Sermon: 6th Sunday of Easter, 21 May 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Bishop Ross Nicholson

What You Do- 1Peter 3:8-25

-Have you ever thought about how different you are?

-You may never have reflected on this before,

-But you are a part of a tiny minority who are doing something,

-Which probably around 96% of the rest of the population would think is decidedly odd.

-You’ve taken a perfectly good Sunday morning,

-And chosen to be with a group of people for an hour or so,

-With whom you have no particular familial, demographic, occupational or cultural connection.

-Furthermore,

-The common connection you do have with these other people,

-Is not rooted in the materialistic, rationalist child of the Enlightenment,

-But in the belief that life in this world is undergirded by a spiritual reality,

-That there is a God,

-And that he has revealed himself to a world that has wandered far from him.

-Is it any wonder that Peter opens his letter with the words;

“To the exiles of the Dispersion . . .” 1Peter 1:1

-The New International Version is even more descriptive;

“To God’s elect, strangers in the world . . .” 1Peter 1:1

 

-As we’ve been reading through Peter’s first letter we’ve seen how identity is a big issue for him.

-Repeatedly he makes assertions about our identity.

-Who are you?

“God’s elect, strangers in the world . . . chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:’ 1Peter 1:1-2

-We’re the followers of Jesus;

“who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” 1Peter 1:5

-We’re believers.

 

-But Peter is also interested in our purpose,

-The ‘what are you?’ question.

-And what are you?

“(But) you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1Peter 2: 9

-Our purpose in this world is to proclaim the mighty acts of God.

-Because we have both identity and purpose then our lives will be different to the world.

-And what we do,

-Will be just as important as who and what we are.

-In fact, what we do will be confirmation to a darkened world of who we are.

-As Peter’s letter unfolds we see how he keeps repeating that idea of the connection between identity and behaviour,

-Of behaviour and purpose.

 

-Listen to how he ties identity and behaviour together in ch1:13ff;

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1Peter 1:15

-Who are you?

-Obedient children of God.

-What do you?

-Not conform to our previous evil desires,

-Be holy in all we do.

 

-Look again at 1Peter 2:9,

-Who are you?

-You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.

-What do you do?

-Proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.

-And just in case you think that Peter is exhorting us all to get a soapbox and stand outside Epping Station,

-Listen to how he describes this proclamation a few verses down;

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” 1Peter 2:11-12

 

-I recently read this story of a Romanian Christian named Nicu Toader.

-He was summoned one day into the office of the secret police.

-In that totalitarian state he thought this was the end of his life or at the very least his freedom.

-However when he arrived,

-He was sent up to the private apartment of the local chief of police to fix his home appliances.

-The chief said to a bemused Nicu;

“Here are the keys to my apartment. I know- you know that we have spies everywhere- that you are engaged in illegal religious activities. But you are a serious Repenter, I know that when you go to my apartment you will not go through my personal papers, take my food, or steal my valuables. And I also know that you are absolutely the best mechanic in the entire city of Timisoara. When you fix things they stay fixed. Your silly faith and your work skills bring you to my office this afternoon.” ‘Doing God’s Business’, Paul Stevens, p.54-55

-In a society of distrust,

-Of informants doing and saying anything to survive,

-Of crushing poverty and opportunistic disloyalty,

-Nicu Toader was noticed to be different to those around him.

-He was a stranger and alien of light in that darkened world.

-His ‘silly faith’ was noticed because he lived such a good life,

-A life different to the culture around him,

-And his good deeds were recognised as being directly linked to his relationship with Jesus.

-After the Christmas Revolution in 1989 it was revealed that Nicu Toader’s name was on a list to be arrested in order to crush the underground church.

-That police chief permanently deferred that order.

 

-I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of stories just like that,

-Of ordinary followers of Jesus who’s lives have shone so brightly,

-That their behaviour had profound impact upon those who saw it.

-At the beginning of ch3 Peter brings that message even closer to home,

-By saying that an unbelieving husband;

“. . . may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” 1Peter 3:1-2

-Through chs 1-2 Peter has been stressing our identity and purpose,

-And it’s here in ch3 that he focuses in on the day to day life of the follower of Jesus.

-On the readings sheet you can see the practical outworkings of who we are in Christ;

“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”

-Can you see how other worldy this exhortation is?

-Just turn on your TV,

-Read a newspaper,

-Scan through a Facebook feed,

-From world leaders right down to people who could be our neighbours,

-I’m sure you can see how alien is a life style which strives for harmony with others,

-Is sympathetic,

-Loving,

-Compassionate,

-And humble.

-Evil for evil and insult for insult is the currency of our world.

 

-That whole idea of being a contrarian in an evil world is underscored dramatically in the quote Peter uses from Psalm 34.

