pharisees, smug in the false assurance that their good works would earn them a place in Heaven; Jesus went to the lowest of the low, to the people who knew they were sinners – they were the ones ready to hear his message of hope and salvation, knowing that they could never please God on their own. And Jesus went to them earnestly, just as the shepherd went into the dangers of the night looking for his lost sheep, just as the old widow turned her house upside-down looking for the lost coin, and just as that father looked longingly down the road, awaiting the return of his lost son. Contrary to the world’s way of thinking, our assurance lies not in what we do, but in the fact that we can do nothing good of ourselves. The world is like the Pharisees, finding a false assurance in its own flawed works, but the Christian finds his assurance in the perfect work of Christ. True assurance belonged to the “tax collectors and sinners” scorned by the Pharisees, because in knowing their own nothingness they were ready to grasp the lifeline of grace extended by the Saviour. I’m reminded here of God’s promise made through St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). It is God’s strength that we rely on, not our own. It’s by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that the Christian lives his life and overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil. But we can only find that assurance when we are humble enough—when we are poor in spirit—and ready to give ourselves over to the grace of God. And so St. Peter continues on in our Epistle saying, Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, and strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:8-11) Sometimes we feel overwhelmed as we live the Christian life. I’m reminded of Martin Luther who one time was so conscious of Satan’s presence opposing his work that he threw his bottle of ink at the place where he felt that presence—to this day you can see the ink spatter on the wall. But God reminds us here that what we’re experiencing is nothing more than what our brothers and sisters in faith around the world and throughout history have experienced—those saints who overcame by the Spirit’s power and are now with the Lord in Glory. They serve as reminders to us that the God of all grace will see us through this present suffering and has assured us not only of his presence here, but also of eternal glory. We live today much like those poor peasants did in Jeremiah’s time, picking through the rubble of Jerusalem, looking for shelter, a bit of food, and wondering when the next foreign attack might come to destroy what little we have left. Do the trials and tribulations you face make you feel like that? But we have hope. Just as God promised the Israelites that he would restore their joy, he promises that in his timing he will call us to eternal glory, and that through Christ we will be restored, established, and strengthened. We have confidence in God’s grace, because that promise of grace is founded on our justification—it’s already a done deal. The God of grace has called each of us and has made us his justified and accepted children. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes, “We have obtained access by faith to this grace in which we stand” (Romans 5:2). The grace that God gave us in forgiving our sins is also a promise that he will continue to pour out his sustaining grace on us. He will work in us with his grace to perfect our Christlike character and give us the courage to stand up for the cause of the Gospel. He takes raw Christian recruits who are afraid to face the battle line and turns them into experienced veterans. Our call now is to march on as people assured of the grace of God and the power of his Spirit, confronting the world head-on, not condemning it self-righteously as the Pharisees did, but by humbly sharing the grace of God with sinners as, following the example of Jesus—taking the Good News of salvation to the world as one beggar to another—as one who was lost, but is now found, as one who was blind, but now sees—taking Good News of new life in Jesus Christ to those still lost and to those still blind. Please pray with me: Almighty God, we thank you for the amazing gift of grace that you have extended to each one of us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of your only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Remind us, Lord, that our redemption is accomplished in him and not by our own works. Keep us humble, we pray, even if it means bringing us low as you did the Israelites, to bring us back to a knowledge of our own lowliness and your greatness. Remind us daily of our confidence in you, knowing that your promises never fail. And Lord, we ask you, turn that security we find in your grace into a boldness to share your message of redemption with the world. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: 1 Peter 3:8-15; Luke 5:1-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity 1 St. Peter 3:8-15 & St. Luke 5:1-11 by William Klock Over these last five weeks the lessons have been showing us what it means to live out the life we have in Jesus. Again, that’s the point of the lessons during Trinitytide. Over the first half of the year the Church tells us the story of our redemption as she walks us through the life and ministry of Jesus, from his birth to his cross. Now the Church shows us what it looks like to follow Jesus and to live as one of his people. And so we spent two Sundays looking at the love of God and what it means to live in his love and show it to others. The last two Sundays we looked at how the love of God works out in our lives in practical terms as grace and as mercy. And today the lessons call us to live in the peace of God. These are all challenging things to live out. We accept the grace of God—that’s usually the easy part—but then