Thursday, April 23, 2020

Sermon April 22, 2020 (1 Peter 1:3-9)

When I was in college, I purchased and read a book titled What Do We Mean When We Say God? It was a short book full of quotes not from theologians and pastors, but from ordinary religious and non-religious people about who God was, how they prayed to God, what they thought of when they thought of him, or her, or it, or them, or whatever. The answers were all different and most of them were thought-provoking. But of course the Bible does not give us different answers about what is meant when the word “God’ is said.

In the reading for this evening, the apostle Peter explains what he means when he says ‘Blessed be God.’ He does not simply use the word God, he calls God ‘the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Therefore, we cannot think of God without Jesus Christ and we cannot think of Jesus without the Father. Both Jesus and the Father are what Peter means when he says ‘God.’

Peter goes on to say what the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In this world the best we can hope for is to have a rich, healthy, long life surrounded by loved ones. But we may not have any of these things. Moreover, all of these things are constantly under threat. We may endure times of war and pandemic and economic turmoil. Even if we remain free from these things, our life and the lives of our loved ones will eventually be taken from us. Therefore life lived only in and for this world is hopeless. It’s not that those who do not believe in God walk around with what we call a sense of hopelessness, moping all the time; it’s that if we think about it, without God, our hopes are bounded by human possibility, the capriciousness of existence, and finally the finite span of life. These are not living hopes, they are hopes that will eventually die.

But because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead Easter morning, we have a living hope. There is more to this life than simply riches, health, and length of days. The living hope is for a life that is lived in God and a death that is the gateway to eternal life. If God gives us a prosperous, healthy, stable life, well and good. But we should stop putting our trust and hope that we will have a rich, successful, prosperous, healthy life and instead put our central trust and hope in the life that God offers us through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does a specific thing by Jesus’ resurrection – gives us a new birth into a living hope. He also empowers us for this life lived in hope. He gives us the Holy Spirit which comes from him and Jesus Christ. So when we name God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, we also name the Holy Spirit they share. This Spirit both protects us in the faith and empowers us to love him whom we do not see.

We have a living hope – but, as St. Paul reminds us, ‘Who hopes in what is seen?’ In the world we see only the hope that the world offers, and the threats to those hopes. We suffer the changes and chances of life and we also suffer because our hopes are not the same as the hopes of the world. Our faith in Christ must lead us to make different decisions regarding the lives we live in this world, and this can divide us from others.

The Spirit must protect us for the salvation being kept for us, in which we hope and trust. This means we will have a different attitude towards the political decisions of our times than other people. The patterns that we see in the world, that we must love our fellow political-traveler and hate those who oppose us is false. This would be true if the only thing that mattered were this life. But because our hope is not in this life but is in Jesus, we may love even those with whom we passionately disagree, and those who have control of our lives on earth. We also must put partisan feelings aside and act based upon our best thinking. Christian faith is always political, but it can never be partisan. Because we listen to God’s commandments, and must obey the commandment to not bear false witness against our neighbor, we must resist the urge to label someone as a liar and only motivated by self-interest simply because she or he is of a different political party. We must think in a different way than the world.

Moreover, we are often called to lay aside our rights for the sake of love for others. In this nation we treasure freedoms of which our ancestors could only dream. But Christians do not hope in political freedom, but in Christ. The Holy Spirit does not protect freedom, but faith active in love, which can exist with or without political freedom. Therefore, when we must, we can lay aside our rights for the sake of the love of others. This is what the Church has done by suspending worship in the time of the coronavirus. Out of love for others, we have accepted limits on our freedom. We can lay aside every freedom, if necessary, except for the freedom to believe in Jesus Christ.

Why do I speak of such things? Because when we hate and defame our political opponents and hold our earthly freedoms as the highest good, we are not putting our hope in what Jesus has done for us, but we are going back to the dead hopes of the world without God, putting our trust only in what we can do and accomplish for ourselves. That is to reject joy. Joy comes from trusting above all in what Jesus has done for us and not the condition of the world or of our lives. Joy is knowing what Jesus has done for us, and we can have joy in good and bad times, under justice or injustice, in time of pestilence and in time of health.

To have joy by the Holy Spirit in God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is salvation. This is salvation is salvation from sin, death and evil. It is forgiveness of sin, victory over death, and also being liberated on earth from false and evil ways of thinking and acting. It is being protected for a life that looks at everything not from a human perspective but from God’s perspective. That is the hope each of us should have on earth, to be liberated more and more from patterns of false and evil thinking. Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom once told a story about his father, who was exiled from Russia when the Communists consolidated power in the 1920s. ‘He said to me after a holiday, “I worried about you” and I said, “Did you think I had an accident?” He said, “That would have meant nothing, even if you had been killed. I thought you had lost your integrity.” This might seem a little harsh, but isn’t it true? All of us will die, and none of us know the day or the hour. But to keep one’s faith and therefore one’s integrity is the main thing. That is the living hope we have, that God saves us to live integrally, to be integrated into Jesus’ life more and more.

Our first hymn was called Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense. It tells us of God’s promises and what Jesus has done for us, and each stanza ends: This shall be my confidence! Put no confidence in the world without God, in which we find hardship and persecution, pestilence and partisanship, and the end of all hopes in death. Instead, put your confidence in the one who has given us a new birth into a living hope, and be possessed of indescribable and glorious joy. Amen