-This is just a little reading tip before we press on,

-But whenever you come across a quote in the bible,

-Always look down the bottom of the page or in a note somewhere which tells you where the quote comes from.

-In modern literature writers use quotes that stand for themselves,

-The quote fully embodies what the writer wants you to understand.

-But that’s not how Bible writers use them.

-A quote in the bible is a directive to go back to where the quote comes from and see the point of the whole text around it.

 

-So back to Peter who quotes;

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” 1Peter 3:10-12

-Now the other thing you would have noticed about this letter of Peter’s,

-Is how often he refers to the troubles that are going to come the way of the faithful follower of Jesus.

-And if you think about it even for a short moment you can understand why.

-The world hates people who don’t think the way they do.

-The whole lack of civility we see in public discourse today is a symptom of that deeper malaise within the moral compass of our materialistic, narcissistic culture.

-Whereas once upon a time our politicians would listen politely to a dissenting argument even if they disagreed with it,

-Nowadays the person is attacked not the idea.

-Whether it’s in the public sphere or private realm,

-Mere dissent is seen as a rejection of the individual and a personal affront to be avenged.

-In ch2 Peter has described what happened to Jesus because he confronted the world with a truth it did not want to hear.

-So his warning to us is expect nothing different.

 

-But here’s the sting.

-Peter quotes Psalm 34 where David says;

“Whoever would love life and see good days must keep their tongue from evil and their lips from deceitful speech.11 They must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.” 1Peter 3:10

-If you go back to Psalm 34 and read it in it’s entirety you can see how counter cultural David’s and Peter’s exhortation is.

-David wrote that Psalm when he was on the run from Saul who saw him as a threat to his kingdom.

-David was running for his life and he finds himself in the Philistine kingdom of Achish in Gath,

-The hometown of Goliath,

-And David is carrying Goliath’s sword!!!

-Talk about out of the frying pan.

-David has to feign madness in order to escape with his life.

 

-David is in desperate circumstances,

-On a number of occasions he could have killed Saul and solved his problems.

-But he would not raise his hands against the authority of God’s appointed ruler.

-Remember Peter’s command in 2:13 to submit yourself to every authority?

-David is completely counter-cultural.

-When he commands ‘seek paece and pursue it,

-This is no academic nicety,

-He really had to wrestle with what it meant to be an obedient follower of his God.

-He could resolve his problems with violence and murder,

-But he chose the harder way.

-He chose to do what his identity and purpose called for.

-Our choices may be different,

-But the same principle applies,

-What we do,

-Will be a compelling witness to who we are and our purpose in God’s world.

Sermon: 3rd Sunday of Easter, 30 April 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Bishop Ross Nicholson

Therefore- 1Peter 1:13-25

-Because it was the weekend before ANZAC Day,

-I heard a snippet of a radio story by a fellow who had written a book about the history of uniforms.

-The bit I caught was discussing the ubiquity of uniforms.

-They’re everywhere,

-But most people are often unaware,

-That the person across the counter,

-Or in the queue next to them is wearing a uniform.

-Soldiers, police and barristers in a court may have an obvious uniform,

-But what about the workers in Woolies and Coles?

-Or the chemist shop or maybe the building site?

-What looks to be just an ordinary business shirt or blouse can have a subtle colour or pattern,

-That in the right context screams out ‘uniform’.

 

-The gist of that radio interview was that uniforms help us identify the wearer.

-Just from a quick look,

-We can make a whole pile of assumptions of what we can expect from the wearer.

-Leonidas Polk was a general in the Confederate army during the civil war.

-On one occasion in late afternoon,

-His troops were being hit by cannon fire that he thought was coming from his own side.

-In some annoyance he rode up to the bombarding artillery,

-Confronted the officer in charge and demanded he identify himself.

-His reply was somewhat disconcerting.

-The artillery commander identified himself as a colonel in the Union Army,

-And then demanded Polk identify himself.

-Wearing a dark cape at dusk,

-Polk boldly rode right up into the colonel’s face,

-Shook his fist and said;

-‘I’ll soon show you who I am sir.

-‘Cease firing, sir, at once.’

-Turning his horse towards the cannon,

-He determinedly trotted down the line,

-Ordering the Union troops to lower their guns.

-And he just kept calmly going,

-Till a thicket of trees,

-Blocked the view of him breaking into a gallop!

-Back behind his own lines he told his men;

“I have reconnoitred those fellows pretty closely, and I find there is no mistake who they are; you may get up and go at them.” (1Samuel, Dale Ralph Davis p215)

 

-In the opening verses of his first letter Peter identifies his readers as;

“ . . . the exiles of the Dispersion . . . who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:” 1Peter 1:1-2

-Over the next ten verses he ‘reconnoitres pretty closely’,

-The significance and importance of who we are in Christ.

