Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter
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Note: All Scripture quotations in the written sermon are taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, ESV Text Edition: 2016. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The sermon text for the third Sunday of Easter is the epistle reading from 1 Peter 1:17-25:
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
So far the text.
Introduction: In his first letter, the apostle Peter writes to the persecuted Christians who fled Jerusalem after Pentecost, telling them how they should live given that they have been redeemed of their sin by Christ. They, like us, have a salvation we haven’t won for ourselves but is ours by faith in Christ. Peter’s call to these Christians is to live a holy life and “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” (1 Pet 1:17b) It’s a call to the recipients of his letter and to us to live life in a way that acknowledges we don’t belong on Earth, that we are exiles here waiting to be with Christ when He returns on the Last Day.
1) The Problem of Belonging
Wanting to belong, and having a sense of belonging is important to every single person. Now of course, when we are young children this comes to us naturally and we have that place to belong: every child knows they belong with their father and with their mother. Every young child stays very close to their mother, they know there they belong. But of course, for all of us who go to school, there comes that day when our mother walks us to school, to kindergarten, our very first day of kindergarten, and our mother drops us of at school and there is that time of great angst as child and mother are separated and we have to go with all those other children and that teacher that we don’t know. Some children adapt to this a little better than others. For some it’s very hard and it takes them a long time to adapt. I certainly remember kindergarten here in Kitchener.
Children, they understand that there is a sense of belonging even in elementary school, grades 2, 3, 4 and so on. Children then in class have this sense of belonging, who belongs and who doesn’t. For me in elementary school back in the early eighties, and of course school was very different than it is now, basically, if you were white and you spoke English like everybody else did-the locals-you belonged. Anybody who either wasn’t white or didn’t speak English like a Canadian from our area, they got teased and pretty badly. It was very difficult for those children. Of course those children (who were different) wanted to belong and children are amazing at being able to change the way they speak so that they very quickly learn and pick up the local accent. So children find a strong need to belong.
That need to belong does not just happen to us when we are children it stays with us our whole life. You may find now that your desire to workout and get muscular and strong maybe is your desire to join that club of men that you desire to belong to. Maybe your desire to fit into that size 8 dress is a desire to belong with the group of fit, young women in society. And this goes with us everywhere in life: even when we think about where we are going to live. So many people in our area they desire to get a house in Upper Beechwood. What does that show? It shows that the owner of that house belongs in the upper-middle class of our local society. Our desire to accumulate wealth is again that same thing, it is a desire to belong, to find a place in society.
Now the trouble is in our attempts to belong the problem is the goal is always changing because we’re changing. How you belonged in grade 2 is different than when you are in your 20s, or your 30s, or your 40s, or your 50s and so on, it changes with time. Even where you get your house and buy your house now, Upper Beechwood maybe is the place to belong right now for the upper-middle class, but in ten years there will be a new subdivision where that next generation lives to show you belong in that certain class. Because the world is changing it is very hard to belong because everything is always changing.
And then another trial which is almost as great as kindergarten for each one of us is when we retire because suddenly if our belonging comes from our vocation (our work) then when we loose that it becomes very difficult to transition to be a retired person. Some people still keep meeting their old friends from work, some do it just to socialize, others do it because they are trying to hold on to that sense of belonging they had when they were in the working world and so much of their sense of who they were, their belonging, was tied up in their career. And when we move to a retirement home/community, when you enter that again everything changes from being a renter or a house owner to then being in a retirement community. It changes again.
And so we are always trying to belong but in a sense the goal, the place of belonging, is always shifting.
Illustration: When you were in your mother’s womb you were perfectly at peace. You belonged there. Before you could ever think in a language, in English or whatever is your mother tongue, before you could think in a language all you could do is feel, feel the warmth of being in your mother’s womb and her movements and you could hear the beating of her heart. And as you heart that and as you were there you belonged. You knew you belonged there.
Then of course when you were born into the world, the problem of belonging begins…
2) You belong to Jesus Christ Your Saviour and Redeemer
St. Peter writes to the Christians and he tells us, he tells you, you belong to Jesus Christ your Saviour and Redeemer.
It’s in Christ that you find your true belonging, your belonging that will never change because everything else in this world it changes and it decays and so every place where we grasp a sense of belonging in this world ultimately crumbles in our grasp because we keep changing and the world keeps changing. St. Peter would call this a vain attempt, a futile way of living. And so he writes, “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever,” (1 Pet 1:24-25a) and he explains that this word of God is the good news, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What is that? It is what Jesus has done for you. And that which the Lord Jesus has done for you remains forever: He redeemed you with His precious blood on the cross to cleanse you from all your sins. He has taken away your sins and He has given you fellowship with God and the hope of eternal life with God: that’s your belonging. In Christ. Forgiven. Being a child of God, having all your sins cleansed, being God’s holy child, that’s where you belong, in Christ. Ultimately, that’s where you belong: on the newly recreated Earth with God. You belong with God in heaven and you belong with God in this life as well no matter your age, or your weight, or your vocation or the wealth God has given you. You belong to God in Jesus Christ.
“Through him [Jesus] [we] are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory,” St. Peter writes. (1 Pet 1:21). And because you belong to God in Christ, you don’t need to keep up a futile attempt to belong in this world. You belong to the Lord and that’s that.
3) Though our physical bodies and the world will pass away with all its trends and fads, we belong to our Saviour Jesus whose saving work remains forever!
Because this is so Peter’s message is set your heart and your faith on God and live life not in an attempt to belong in this world but to love and serve Your brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s where St. Peter is pointing us towards in his epistle.
You have been born again through the living and abiding word of God, a Word that does not change or decay over time. You have been forgiven all sin, born into eternal life with Christ which death can only interrupt for a short sleep…. And so St. Peter says, “conduct yourselves with fear throughout your time of exile.” (1 Pet 1:17b) What he is saying here is not fear in the sense of terror of God but fear in the sense of deep respect for God, live in that way. And he writes, purify your souls by obedience to the truth (1 Pet 1:22a). Here he is saying get a right worldview, meaning set your heart on Christ and your hopes on all God gives you in Christ and not on the things of this world. And especially he says to us, “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” (1 Pet 1:22b) These were Christ’s words to the apostles when He said, “A new commandment I give to you, love one another.” (John 13:34) That’s what God’s call to us to as we belong to Him in this world. Search not how to belong but how to be a blessing to those in the faith, those at Grace and all other Christians you know. That’s what those do, Peter says, who have been born again, through the living and abiding Word of God.
Conclusion: When we were not yet born, we were at home in our mother’s womb, with a sense of belonging. Now that we have been born into this world, St. Peter shows us that we are truly exiles here, because there is nothing we can do to belong in the world marred by original sin. Because this is true, we reject the futile ways we try and fit into this world and place our faith and hope in God and in the word of the Lord which remains forever.
In your desire to belong St. Peter points you to Christ to whom you belong because He ransomed you from sin and death. Peter tells us that the way to live is not to follow the trends of the world. Rather, since you belong to Christ, Your Saviour’s call is to follow in His way of life which is the way of earnest brotherly love. That is a trend that will never fade, in this life or in the life to come. As Christ has loved you love one another. No need to try to find your place to belong because it will never happen here, on this Earth. In Christ and in His church you belong even more than you did in Your mother’s womb, because God is Your Creator, and His Son Jesus is your eternal Saviour. When He raises you from the dead and declares you righteous, then you will belong with Him and His redeemed in His new creation forever and ever. In Christ’s Holy Name. Amen.