There are a bunch of paradoxes that are part of how the church talks about reality, but one of the biggest is about the end times. Side one of the paradox is that the end has already come. Side two of the paradox is that we are still here. With the resurrection of Jesus, the last day has happened. The age to come has arrived. But the current age still roles on. And we live in that tension.
As we saw the past week, living in a Divine tension is not comfortable. We’d like to resolve it. We want the old age to be done with, now. Hence the rapture warning, but also the much larger number of apocalypses and Armageddons predicted from a wide variety of folks religious and secular. Or, we’d like to just say – same as it ever was, world without end. Hence the lukewarmness, the despising of church and sacrament, the lack of holiness. We collapse the paradox, on our terms, on our time, in our way.
But Peter calls us living stones, placed on The Living Stone. Think for a second about that juxtaposition living…stones… Can you come up with a stranger notion? And we are living stones for God’s purposes. Those purposes are: growing up to salvation, to take our place in being built up into a spiritual house on the cornerstone (i.e. the church is important, its a corporate image), to proclaim Jesus who has called us out of darkness into his light.
Text: 1 Peter 2:18-3:7
That title is a reference to what you might have heard as a medieval way of thinking – The great chain of being. Really it goes back to the Greeks and Romans and the ancient world. You might also have heard it referred to as the order of creation which I take as the Christian attempt to baptize the chain of being. There is a truth buried within it. God is sovereign. But natural man can’t understand that correctly. We think chain of being or order of creation and immediate jump to hierarchical org charts. We think dominion. Roman philosopher Seneca held we couldn’t make progress until “we conceived the right idea of god.” The right idea of God put forward by Peter is Jesus – the suffering servant. The one who submitted himself to our bad justice.
I preach within a denomination that holds to what the larger Christian world calls complementarian sexual roles. They hold this view largely on the basis of an order of creation. Here is the page with the various studies that have been done by the LCMS. The most recent one being the Creator’s Tapestry in 2009. Bluntly, any order of creation argument is missing the point. To derive dominion for the husband out of 1 Peter requires completely misreading and selectively quoting. (The CTCR report doesn’t look at the entire passage, nor does it put it in historical frame, it just quotes the wife/husband part.) The entire passage is a household code. That form is not an OT form but a Greek form. In the sermon I’ve quoted what some of those greek codes said from names like Aristotle, Plato and Seneca. Peter uses the form, but completely subverts it. He starts with slaves. Slaves who didn’t have any moral ability in those greek codes. Slaves would never have been addressed by a greek writer. In Christ the slave comes first because he/she is the closest model to Christ. Only then does Peter move on wives and husbands. The teaching is live holy lives of mutual submission reflecting Christ. Find that the other has more value than yourself. Uphold the society you live in where possible, Christian freedom is not to tear down society, but know that your dignity comes from God having chosen you. You are not chained in being or orders of creation instead you willfully submit to Christ, who submitted himself to the cross. Any theology or politics of dominion must meet its end at the cross.
Our lectionary (the assigned readings for the week) is taking us through 1 Peter during the Easter Season. I can’t remember ever hearing a focus on 1 Peter. As I write this now 3.5 weeks into it, I understand that a little better. Peter is very short. You could condense the letter to two very short sentences. God chose you. Live like it.
In a world that is often plagued with doubt, Peter isn’t. He is bold enough to say compare your former life with your current life in Christ. Compare the status craving world running from one idol to the next to your status as God’s chosen. Yes you are resident aliens. You are exiles, but exiles from what? Something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Christ’s election is incorruptible and unfading. Christ has called you and given you an inheritance and has a job for you. Whatever that job is there is nobility in it, because God has placed it in your path. The world will say your odd. Make the comparison. Which is worth more?
As a preaching and denominational note. Even though Luther liked first Peter, the message is somewhat different. The Lutheran pattern is law and gospel. When you have been convicted of the law then the gospel restores. That was Luther’s personal experience. His anfechtung over sin followed by the recovery of the gospel to himself. Lutheran preaching can be caricatured – “make you feel really, really band and then make you feel really, really good.” Peter’s proclamation is Gospel (God chose you) followed by sanctification (live like it). It is a radical dependance upon the Holy Spirit to first call a wavering people to recognition of who they are and second to then live the faith.
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-11; Baptism of Isobel and Michelle
One of those times in sermon prep reading you come across a story that is just perfect for the situation. Since it was used so early in setting the theme and it was such a powerful story, you hope and pray that the rest can live up to it.
One of the things I like to do is point our or remind people that the rites and rituals of the church has a purpose. They are not mindless actions or appeasements of a angry God. The baptisms, Lord’s suppers and confessions, the weddings and confirmations, are an enactment of what is being said. What we say is happening actual does happen – God has promised or explained it that way. Baptism now saves us. We are joined with Christ in baptism.
We are limited creatures. Unless the Lord comes again in our lifetimes, we will die, things will fade. In Baptism we can be impudent toward that fact and toward the Satanic powers of this world. Death itself will fade. In Baptism we are joined to Christ and to an inheritance: incorruptible, undefiled and unfading. As in the theme story, baptism puts us in an impudent position. We are placed and kept in faith until the last appointed time.
I was asked after church in Bible study if I like preaching on Easter Sunday the best. My answer was not as full a yes as might be expected. It is definitely up there, if just for the crowd size. This is not meant as a theological statement – the effectiveness of any sermon comes from the Spirit in the hearer – but when you’ve got a crowd the speaker does not have to supply the energy. The most draining times to preach are when there should be at least what I call comfortably empty crowds and you are below that. (Special days like thanksgiving don’t qualify because the 10 leper rule, only 1 of 10 returned which gives a different feel.) Those times and places are energy black holes. Again not a theological statement. Easter morning is one that the speaker can reflect the crowd’s energy.
But probably the bigger reason Easter is not number 1 by a landslide is that large audience. This is what I mean. The typical Sunday a preacher can feel comfortable that the Spirit is working in the lives of most of the congregation. The Word has taken root and it is the preacher’s job to water it. On Easter Sunday you get a different crowd. The fundamental job on Easter Sunday is casting the Word to the air. It is giving hard hearts and stopped up ears a chance to respond with faith. It is the gospel proclamation reduced to its core – he is risen! And while the taking root of faith and the word is the work of the Spirit, there is always a deep longing in an Easter Sermon. This might be the last time many gathered might hear the Word. This might be the last time for the Word to take root. And the Sunday after Easter you get a feedback. Too many prodigals haven’t returned. Too many seeds have been fallen on hard ground. Too many cares of the world have crowded out that He is risen. Unlike most Sundays that you know you will see much of the congregation the next week or soon, on Easter you worry. And every preacher is reminded that it is not the eloquence of the tongue but the mysterious work of the Spirit. Who never seems to work on our timetables or with the response we would like. Easter preaching is joyous and humbling at the same time.