-No matter what we may have been in the past,

-What others may think of us now,

-Or what others may want us to be,

-We have a new identity,

-An identity rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ.

-Then Peter uses one of the most powerful words in the Bible,

-‘Therefore’

 

-There’s a helpful little aphorism of biblical exegesis that states,

-‘Whenever you see a ‘therefore’ you need to see what it’s there for!’

-Have you heard that before?

-‘Therefore’ is powerful because it focuses our attention on the implications of what’s gone before.

-A ‘therefore’ alerts the reader that the author has not just been passing on some helpful information,

-Or telling a story to hold your attention,

-It signals an imperative that calls the reader to action rooted firmly in what’s been previously stated.

-Because we now know God our heavenly Father,

-Because we’ve been sanctified by the Holy Spirit,

-Because we’ve been sprinkled by Jesus’ blood,

-Because we have a new identity as disciples of Jesus;

“Therefore prepare your minds for action.” 1Peter 1: 13

 

-When Peter says ‘prepare your minds’,

-He’s not just asking us to give intellectual assent to what will follow.

-To prepare your minds is to know something and then give your will over to it.

-This is body, heart and soul work.

-You can see that in the next two imperatives that follow;

“discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.” 1Peter 1:13

-That’s a pretty uninspiring exhortation to our instant gratification culture isn’t it?

-Discipline yourself!

-The New International Version says ‘be self-controlled’.

-Self-control and discipline involve the very same thing don’t they?

-Being determined and directed by your own inner compass,

-Rather than pushed and pulled by external pressures.

 

-But even that’s not quite what Peter has in mind.

-On your reading sheet or if you’ve got a bible handy,

-Look at vv14 and 17;

“Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance.” 1Peter 1:14

“If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” 1Peter 1:17

 

-If you’ve got an iPhone you may have seen the compass app.

-In January we were on a cruise around New Zealand,

-And I opened the compass app to see in which direction the ship was heading.

-My friends at the table did the same thing.

-We put our iPhones side by side,

-And every one of them was pointing in a slightly different direction,

-And by slightly I mean 15-20 degrees different.

-Being determined and directed by your own inner compass is fine,

-As long as that compass is pointing in the right direction.

-Those iPhones couldn’t give a correct heading because of all the steel of the ship,

-Distorting the data being sent to those different phones.

 

-Before we began following Jesus we followed our own hearts and desires,

-We conformed to the data of our ignorant and darkened desires.

-Our inner compass was pointing us in the wrong direction,

-Towards self-gratification and away from God.

-But as disciples of Jesus the Holy Spirit has given us a new direction,

-One that directs us to the good and righteous judgements of God.

-That compass points us away from the worldly behaviour we see as exiles or strangers in the world,

-As Peter puts it in v1,

-To the reverent awe of our loving heavenly Father.

-A compass points us away from something,

-At the exact same time it points us towards something,

-Our inner compass is pointing us to who we were created to be like,

-It’s pointing us to our true identity as the people of God.

 

-That’s why Peter’s ‘therefore’ points inexorably to holiness.

-Rather than being conformed to our old evil desires;

“Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” 1Peter 1:15-16

-Holy at its simplest means set apart or different.

-Why is God holy?

-Because he’s separate, different from creation.

-Why was Israel a ‘holy people’?

-Because they were set apart for God,

-They were to be ‘separate’ from the nations around them.

-Why were priests in the Old Testament ‘holy’?

-Because they were ‘set apart’ from the people to serve God.

-We are holy because we’ve been set apart from the rest of humanity to be God’s chosen people.

 

-Some people confuse the Ten Commandments as a list that had to be obeyed to be right with God.

-But it was no such thing.

-The Ten Commandments were given to distinguish between God’s people,

-Who he’d rescued from slavery in Egypt,

-From the pagans in the land he was leading them to.

-To obey demonstrated you belonged.

-You belonged first,

-Because you’d been rescued by God,

-And then you obeyed,

-To identify you as belonging to the God who rescues his people.

 

-You can see that by how Peter is arguing here.

-He tells his readers that they have a new identity as God’s people,

-Therefore they’re to live disciplined, holy lives consistent with that identity, v17;

“If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” 1Peter 1:17

-And just so we get the point he says next;

“You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.” 1Peter 1:18-21

-The fact that Peter mentions his readers were ‘ransomed’,

-Would have taken their minds straight back to that great rescue storey of Exodus.

-Slaves got ransomed or redeemed.

-God’s people were in slavery and they were redeemed by God.

-You and I were enslaved to sin,

-But we were ransomed from our futile ways with the precious blood of Christ.

-So our status changed,

-We received a new identity,

-And we are now blessed with a faith and hope that is set on God.

