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Easter 6A Sermon
1 Peter 3: 13-22

May 21, 2017

 

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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

There is a general feeling that when a person believes in God and tries to do what is right and serve others, that person will enjoy a pretty good life. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it is an expectation that is supported by many passages of scripture. When Jesus and his disciples came upon a man born blind, it fed right into the ethical question, “Who sinned that this happened: this man or his parents?” When Job was stricken by the circumstances of losing his wife and family, his crops, flocks and livelihood, and even his good health, he and his three friends debated over what he had done in his life to deserve such treatment. And the book of Proverbs is filled with such passages as, “My Child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give.” And, “Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.”

In reality, anyone who has lived and experienced the disappointments of life knows that sometimes those who keep the Lord’s commandments and know the Lord’s teachings are poor and die much too young; and that the cravings of the wicked can be, at times, satisfied by their scheming; at least for a short time. In our second reading this morning, the author of the letter of 1 Peter is writing to people who are dealing with these same kinds of issues – they are diligently learning the Old Testament scripture and sharing the stories of Jesus as the one who fulfills the prophecies of the messiah. They are gathering for worship, fellowship and meals; they are loving and supporting each other as they strive to live as God is calling them to live. And yet, they are experiencing persecution. Peter writes, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.”

There are disputes as to when this letter was written which cause some disagreement about what kinds of sufferings the author is talking about with this specific community of early Christians. Scholars place the date of the letter anywhere from the year 60 AD to 120 AD, and there were different issues going on at different times. If it is from the earlier time period, the Christians were mostly being mildly abused and mocked by their family and friends for converting to this new faith called simply, “The Way.” They were being left out or driven out of the community, and could have lost employment or income because of it. If it was later in that time period, the audience was probably falling victim to open, official harsh persecution at the hands of one of the brutal Roman Emperors like Nero, Domitian or Trajan. Regardless of the details, this letter reminds us that people who follow Christ have always experienced innocent suffering even though they have been faithful in their lives – often because they are faithful in their lives as they seek to serve Jesus as Lord.

The sacrifice that was displayed by Christ on the cross is not only the vehicle by which he saved the world from our sinfulness, but it is the model for how we are to live our lives on faith. Even though we usually think that we can, by a good, healthy, loving and ethical lifestyle, secure a long, healthy and relatively prosperous life – down deep we know that to be blessed by God doesn’t secure any of these things. Peter even says, “Even if you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.” Being blessed doesn’t necessarily mean receiving a reward for doing a good deed. Being blessed means that you are content, happy or fulfilled in what you are doing, even (and especially) if it involves sacrifice and suffering for what is important to you. Ultimately, we rest secure in the promise of peace and joy for an eternity with Jesus; and for now, our blessings are found in doing right because we know that it is our calling to do it – but also knowing that some people won’t exactly like or agree with it, and we may just be called to suffer, either through mockery, denial or downright physical abuse. The author of this letter does not deny this is the case, sharing a comforting, “Oh, it will be alright.” No, he brings it all back to our crucified Christ, reminding his audience – including us – that we find our hope in the midst of our suffering, and in the one who was perfectly innocent and righteous, and yet was put to death on our account. For by enduring his trials, Jesus was given the ultimate gift to which we all look forward – resurrection and new life!

Allen – now, I know you are a little young to understand this … and a little to squirmy to even sit still and listen … but these Bible passages are really good ones to read on the day of your baptism. We cannot deny that you and your family are a little different from the typical church member here – you are a lot younger, first of all. And your race, among other things. What is exciting is that everyone I talk with here is always so excited to see you come up for children’s sermons; to see you want to sit right next to me and to listen and to be part of our church family. Today we make that official with your baptism! Welcome, brother!!

What this does not mean (Allen mom, grandma …) is that instantly you will be a perfect child! You will not get perfect grades in school … because of your baptism! You will if you work hard and study, but not because of your baptism. It won’t mean things will get any easier. It won’t mean that you will be a model child who your family won’t have to discipline anymore! But what it will mean is that you will be a child of God! And through all of life, you will have the presence of God with you. That is the Advocate about which Jesus spoke – the paraclete … the one who is called to be beside you. Like a lawyer in a courtroom, the Holy Spirit stands with you to represent you, to comfort you, support and strengthen you, and to aid you in everything. As Jesus says, you will never be orphaned, and part of the truth behind that promise is that you have this congregation as family now! We are all kin. We will pray for you. We will encourage you. We will even help you out as we are able to! Jesus has called us as sons and daughters through our baptisms, and has promised us the advocate as well. We know God’s presence standing beside us because we stand beside each other ... and now, we stand beside you! Today is a joyful day for you, Allen. For today, God promises that whatever innocent suffering may come in life, it is not in vain. Standing beside you, God transforms all of those struggles into times of love and joy. And this is a time of joy for all of us, Clinton Heights Lutheran Church. For today, God increases our number with a new brother to love and stand beside as we journey in faith. Amen!