This Is Victorious Faith

“In due time…” As I studied 1 Peter 5 this week, that phrase jumped out right off the bat.  THere’s another one like it: “a little while.”  Two pretty small phrases that probably wouldn’t form the usual opening sentences for a sermon on 1 Peter 5, but what is usual now?  What is normal?  Given the circumstances of the last couple of months these two simple, seemingly insignificant modifiers have a great deal of meaning for us to consider, don’t they?

It began March 16.  Is everyone going to remember that day for the rest of their lives?  That was the day that it all shut down.  Stay home, quarantine, self-isolated, social distancing, facemasks, gloves, disinfecting, sanitizer, PPE (personal protection equipment) and all of the other things related to the coronavirus became the vernacular that has altered our lives. 

That was 70 days ago.  I counted.  Does that seem like a long time?  I guess that depends.  If it’s 70 days of vacation in your favorite spot in the world, if it’s 70 days of celebrating the championship of your favorite team, if it’s 70 days doing something you love, if it’s 70 days of eating your favorite foods with no effect on your waistline, if it’s 70 days of something great, well then 70 days is not long at all, is it?  But if it’s 70 days of blizzards and below zero, if it’s 70 days of blazing 100 degree scorching draught, if it’s 70 days of prison time, if it’s 70 days in a coma, if it’s 70 days in self-isolated pandemic, if it’s 70 days of being hunted down like prey, if it’s 70 days of something that is not so great, well then 70 days seems like forever.

Do you notice what’s wrong with that mentality?  It’s all about me.  It’s about what I like or don’t like.  It’s about my schedule.  It’s about my perspective on things.  And that is what gets us into trouble in this life.  When everything revolves around me, when my point of view is all I can see, when I am all that matters, then where is the room for the Lord?  Where is his power?  Where is his deliverance?  Where is his timing?  Where is the faith in his plan?  Where is the honor and glory he deserves? And where is the place for others, for serving, for selfless love, for giving rather than receiving praise?

We all have this struggle.  It is born in us, inherited from our parents and their parents before them, we naturally only care about ourselves.  And that’s so dangerous.  It’s dangerous because what if I can’t do it by myself.   What if I need help?   And I do.  You do, too.  Because there is a lion who is prowling around looking for someone to devour. 

I guess it’s true that on your own you could be alert, you could be of a sober mind as Peter encourages in verse 8.  Another translation for the word “sober-minded” is “self-controlled.”  That really only involves you.  You have to be the one that is alert with your own eyes.  You are the one that has to be free from distractions.  You are the one who has to say no to any of the things that tempt or confuse.  You are the one that cannot be consumed by excess or desires.  You are the one that has to stay away from any form of mental or spiritual drunkenness. It’s true that being alert and sober is what you and I work on for ourselves.

But where do you think you get this kind of self-control and sober mind?  Do you think that comes from being selfish and arrogant?  Do you think that comes from keeping the focus on yourself all the time?  Do you think it comes from seeing everything from your own point of view?

Peter has the answer for us.  He says the way to be alert and sober-minded, the way to resist the danger of the prowling lion is to stand firm in the faith.  That is having an object other than yourself to keep your eyes on, and not just any kind of faith will do for this.  It has to be a specific kind of faith in a very specific kind of object.  It has to be faith in the kind of object that has defeated the prowling lion who is hunting for you.  It has to be faith in the one who can lift you up out of harm’s way at the right time.  It has to be faith in the one who cares for you and can take all of your anxiety.  It has to be faith in the one who can make your suffering last only a little while and who can restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  It has to be faith that you don’t have alone but connects you to others who are going through the same thing you are.

Does such a faith exist?  Is there one who can take my gaze off of myself?  Is there one who can take my focus off of my perspective?  Is there one who can make 70 days seem like a day and a day like 70 days, or how about a thousand years?  Is there one who can give me something different to look at than my ideas of what should happen in the coming weeks and months?

There is such faith and Peter tells us where it comes from in verse 10: “the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…”  It doesn’t come from me.  It’s not about my timing, my perspective or my ideas.  This faith is given.

From the God of all grace… That’s the God I have needed over more than just the last 70 days.  I’ve needed the kind of God who sees someone selfish like me, someone near-sighted, someone lacking patience, someone who doesn’t always have his eyes open and alert, someone who doesn’t remain self-controlled, someone who is good at whining, someone stubborn and selfish, someone who is such an easy target for the roaring lion – he sees me exactly as I am with ALL GRACE.

He’s got all the selflessness.  He’s got all the service.  He’s got all the mercy.  He’s got all the willingness.  He’s got all the love.  And it’s all for me.  It cannot possibly be deserved.  Not by me with my sinful heart, sinful attitude, sinful words, and sinful actions.  It cannot possible by earned by you.  Not with your sinful condition that is identical to mine.  This grace is so free and full from the God who loves us enough to put in motion a plan that makes absolutely no sense, not for someone like me and someone like you.