 

-General Polk had to bluff his way from enemy lines,

-When he realised he was wearing a different uniform to all the men with cannons.

-He was on a different side,

-His identity lay elsewhere,

-He was a stranger in a foreign land.

-If that blue coat Colonel had of been able to see under that dark cape,

-He would have responded in an entirely different fashion to a grey uniform.

-Having identified the enemy and returned safely,

-Polk commanded his soldiers to take action.

 

-Peter reminds his readers they now wear a different uniform.

-Their identity lies in another place,

-Therefore they are to prepare their minds for action,

-Be self-controlled,

-And set their hope fully on the grace of Jesus Christ.

-No longer are they to live the old life,

-Because they’ve been set apart for God.

-Friends, because of that same word preached to us,

-We too are called to the same life.

-We have the same Spirit empowering us,

-And the same hope inspiring us,

-To be who God created us to be.

Sermon: 2nd Sunday of Easter, 23 April 2017, Bishop Ross Nicholson, St Alban’s

Sunday 23 April 2017

Bishop Ross Nicholson

Identity- 1Peter 1:1-12

-In 1978 Pete Townshend of the rock band ‘The Who’ composed the song ‘Who Are You?’

-22 years later it came to the consciousness of a younger generation as the theme music for the TV programme ‘CSI’.

-It’s a very evocative title,

-‘Who Are You?’

-It asks the deepest and most profound of questions,

-Somewhat ironic for a song basically about a rock star of the Sixties,

-Getting drunk with two members of the infamous punk band of the Seventies,

-The Sex Pistols.

 

-Who are you? is a question of identity.

-In the age of democratised celebrity and iPhone selfies,

-Identity is a big driver of our modern society.

-From identity theft to identity politics,

-Our self-centred, materialistic, consumer culture has unleashed a hollow narcissism,

-Where what you are is far more significant than who you are.

 

-It’s in addressing this question of Christian identity that Peter begins his first letter,

-And the first verse literally is an address.

-Peter tells us to whom he’s writing.

-Just like one of those increasingly rare pieces of communication which turn up in our letter boxes,

-There’s a geographic note.

-You might get a letter with your name, number, street and suburb on the front,

-But the recipients of Peter’s letter,

-Are spread across a number of regions in what’s modern day Turkey.

-But the significance of Peter’s address is not where these readers are,

-But who they are,

-They’re ‘the exiles of the Dispersion’.

-You may have heard of the word ‘diaspora’.

-It’s quite often used in modern times of groups or ethnic communities that get scattered from their homeland.

-It’s also a specific descriptor of what had happened to the Jews down through history,

-From the exile in Babylon to Roman migration,

-God’s chosen people were dispersed across the known world.

-And Peter uses this description not of Jews,

-But Gentile converts to Christianity.

-And this is very deliberate.

 

-Sometimes passages in the bible just leap out at you in powerful ways.

-Last Tuesday night in our Holy Week gatherings,

-Isaiah 49 was read and v6 jumped out at me again;

“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Isaiah 49: 6

-This was God promising that his Servant, the Messiah of Israel,

-Would not just bring salvation to God’s chosen people the Jews,

-But to the whole world.

-This was another reminder of God’s promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12,

-That all peoples on earth would be blessed through him.

-And Peter uses that term ‘the exiles of the Dispersion’ to say that now the true people of God,

-The new Israel,

-Are those Gentile converts who recognise Jesus as the Messiah.

-It’s the followers of Jesus who are dispersed across the world,

-Scattered to the ends of the earth.

 

-Peter then reminds his readers who they are;

“To the exiles of the Dispersion . . . who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood:” 1Peter 1:1-2

-But notice how the identity of these people has nothing to do with what they’ve done,

-Or are doing.

-I suspect that if you ask any person ‘who are you?

-They’ll give an action based answer.

-I’m a teacher,

-I’m a doctor,

-I’m a carpenter.

-Which is really an answer to the question ‘what are you?’

-After David killed Goliath,

-Saul asked Abner,

-‘Whose son is this?’

-That’s a question which gives identity a relational basis.

-The genealogies of the bible are a classic example of this relational orientation of identity.

 

-Who are these exiles Peter is writing to?

-The answer is rooted in a personal relationship with the triune God.

-These are people who have been ‘chosen and destined by God the Father’, v2.

-Again Peter uses language that ties this group of people with Israel of old,

-Just like Abraham had been chosen by God to be the father of the chosen people,

-So Peter’s audience have been chosen by an action of the God,

-Who reveals himself as a loving and generous Father.

-And this choice is not some random selection,

-This is a choosing which was destined by the foreknowledge of God,

-This is a choice of God that has its roots way back before the creation of humanity.