we fail to be gracious with others. (Usually because we forget that we too are sinners and that we live only by God’s grace.) We accept the mercy of God, but we fail to show mercy to others. And God establishes his peace with us and gives us his promises of care and provision, but we still hold on tight to our worldly cares, our worldly problems, and look to the world to meet our needs. I’m not sure which is more difficult: to learn to love the totally unlovable people in our lives or to learn to truly live in peace, handing over all of our problems to God. These are hard things to do, but if we would grow closer to God and if we would display his love to the world—to draw men and women to Jesus—they’re things that we have to do—they’re not optional. St. Peter wrote to Christians who were facing serious persecution. These people were living in a situation in which we’d probably forgive them for being not a little panicky and for their churches to be in a little disarray. People wanted to kill them. But despite their hardships, look at Peter’s exhortation to them in our Epistle. He says: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind,—the men and women of the world are divided and their approach to life is “every man for himself”. Instead, be united; have one mind—“the mind which was in Christ Jesus”. Have sympathy and stand with your brothers and sisters the same way that Jesus has stood with you. Show each other brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind (1 Peter 3:8). Model the humble love that Jesus has shown you as you deal with each other and especially as you deal with the world. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. (1 Peter 3:9) Look at the example of Jesus. He came to bless us not by retaliating against evil with evil, but by allowing himself to be crucified. He who knew no sin died a sinner’s death that he might pay our penalty. If Jesus had repaid evil with evil, if he had reviled when he was reviled you and I would still be dead in our sins. He returned evil with good and purchased our redemption, and now as we live in that redemption purchased by his suffering, St. Peter reminds us that we should live the same way that we may obtain God’s blessing on the last day, when Jesus will finally say to us, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” We shouldn’t be surprised if we have to endure evil. It was Jesus himself who told us, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). “Blessed are you” and “great is your reward” when you bless those who do you wrong. This is what we prayed for in the Collect when we asked that we might “joyfully serve you in all godly quietness.” As St. Peter says in Chapter 2: For to this you have been called, because 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. (1 Peter 2:21-22) And Peter goes on to back up what he has to say with some words from Psalm 34: For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” (1 Peter 3:10-12) I gather that these verses from the Psalms spoke to Peter especially in light of his writing about peace and being peacemakers. Peter himself was an impetuous man who said what he thought and his mouth sometimes got him into trouble. He’d had something himself to learn about peacemaking, which is why I find these words of his especially comforting. If Peter took this lesson to heart and learned, so can I. There’s probably nothing so opposed to peace as the tongue. I like the way Patrick Henry Reardon puts it: “Seeking and pursuing peace is nine-tenths a matter of keeping bad things out of one’s mouth.” There’s not much that will escalate a situation more than responding to an unkind word with an even less kind word—and that’s what most of are tempted to do when someone says something to us that we don’t like. And, brothers and sisters, there’s nothing I’ve ever seen cause more damage within the Church than the tongue. Gossip and unkind words will tear a church apart and utterly destroy our Christian witness faster than anything else, which is why we need to follow the example of Jesus, dealing with each other and our sins and shortcomings with love, grace, mercy, and patience. Gossip, slander, and hurtful and divisive talk are all things we do to attract attention to ourselves. “Hey, everybody! Listen to the juicy piece of information I have. I’m in the know!” “Listen to what So-and-so did. I’m sure glad I’m better than that! I’m sure glad I don’t struggle with that sin!” We use sins of the tongue to build ourselves up and to attract attention to ourselves at the expense of others. But the Psalmist makes us ask, “Whose attention do I want to attract? The world’s attention or God’s attention?” Friends, the people of the world—even your brothers and sisters here—won’t answer your prayers. The Psalmist reminds us, “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” It’s all a matter of perspective. When we cling to the things of the world or when we fall into sin, it’s because we’ve taken our eyes off of eternity. We start looking for the approval of the world or we start looking to lay up for ourselves earthly treasures. We forget that in the long-run it’s God’s approval we should be seeking and it’s God’s kingdom that we should be working to establish—and those two kingdoms, the world and heaven, are diametrically opposed. It’s one or the other. And so Peter tells us to seek for peace, even when we know that the world’s going to be at our throats for it. But again, what does that matter if we’ve got our eyes fixed on eternity? He goes on in verse 13: Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? Why fear evil men? How much time are you spending struggling against evil and not trusting God’s promise of blessing? Peter asks, Who has any power to harm you, if you’re following the one man who truly is good? And of course we say, “But Peter, Jesus himself said