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Love Deeply

This is my sermon for the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The scripture text was 1 Peter 1:17-23.
 
Our second lesson uses the imagery of being in exile. The readers understand that they are strangers in a strange land (sundaysandseasons.com). Doesn’t that describe our current situation? We have not been this way before. There is no Siri, Google, or any other kind of physical GPS that can navigate us safely through this morass of Coronavirus. We feel disconnected from friends and family, from our church family. We may even wonder where God is in all of this. This lesson speaks to our needs today.

Peter was addressing Gentile believers who were living in a hostile environment, feeling like strangers in the world. Their time on earth may have been as a time of exile (v. 17). For Gentile believers this was true in several ways: they may have been living away from their homeland, Christians saw themselves as exiles on earth whole real home was heaven and Peter’s readers may have felt like foreigners. They were now part of a new religion, a new frame of reference, with rituals and moral expectations that were equally new and unfamiliar.

What did these people need to hear? They needed to understand their responsibilities as defined in light of the change they had recently experienced in Christ. These believers are given moral teaching grounded in theological understanding. Peter isn’t laying down the law. This instruction is so that they and we may “love one another deeply from the heart” (v. 22). That is the entire purpose. They were reminded of certain things about God, the nature of their new life and the work of Christ.

First, they were reminded of the nature of God (vv. 17, 21, 23). This passage is full of metaphors, including those for God. In the first verse of this lesson, we see two of them: God as Father and judge. To address God as Father did not begin with Jesus. In the Old Testament, we see that the relationship highlighted. Israel is called God’s son with God as its father (Hosea 11:1). The people of Israel cry out to God as their father in Isaiah (Isaiah 63:16).

God as judge is a concept that need not produce fear. The judgments of God are impartial, according to people’s deeds. There is no special favoritism in God. This is hope for those living at the margins. Additionally, God works in our lives to purify us (v. 22). We only have to allow God to do that work.

We are told here that God judges people according to their works. But don’t we believe in being saved by grace through faith? Yes, we do, however, as children of God we are to live our lives are like it. We are to live as God describes us—his precious children for whom Christ died. God has given us a tremendous gift. Do we treasure it or do we throw it on the ground and stomp on it?

Next, Peter writes about the nature of conversion. Another metaphor in this text that which pertains to conversion, to coming to faith in Christ, is ransom as a means of salvation. We also have the lamb’s blood, baptism as a new birth and the word of God as seed.

Ransom is the metaphor of buying freedom from slavery. It has Old Testament roots (Isaiah 52:3) and becomes the standard way for understanding the Christian experience of deliverance from sin (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Gal. 4:5; Titus 2:14).

I can’t help but wonder if today we might feel enslaved to the fear of contracting COVID 19. Possibly we feel enslaved due to restrictions of movement or because we need to wear masks in public. Even in this current situation, we need not feel imprisoned by it.

Living as a child of God in an ungodly culture, as was the experience of these Gentile believers, brings us to the metaphor of exile—living in an alien land. These believers were people who actually occupied the social and political fringes of their society. The Christian faith caused them more social tension rather than less (sundaysandseasons.com).

I lived with my family in Bethlehem in the Holy Land from 1983-1989. Living there as a ex-patriots, we felt a bit like exiles at times, especially when we first moved there. We could see this when we would be some-place like a café in Jerusalem. All around us were people speaking languages we did not understand: Hebrew, German, French, Swedish. Once in a while, we would hear someone else speaking English and our ears would perk up.

Peter goes on to write about the work of Christ (vv. 19-21). Christ coming to earth was not God’s plan b. Peter tells us “He was destined before the foundation of the world…” (v. 20). God has worked through Christ on behalf of the Christian community. He offers hope to the exiled and marginalized. Peter uses phrases like “you were ransomed,” “for your sake” and “you have come to trust in God” to describe God’s work. These are words of assurance to the displaced and dispossessed. While they may have no place in the world around them, they know that God has already worked on their behalf and that their real place in Christ is secure.

Christians are born again, meaning far more than simply having a private religious experience. It is an intensely personal experience, one that involves people who find their lives radically changed by the gospel. However, there is also an intensely social dimension. As children of God, they are ushered into the family of God. This is why Peter writes that they are to “love one another deeply from the heart” (v. 22). Our relationship with God is not just about us individually but about all of us together as the family of faith. God’s people are called to action that demonstrates their relationship with God, bringing about the work of the kingdom of God in our world.

Christ’s resurrection from the dead was God’s decisive act (v. 21), providing the basis for Christian confidence and hope. This is what proves that Jesus was not just any man who was crucified. Only one of the crucified was raised from the dead. Only one of the crucified gives life to his followers. Only one of the crucified is Lord of all.

God alone creates life—physical and spiritual. God alone can claim responsibility for the newness of life. Our only appropriate response is to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” (Beverly R. Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year A).

This way of understanding God, Christ and one’s conversion results in a form of community displaying deep and genuine love. It is the natural corollary to “obedience to the truth” (v. 22). All of this teaching is so that the Christian community of faith, so that, we may love deeply from the heart.

God has made us family in Christ through baptism. Peter seeks to offer this as the social and religious center of the life of the believers. The final verses of our lesson are an affirmation of our baptismal identity as those who have “been born anew of imperishable seed” (v. 23). The love we show for one another and all of God’s creation enables the church to plant “seed” that will take root and spread all over the world throughout the ages, bearing witness to God’s grace in Christ (Beverly Zink-Sawyer, Connections: A Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Pentecost).

We are living in a time of tremendous suffering—physical and psychological. Just this morning I heard on the radio about the increased number of drug overdoses. We know that liquor sales have soared. People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are unable to go to their support groups in person. Staying at home, people are bored and look to drugs and alcohol for relief. Please pray not only for all who are suffering from addiction but also for those organizations working to address the problem like the Addiction Response Ministry, the Mental Health Association and others. Support these organizations. This is yet another way to show Christ’s love. 

Let us pray.
Blessed Creator, thank you for using this time of exile to make us more like you—polishing away some of our rough edges. Help us to recognize your work in ourselves and all around us. Amen.
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