-It’s an unfurling of a divine plan formulated before the beginning of time.

-This wasn’t God saying,

-‘Ooh I can see how this will turn out for these people!’

-This was God saying,

-‘This is how I will make this turn out for these people!’

-I’ll say some more on this later but for now just remember,

-God chose you,

-Not you chose God.

 

-Now the Trinitarian formulation comes into play.

-‘Who are you?’

-Exiles, chosen, destined,

-And sanctified by the Spirit.

-Peter not only sees divine planning but divine action,

-The Holy Spirit’s work is to sanctify these chosen ones.

-Now there are certain biblical words that sound more complicated than they actually are.

-Sanctify is one of them.

-Holy is another.

-Leviticus is a book that just screams complicated because it seems every second word is ‘holy’!

-Holy God, holy people, holy land.

-‘Holy cow!’ you might be thinking.

 

-But holy and sanctify are synonyms which basically mean ‘set apart’ or ‘separate’.

-Why is God holy?

-Because he’s separate, different from creation.

-That’s why idolatry was such a heinous sin,

-Because it confused the real nature of God with creation,

-It blurred the line between the Creator and the creation.

-Why was Israel a ‘holy people’?

-Because they were set apart for God,

-They were to be ‘separate’ from the nations around them.

-Why was a pot or a jug or a fork in the Temple called ‘holy’?

-Because it was ‘set apart’ for a special purpose in the worship of God.

-Why were the priests ‘holy’?

-Because they were ‘set apart’ from the people to serve God.

-And it’s the Holy Spirit who sanctifies the chosen ones by setting them apart for God.

 

-And how is all this accomplished?

-Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.

-We’ve just celebrated that life-changing event throughout Easter.

-Jesus’ death on the cross is at the forefront of our remembrances.

-And Peter’s reference to obedience and the sprinkling of his blood,

-Is the final part of the Christian’s identity in the triune action of God.

-It’s also a reference back to the covenant that God entered with his people on Mt Sinai.

-After the giving of the Ten Commandments and the other laws that set apart Israel from the other nations,

-Moses built an altar,

-Sacrificed a number of young bulls,

-Gathered the people and read to them all God had told him.

-When he’d finished reading the people said;

“All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Exodus 24: 7

-Moses took the blood and splashed it on the people, and said;

“See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” Exodus 24: 8

-The sprinkling of the blood identified the people as belonging to God,

-Through the promise of God they were set apart for God to be a holy nation.

-Look at the history of Israel and you’ll see they were dismal failures as a holy nation.

-In the end their exile came about because they were no different to the nations around them.

-They broke the covenant,

-They worshipped idols,

-They perverted justice,

-They behaved exactly as the nations around them.

 

-What a contrast they were to the saints,

-The holy ones,

-The exiles,

-To whom Peter is writing.

-No wonder he exclaims in vv3-5;

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

-Now the question I need to ask of you as you look at those words of Peter,

-As you hear his blessing,

-Who are you?

 

-Where does your identity lie?

-Is it in an occupation, a profession, a carefully constructed career?

-Is it moulded and shaped by the culture around you?

-Or by what others say you are,

-Think you should be,

-Wish you were?

-Do you live by a label?

-‘I’m this,

-‘I’m that.’

-Is it your background,

-Your education,

-The place you live that determines your identity?

 

-If you have a Flybuys card,

-A Facebook page,

-A postal address,

-The marketers know what you are.

-You’re a product,

-With needs and wants, dreams and desires,

-That they will willingly fan.

 

-Who are you?

-Peter will answer that again in ch2:9;

“(But) you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” 1Peter 2: 9

-Your identity does not lie in what you are,

-But who you are.

-Your true identity has been revealed on the cross,

-For there Jesus the Son of God lay down his life to renew yours.

-Through his death and resurrection your sins have been forgiven,

-Your old nature renewed,

-Your past wiped away.

-And through the sanctifying of the Holy Spirit,

-You have been set apart for God’s purposes and plans.

 

-In the world’s eyes you are a thing,

-A product,

-A commodity to be used and discarded when its utility has expired.

-But Peter reminds his readers that that is not who we are.

-Who we are is the people chosen by God from before the creation of time,

-For;

“an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. . .” 1Peter 1:4

-You have been set apart from this world to be the person God created you to be.

-And as we read through Peter’s first letter over the coming weeks,

-We’ll see the significance of our new identity,

-And the implications it will have for every day of our life.