that we would be persecuted for his sake. How can you talk about blessing and not worrying and fighting back when we all know that we will face persecution for doing good?” And Peter says, “Of course I know that, but really, who can truly harm you? Who can touch a hair of your head while you are in God’s gracious hands. As far as suffering persecution for the sake of righteousness, that’s not harm, that’s the crown of joy in well-doing! If that’s the worst we can expect, then rejoice with me! He says in verses 14 and 15: But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy. Worry about keeping your heart in the love and fear of God, and you won’t have any need to worry about what the world may bring. “Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness” and God will take care of everything else. Today’s Gospel gives us a dramatic illustration of the fact that God is, in fact, in control of the course of this world. It reminds us that when Jesus calls us to forsake all and to follow him—that when he calls us to be peacemakers in a world that hates peace—that we can trust him and that we can follow and obey him and not worry about the outcome. St. Luke tells how Jesus was teaching at the shore of the Sea of Galilee. He was a popular teacher and the crowds had gathered and it was getting crowded on the beach. There were two fishing boats pulled up on the beach—one of them Peter’s—and so Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to take it out from shore a bit so that he could sit in the boat and teach the people from there. This isn’t what Peter wanted to do. He and his friends had been out fishing all night and hadn’t caught a thing. All he really wanted to do was finish washing out his nets so that he could go home and get some sleep. But Luke says that Peter did what Jesus asked him. Water has good acoustic properties and so Jesus sat there in the boat and talked to the people gathered on the beach. I can just imagine Peter sitting there in the boat behind Jesus, still working away at picking the garbage from his net, washing it out, and getting ready to lay it out to dry on the beach once Jesus was done commandeering his boat. Peter was no doubt listening to what Jesus had to say, but his attention was really on his nets—on his livelihood. How often are we just like that? We read the Scriptures, but our minds are focused more on what he have to get done today than on what God’s speaking to us through the inspired Word. We come to church on Sunday to worship, but our minds are focused on our plans for Sunday afternoon or for the rest of the week. How often do we sit at the feet of Jesus to learn from him, but it all goes in one ear and out the other because what we’re really focused on are the stresses, trial, and tribulations of life? “That’s great Jesus, but when can I get back to what I was doing?” We’re like Peter sitting there pulling bits of seaweed from his net as Jesus taught and just wanting to go home. But Peter didn’t get to go home. Jesus finished teaching the people and instead of asking Peter to take him back to shore, he said, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter didn’t want to put out into the deep. His entire night of fishing had been a waste of time, but you can almost see him throwing up his hands in resignation when he says to Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” You can hear the exasperation in his voice: “Jesus, there’s no point. The fish aren’t biting. Trust me, I was out there all night…but just for you…” And I can see Peter casting his net. Not a real cast as if he expected to catch something. He just sort of half-heartedly throws his net out into the water—not too far out, because he was planning on immediately pulling it back in. Really, what’s the point of letting it sit out there? He wasn’t going to catch anything. But then Luke says: And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:6-7) I can’t help but think that Jesus had a love of ironic humour. There was Peter more concerned about his nets and his livelihood than he was about the things of God and now Jesus overwhelms Peter with his livelihood—so many fish that his buddies had to row out and help him and even then the boats were almost swamped by the weight of the fish they caught. They fought and struggled to get the fish to shore, and once it was all dealt with the reality of the situation sank into Peter’s mind: this wasn’t just some teacher, some rabbi—this was a miracle and only God could work a miracle like that. And so realizing suddenly that he was in the presence of the holy, Luke says that Peter fell down to the ground in front of Jesus and wailed, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Humility is the universal response of sinful man to holy God throughout the Scriptures. I like the way Isaac Williams put it: “So should it be with us when God opens His hand; it should humble us with the thoughts of what God is, and what we ourselves are. It should lead us to trust in Him to give us all things needful for the body, while we yield up ourselves more entirely to His service; but, alas! it has usually with us the very opposite effect—we accept His gifts, and in His gifts forget the more the Giver of all good.” How often is that true of each of us? We accept God’s gifts and then forget who gave them to us. Instead of living humbly trusting God, we take what he gives and continue to lead our lives for ourselves, trusting in ourselves and in the things of the world. Instead we need to be like Peter—falling at his feet in humble worship, accepting the gift, and trusting in him. Jesus gave Peter a dramatic demonstration that he would take care of him and it was as Peter recognized that that Jesus called him to the kingdom and to his work: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And that’s just what Peter and his friends