5th in a Series of Six Sermons
Fifth Sunday of Easter /May 21, 2017
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
Dear Friends in Christ,
In our Easter sermon series, we have invited you to focus on the simple truth that the road to your future runs right through the past of the ancient church. This sermon is the fifth in a series of six. First we gave attention to the ancient future God, second to His Word, third to the role of suffering, and last Sunday to the Church. This morning – Ancient Future Promises. Two questions we ask today – first what does it mean to be in the family of God? Second, what does it mean to rest in the promises of God?
The Neighborhood Bully
A true story is told of a boy that was getting picked on by the neighborhood bully. The bully teased and he taunted, he ridiculed, he ranted, and he raved, he pushed and he shoved day after day until one day with his Marine Corp dad happened to see what was happening. This dad did what any good father would do. He picked up the neighborhood bully by the scruff of his neck and scared the living daylights out of him. He held him in the air until it was clear that he understood that if this bullying happened even one more time, there would be hell to pay.
From that day forward, the boy that had been getting picked on rested in his dad’s strength, he rested in his dad’s promises, he rested in his dad’s faithfulness. Dear Christian friends, when Jesus Christ suffered once for our sins under Pontius Pilate, when Jesus Christ was crucified until he was dead and buried, when Jesus Christ was raised again on the third day and went down into hell and proclaimed victory to a multitude of eternal losers, this is what He was doing. He was picking the devil and all the forces of evil up by the scruff of their neck, he was telling these neighborhood bullies there was a new sheriff in town. He was announcing once and for all that their days of taunting, teasing, and tempting the people of God into all kinds of despair and doubt were done. He was proclaiming to the world their days of ridiculing and ranting and raving and ruling in the hearts and minds of God’s precious people were finished. He was inviting one and all to be in his family and to rest in his promises.
Three meditations we offer now, what that meant for Noah’s family, what that meant for the early Christians to whom Peter was writing, and what that means for us today
For Noah’s family, resting in the promises of God meant 120 years of preparation and then going for the ride of a (lifetime). At a recent pastors’ conference, we listened to a St. Louis Seminary Professor of history who indicated that he tells his classes of seminarians these two things. First, that sometime between Jesus and your grandma, things happened. Second, the Word of God was in your congregation long before you got there, and if you don’t screw it up, it will be there after you leave. Another way of saying that the road to your future, dear friends, runs right through your past.
The ancient story of Noah teaches us first of all how patient is our God and secondly how there is a definite limit to that patience. For 120 years God waited while Noah built that ark. For 120 years, God waited for repentance and faith, he waited in vain. For 120 years, men remained fixed and hardened in their disobedience and in unbelief. It’s not hard to imagine them laughing at Noah for building a big boat on dry land, no doubt they teased and they taunted, in today’s text, these scoffers, these who would not listen, these who went about life ignoring every possible warning sign they could ignore are identified as spirits in prison getting paid a surprise visiting early one Sunday morning by a risen Christ.
For Noah’s family, the same water that drowned so many served as their salvation. Resting in God’s promises for them meant riding out the mother of all storms, it meant being safe and secure in an ark 450 feet long, 75feet wide, and 45 feet high, it meant trusting that God was a promise keeper, it meant believing that which they could not see, it meant coming face to face with a God whose patience may seem endless, but it’s not.
For early Christians, resting in the promises of God meant believing that there was a significant purpose to their (suffering). Peter was writing to Christians who were under the threat of persecution if they did not burn incense to the emperor as a personification of the divine spirit of Rome. He urged them to stand strong in their faithfulness to Jesus. He invited them to believe they were being blessed even though it felt like they were being cursed.
Jesus had already told his apostles they would be brought before kings and emperors on account of his name, which in God’s upside down way of thinking would be a good thing. What would feel like the end of their world would actually be an opportunity to be His witnesses. Jesus had already told them not to worry beforehand how to defend themselves because He would give them words of wisdom their adversaries would not be able to contradict. Here Peter reaffirmed it for early Christians that their good behavior would give credibility to their message of hope, their gentle and respectful testimony to Jesus Christ would be blessed beyond their wildest dreams to the far corners of the world, their enemies would be put to shame, their suffering would carry with it significant purpose.
Early Christians were to never forget their Savior had suffered once for their sins, and therefore their sins had already been forgiven. Their baptism into the family of God meant they would never have to live as orphans, it meant the Spirit of God would dwell with them and be inside of them, it meant they could look themselves in the mirror at night, the mercies of God would be new in the morning. Their baptism into the family of God had saved them, it had washed them clean, their Savior was sitting at the right hand of their God, they could rest in the simple truth they had friends in high places.
For us, resting in the promises of God means living safe in the ark of the Christian Church with a cleansed (conscience). Just yesterday little Paxton Kaminiski was born again into the kingdom of God. He is the brother of Payton Rose, he is the brother of Tatum, son of Scott and Kate by virtue of his first birth. He is brother of Jesus, he is the brother of all baptized believers worldwide, he is the son of his father in heaven by virtue of his second birth. We prayed yesterday that he would be kept safe and secure in the ark of the holy Christian Church, we marked him with the sign of the cross both upon his forehead and upon his heart, we poured water on him in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and as we did so, this congregation made a promise to walk with him, to encourage him, to pray for him, to help him to live with a clear conscience in all the chapters of his life.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who consciences are stained and soiled and at the same time free and clear. Left to themselves, they would be at the mercy at the neighborhood bullies who reside in dark and invisible places, but they have not been left to themselves. More and more these folks make the sign of the cross and remember who they are, less and less the worry about what the future holds. More and more they go about their vocations with the peace only their best friend forever can give, less and less they are afraid of their enemies. More and more they get asked for the reason for the hope that is within them, less and less do they keep good news for themselves. For them, resting in the promises of God is like spending time at a family reunion, knowing they belong, reminiscing about the good old days, looking forward to days even better.
“I can’t imagine not having a family.” A good friend of this congregation told me just this week that he and his wife were adopting a boy who just turned 18. If all goes well, he will soon be the big brother of three siblings, the son of stable and loving parents, he will have cousins he hasn’t even meet, aunts and uncles who already have a place in their hearts for him. When I asked my good friend why he was adopting this young man, he told me this boy’s story full of bouncing around from one foster home to another, a story of brokenness, a story where kindness and patience seemed to be mostly missing. Then he told me what I won’t soon forget, he said he couldn’t imagine this boy turning age 21 and not having a family. It seemed the logical thing to do, and so they made the decision not to let this boy be an orphan. This very day, this good friend of ours, now a preacher, is no doubt reading and hearing this promise from heaven above, “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good. But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed…..Even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed.
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