Sermon: Fifth Sunday of Easter, Rev. Paul Weaver, 14 May 2017, St Alban’s

St.Alban’s Epping, 14th May 2017

 Rev. Paul Weaver

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE

 (Acts 7:55-60; Psalm 31:1-5,17-18; 1 Peter 2:11-25; John 14:1-14)

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people”. Perhaps you remember those words from the last week’s reading from the First Letter of Peter. Peter had begun the Letter by emphasizing the wonderful things God had done for us in Christ, and reminding us of the blessings of forgiveness, salvation and hope. We are called personally to respond to God’s call, but Peter also makes clear that we are called into relationship with him – and with each other.

Peter has shown something of who we are, even what God has made us: but in today’s reading he takes up a new angle. How does this Christian life work? What does it actually mean to live as a follower of Jesus Christ?

Peter again calls his readers “aliens and exiles”. His point is the same as the old song: “This world is not my home: I’m just passing through.” Yes, says Peter, your goal is God’s kingdom, but right now according to God’s purposes, this is where you are. This world made by God; this good world made by God; this world which is beautiful in so many ways, but which has so much that is wrong in it; this world with so much ignorance and sin, and so many problems. This world which still is God’s world; this world which right now is our world. How do we live in it as Christ’s people?

The whole letter has much to say, but one of the keys is Peter’s call to “submit to every human creature”. Now you mightn’t have noticed that statement in our reading this morning. You might have heard, a few lines down, Peter’s call “for the Lord’s sake to submit to every human institution”. This is a common way of translating Peter’s statement here, and it neatly links to what Peter is about to say. But it is not the natural translation, and to me misses something significant, even if uncomfortable.

What Peter says is “submit to every human creature”. He is calling us to be ready to submit to everyone. We are all only human beings, creatures made in the image of God. But we must be ready to submit to one another.

Now we are not naturally keen on the idea of submitting to others. We know that it is sometimes necessary; but after all, each of us knows that “I am No.1”, don’t we? Especially in today’s world, where my rights are so important, and where my freedom is a top priority. Submission implies that others have power over me, and the fewer people who have power over me, the better! But the natural reading of Peter is this call to submit: in other words, to choose to put others first, not yourself. He is not setting up some new power structure with two levels: on top, everyone else, and on the bottom of the pile, me – us!

Submission in this sense is not so different from Jesus’ teaching on loving our neighbour. Is there anyone who is not my neighbour if I have the opportunity to show them love? Of course there is not. Is there anybody to whom I should not give priority if God’s love requires it? No! So Peter says to submit to the Emperor: yes, it’s pretty common knowledge what a terrible man he is, what a mad man he is, but – submit to him and the rules of his empire. And Peter says to submit to the governor of the area where you live: yes, he’s probably corrupt, and he has no understanding of what  Christians are on about, and he may turn on you at any time, but submit to him!

Peter points out that God is a God who wants order in this world, and that in his purposes, government is meant to be a good thing. Good government will provide order, in which Christians may live their lives without unfair treatment, and be free to practice their faith and to bear appropriate witness to Jesus. Of course, no government is perfect. Some are corrupt, some are dictatorial, some are incompetent. Some will make unreasonable demands which will be difficult to meet. Some will make ungodly demands, which A Christian may feel they cannot take on. That was the reason for Stephen’s martyrdom about which we heard: he was commanded to keep quiet about Jesus, and faithfulness to Jesus required him to preach the message powerfully, though his words were hardly diplomatic!

In our own situation, for which we must be thankful, whatever we think of our political leaders, submission will involve obeying the laws as required of us, and playing our required part in the life of the community.

There will be particular laws or government decisions we believe are wrong, and we have a range of ways to challenge these things or lobby for change. But it comes from a basis of submission: recognizing the legitimacy of the government system with which we have been provided.

Our passage provides a second example of submission, about which we will rightly feel a degree of discomfort. This is to do with slavery. In the days of the New Testament, most work was done by slaves. There were millions of slaves in the Roman Empire. And slaves worked not only in the fields and on building projects. Doctors and teachers were slaves – some would say that they still often are! Actors and musicians and secretaries were slaves. Any household of standing had slaves. Why be a person with resources and do your own work? Let the slaves do it! In Roman law, a slave was not regarded as a person, so much as a thing, a piece of property, a living tool.

Of course the reality was more complex. Household slaves, to whom Peter would mainly have been writing, had no legal rights, and the way they were treated varied widely. Some slave owners treated their slaves as part of the family and showed them fairness and even respect, but other slaves could be treated brutally.

Now of course slavery is not part of today’s western civilization. Indeed the abolition of slavery was largely due to Christians who, admittedly 18 or 19 centuries later, saw that slavery was incompatible with the implications of the Gospel and its breaking down of barriers between slave and free, and the nature of humankind as all made in God’s image. But Peter was writing to Christians in the world as it was, and submission was his message.