did. They saw and they trusted and Luke says, “When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” Now, Jesus doesn’t call all of us to be apostles like Peter and he doesn’t call all of us to leave our jobs and make the Gospel our full-time profession, but his call is to all of us. In Luke 14:33 he tells us, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” This is the important lesson of this Sunday: You and I need to let go of our affections, our interests, and our anxieties from the thing of the world and fix them instead on Jesus Christ so that we can serve him with joy. In the Collect we prayed that “this world may be so peaceably ordered through [God’s] guidance, that [the] church may joyfully serve [him] in all godly quietness.” But in reality how often is it we who are trying to govern and order things so that we can achieve the ends we want? We say we trust God, but brothers and sisters, by the way we live our lives, trusting in ourselves, trusting in our things, trusting in our jobs and bank accounts we show that it’s just not true. How often, when things aren’t going our way, do we get stressed out and panic—as if God isn’t in control? Even when it comes to the work of the Church, how often do we run around with our hair on fire afraid of this or that? The government’s going to force us to perform same-sex weddings! The human rights tribunals are going to come down on us if we say or do the wrong thing! Our finances are terrible. How are we going to keep the doors open? And what does that communicate to the world about our faith? Is God sovereign and in control or not? Is God being true to his promise to take care of his Church or not? Those should be easy questions to answer, but by our actions we might wonder—and the world might wonder too. Look again at those closing words from our Epistle. St. Peter exhorts us and asks, “Who can harm you if you are zealous for good? And if you do suffer for the sake of righteousness, considering it a blessing. Don’t be afraid. Do not be troubled. Sanctify God in your hearts—honour him—and he will take care of you. Fear him and you have no need to fear anything else. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and he will work everything else out for your good and for eternal blessing. As Christians we should have a very different perspective on suffering than the world does, because we have an eternal perspective—we know that God is working out all things for good despite what it may look like in the short-term. Think of all the situations in Scripture that would have looked hopeless from a worldly way of thinking, but that God worked for good. If Jacob hadn’t been forced to run away from his home and his brother’s murderous rage, he never would have been met by God in the wilderness. Take away the afflictions of Joseph, and God’s people would have starved to death during the famine in Canaan. If Pharaoh hadn’t made the Hebrews slaves and treated them cruelly, they would have been content to stay in Egypt. That would have meant no Moses, no Mt. Sinai, no manna from heaven, no law and no Ten Commandments. If David hadn’t been persecuted by Saul, we wouldn’t be able to read about his forgiving heart in the Psalms—or the about how he made God his “tower of strength” and his consolation. It was because of his being put in prison and because of the hate of the Jews that St. Paul appealed to Caesar and made his trip to Rome, spreading the Gospel all the way there. And of course, it was only because of the hatred of the world for Jesus that he was crucified and purchased our redemption at the cross with his blood. God always turns the persecution of the saints into something good. That’s why Peter can exhort us and ask, “Who can harm you?” and why he can say, “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.” Sanctify and honour the Lord God in your hearts, and he will take care of you. If God is for us, who can be against us? Or as Job asked, “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?” We need to take today’s collect—today’s prayer—to heart. When trials and tribulations come, pray that prayer and be reminded that you have no reason to fear. And as we put our fears to rest, we can be about the kingdom work that God has given us—we can truly be the peacemakers that God has called us to be, sharing his peace with the world, first and foremost because we’ve experienced it ourselves. Finally, let me say, God’s already given us the end of the story—and that ought to give us great peace and great confidence as we seek first his kingdom and to do his work. The saints of God we see in the book of Revelation—the ones that we read who will overcome the armies and forces of evil in these last days—notice that John describes them as being without weapons—without swords or spears or shields—and yet they follow the Captain of their Salvation, “clothed in fine linen, white and pure” which is said to be the righteousness of the saints. As the angel said to John, these are they who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb; it is him they follow, the Lamb of God; it is by him they conquer and are victorious; and all their strength is this, that as he was, so are they in this world. Please pray with me: “Almighty God; we pray that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered through your guidance that your church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bible Text: 1 Peter 1:14-15 | Preacher: The Rt. Rev'd Charles Dorrington | Series: The Church Year
"To this you have been called" 1 St. Peter 2:19-25 & St. John 10:11-16 Remember—think about—the way new Christians were brought into the Church in ancient times. During Lent they…
"To this you have been called" 1 St. Peter 2:19-25 & St. John 10:11-16 Remember—think about—the way new Christians were brought into the Church in ancient times. During Lent they…