“Submit to your masters with all deference”, writes Peter. They didn’t have a choice about submitting: they had to do that. But deference or respect is not something a person gets because they demand it. Peter calls on slaves to choose to give that respect and honour. Some masters will deserve it: others will not. The point was this: respect was not a bonus only for the really good master. Christians were to show it to all, whoever they were, whatever they were like, because they were made in the image of God.

One particular aspect of slavery was the potential for brutal and unfair treatment. Peter says that if slaves were punished by their masters, they must make sure that they don’t deserve it. And they should accept it without resentment or anger. And if they are treated unfairly, they are to continue to give the honour that their master may well not deserve. In all this, Jesus is the pattern. He was arrested, mocked, beaten and crucified: it was totally unjust and brutal. And yet he did not retaliate or threaten to get even. When we are mistreated, he is to be our pattern.

Whenever we feel unfairly treated, whatever the situation, it is so easy to hold on to anger or resentment. Sometimes there are things we can do if there are issues that need to be dealt with: people we can speak to or respectful things we can say, things that can be followed through. But if we follow Peter’s message, we must first of all seek helpful ways to handle our anger and resentment, so that we can go forward as Christ’s servants.

Peter reminds us that Christians are free people. We are set free from sin and guilt: set free to serve God and our neighbour – not because we are forced to do it, but because we choose to do so as followers of Jesus, who sacrificially showed us such love.

Peter has other examples of submission in this letter, and Paul also calls on Christians to submit to one another. We can allow the idea of submitting to others to be all about giving power to them, but Peter sees it as being about humble and loving service, loving our neighbour, whoever they may be.

People still notice whether Christians act like Christians. They want to see us live good positive lives. There is increasing ignorance about the Christian faith, and our lives can either help people to see something of the truth, or push people away from the truth. We are called to make clear to people the true nature of Christian faith: that it is based on love, and on the One who in love died and rose for us all. Let us choose to live his way as free people, as Peter says. Let us honour everyone; let us love our Christian family; let us be good citizens.

This really is the good life: the good life is not about classy restaurants, upmarket hotels, the indulgences that life offers some of us. It is about following Christ and serving others, even submitting to others, as Jesus has done for us. Amen.

Paul Weaver

Sermon: Fourth Sunday of Easter, 7 May 2017, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 7th May 2017

Rev. Paul Weaver

KNOWING WHO I REALLY AM
(Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:1-10; John 10:1-10)

If I handed out sheets of paper to everyone here today, and asked you to write five things about yourself that would tell me who you really are, I wonder what sorts of things you would write. It’s important to have a realistic understanding of who we are, an appropriate self-image: but many of us do seem to struggle to really know ourselves, to have a real sense of who we are.
Baptism is a service which focuses on who we are, what our life is all about, where we are heading in our lives. Indeed, it might be said that in this service, Leon’s given name becomes in a sense his “Christian” name. In baptism a person formally says to God, to those present, to themselves, and in a sense to the world: “I am a Christian”.
In the New Testament, it seems that people were baptized as soon as they expressed repentance and faith, as soon as they were converted to Christ: that seems to be what is described in Acts 2 as happening on the Day of Pentecost. The new Christians didn’t have to go through a six-week course, or be a member of an approved church for a year: when they turned to Christ, they were baptised. Baptism expressed in a visible and formal way the beginning of a person’s Christian life.
And that is why I believe that the Anglican custom of baptizing infants is appropriate and helpful. It speaks of new beginnings: it means setting out on the path of life as a follower of Christ. Now of course not even someone as intelligent and good-looking and wonderful as Leon understands all about the Christian faith at the age of a couple of months. Natalie and Brynjar and the extended family and the community here at the family church will undertake to encourage him and guide him and pray for him, so that that his understanding of his faith, his knowledge of the scriptures and their message, and his desire to live as a follower of Jesus will deepen and grow. As Leon grows towards adulthood, he will of course need to own his faith for himself: in a formal way that will be at his confirmation, but all that will need to be integrated with his journey along the path of Christian faith and discipleship and loving service.
A baptism is a very significant event: expressing personal commitment and a setting of one’s life direction. Where are we heading in our life? Perhaps that is one thing you might put amongst your answers to that question: “Who am I?”
If we are going to understand who we really are, we might very helpfully start in the opening pages of the scriptures: the first few chapters of Genesis. These scriptures tell us that we are made in the image of God: we were made to live in relationship with him, and given responsibility over this world. Sadly, these opening chapters of the Bible also tell us that something has gone wrong. Sin, the desire to live our way instead of God’s way, has become central to our human existence. We are still in the image of God: but the image is tarnished. If humanity is like a mirror reflecting something of what God is like, the mirror is still there, but it is badly cracked. And that affects not only our relationship with God, but our relationship with each other.
The story of Adam is in a sense the story of each of us: we are made in the image of God, but we are also sinners, guilty before God, and liable to his judgement, for God is a God who must put down evil. Our sin means that there is a barrier between us and God, but it does not mean that God has abandoned us, or that he no longer values us or loves us.
These opening chapters of the Bible make clear our need to avoid going to either of two extremes. On the one hand, we are not to indulge in excessive pride: “I am in the image of God, I am wonderful, I am invaluable, there’s nothing wrong with me.” No: we are indeed special, we matter, but we are also flawed, we are sinners, we are not what we should be.
On the other hand, Genesis 1-3 will help us not to get bogged down in the murk of sin, and the valley of helplessness and uselessness. Yes, we are sinners, but we are still precious to God, who still loves us, who is infinitely patient, but still calls us to repentance and to faithful service. These chapters give us a realistic and balanced picture of what it means to be human today, as they have always done. And of course, their truth does not depend on whether you understand the account literally, or simply as theological and spiritual truth, which is its real significance.
Don’t be unrealistic about your goodness, but don’t devalue yourself, for you are made in the image of God and precious to him.
But there is another vital message to be found in these chapters. For as soon as Genesis 1 tells us that people are made in the image of God, it tells us “male and female he created them”. Whatever other input comes later in the scriptures, the starting point is that male and female are both made in the image of God.
But there is more to it that that: the implication is that humans in relationship are in the image of God. God says “let us make”, but it will be a long time before the ultimate meaning of this royal plural is revealed: we will eventually discover that Jesus is truly God incarnate, and that God is a Trinity – that within the very being of God there is relationship, there is love.
Fundamental to our humanity is relationship. And in Genesis 2, we find that the first man is incomplete by himself: he needs relationship. And so the Lord provides him with a woman, a fellow human, a companion – in a sense to make him complete.
He gets into trouble when he does what the woman says instead of what God says: she is not is God any more than she is his slave. And so the two of them find themselves living in a world gone wrong – a world where relationships will sometimes be difficult, where there will be power struggles and there will be pain. But the world in which they live will still be God’s world, in which they are called to serve God.
Who am I? One vital truth is that I understand myself not simply as an individual, but as an individual in relationship. Every now and again, I hear of people who walked out on their marriages because they wanted to find themselves: now some marriages sadly are abusive and destructive, and it may be necessary to leave them. But we do not truly “find ourselves” by abandoning our relationships and commitments. I am who I am as a human, but also as a human in relationship. For the same reason I question the solitary life as some sort of spiritual ideal: yes, there may be value in some solitary time for reflection and focused communion with God, and for renewal. However, relationship is not an extra, but something fundamental to our human existence.
Who we are has to do with our creation by God in his image. It also is linked with our relationships. My significance is not just established by what I do, how much I own or how much I earn, or what I have achieved, or what I look like or my personality or a whole lot of other things. Nor is it a matter of what others think of me, or what I think others think of me.
Perhaps I could give you a sense of how I would answer that question about who I am – having of course had a chance to think about it.
I am a human made in God’s image, with a part to play in God’s world.
I am a Christian, a sinner forgiven by God’s grace, and a member of Christ’s family. I am a person connected to my family, who are very special to me: my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my brother and sister. I am a minister in the Anglican Church, and a member of the Anglican community at Epping. I have certain interests and concerns, particularly music which has always had a special place in my life. I could expand, but that would be my starting point. Perhaps you might sometime like to think about how you would sum yourself up!
Our reading from 1 Peter calls us to live the Christian life: turning away from evil, and from unloving attitudes and actions. It calls us to seek spiritual food and to keep growing in faith and spiritual maturity: regular reading and reflection on the scriptures will be an important part of this. It calls us to come to Jesus: the strong and supportive and secure rock, but a rock that can trip people up if they reject the truth about who he is and what he has done for us.
But there is another very important point, which relates to what I have been saying. Jesus came not simply to bring salvation to a lot of individuals: he came to draw together a community of people who are his
people, his family, his community.
Being a Christian, trusting and flowing Jesus, puts us into relationship with God, with the Lord Jesus, but also with his family the church – made up of imperfect and fallible people like us – and sometimes very different from us. Baptism is a way of saying “Jesus’ family is my family”. That’s part of the reason why baptisms here and in so many churches nowadays are not private, but during our regular services. And for us who are members, it gives us the chance to say “Welcome to the family”.
We are, as Peter says, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. We have received God’s mercy through Jesus Christ: we are called to show something of that love and mercy to each other and also to our neighbours, whoever they may be. And we are called to bear witness to the love of God: there is always room for more people in his eternal family.
So welcome, Leon. Stay connected to Jesus’ family, and stay connected to Jesus, who is ready to show you – and all of us – how to live as his follower, and as a member of his family.

Amen.