With this grace God called you… Something pretty cool happened last Saturday and this past Thursday.  Maybe you saw it in the email I sent out to our church members, maybe you watched the virtual services.  At Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, graduates were given assignments into the ministry as teachers and pastors.  They were given their first call to teach or to preach, their first classrooms or pulpits, their first students or members.  God did the work of preparing them through the work of our church body and our ministerial education schools.  God opened a spot.  And God is now sending them out as called workers in his church. 

It’s very similar to what happened for all who believe.  No, not all of God’s people get a call into public ministry as a pastor or teacher, but we all are called by the gospel into God’s family.  I know that because it’s the only possible way for me and for you to be a believer.  I would much rather look at myself and focus on what I like and what I want than humble myself under someone else.  I would much rather fix my problems and pain than casting them onto someone else, because then I get the credit.  I would much rather hunt down any foe with my own skill, because then I can show that I am able to conquer anything that comes my way.

I have to be called away from all of that.  I have to be removed from my own peril.  I have to be dragged away from the sinful selfishness that only cares about myself.  And God’s grace has that kind of power.  The call of the gospel, the good news of someone more powerful and more caring and more transformative than me, is the only way to God.

And it leads us to his eternal glory…  No, it’s not an earthly solution that can undo 70 days of craziness.  It’s not a cure for a disease that will last me only as long as my heart can keep beating.  The grace of the eternal God that called me out of darkness leads to his home. It’s the place that goes beyond my perspective, my timeline and my thoughts.  It’s his, the God who loves me and protects me and guides me from my first breath to my last and than endlessly longer than that.  It’s his heaven that last forever, and through his gracious gift that called me to faith, it’s all mine.  And all of it is yours.

And the object of this faith?  It’s Christ.  The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…  Jesus is one who crushed the prowling lion’s head.  Jesus is the one who cares for you by taking all your punishment for sin and all your anxiety about the past, present and future.  Jesus is the one who has power and authority to rule with a might hand and lift you up when the time is right.  Jesus is the one who gives you the strong, firm, and steadfast foundation.  Jesus is the one who makes eternity yours because he took away the sting of death. 

Does all this sound familiar?  It’s what we have been talking about for the past 43 days.  This is the joy we have because of Easter.  We have victory no matter what in Christ, because through faith in him we have the God of all grace.  He’s on our side. Day after day, he guides us and protects with his might hand.  Through faith in Jesus we have the call to eternal glory, where a little suffering and a little bit of time cannot begin to compare. Through faith in Jesus it’s not about our time, our perspective, our plans. 

That’s why I really enjoy how this section ends compared to how it begins.  It begins talking about waiting for God to lift you up “in due time.”   There are these encouragements to be alert and stand strong as we resist the devil here on earth.  But Peter ends by point us to what really matters.  That’s what God has done over the last 70 days, and that’s what the God of all grace will do forever.  To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

THE PERFECT SERMON ABOUT LOVE

Eater 2019

1 Corinthians 13

1 If I speak in the tongues n of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, u but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

What sermon do you listen to about love?  See, you don’t have to be in a church to hear a sermon.  There are sermons all over the place every day, because a sermon is simply an address on a theological topic.  And love is most definitely a theological topic; it’s all over the place in the Bible.  It’s also discussed all over the place from all sorts of angles by all sorts of sources.  So what sermon do you listen to?

Do you like the sermons about love from RomComs (romantic comedies), Soap Operas, and other shows and movies? You know, there’s the little quirky one or the one who has some personal baggage and they find each other in odd circumstances where it just might work and you get to see it work out in such an endearing or passionate or convoluted way.

Do you like the sermons about love that you hear in songs? Love Is a Long, Long Road, Don’t Treat Me Like a Stranger, Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Something Good Coming, Our Love Was Built to Last, She’s Gonna Listen to Her Heart (Tom Petty tunes) I Can’t Help Falling in Love with you, You’re Still the One, More than Words, Nothing Compares to You, Piece of My Heart, Just Give Me a Reason, Kiss Me, Sex & Candy.  Whether you realize it or not, you are learning a bunch of ideas about love while you drive around or sit your desks.

Do you realize that you are hearing sermons about love from advertisements?  You need this product to be prettier, you need this to win her over, this gift will make her happy, that will be good for your family, and on an on about the things that make love more satisfying, stronger, better or easier.

Besides all these sources, kids are getting sermons about love as they watch their parents, as the walk the hallways at school, on their Snapchat and other social media.  As they get older, they also to get these sermons in the locker room, at work, on campus, at parties.

So many sermons about love saying love is about passion and keeping the flame alive.  Sermons teaching that love is about laughter and fun.  Sermons promoting love is all about what matters to you and gives you a special feeling.  Sermons describing love a deep personal connection that you can fall into or be struck with it at first sight.  Sermons saying that love and sex don’t need to be connected anymore.  Sex should be for whoever whenever, because it’s just a bodily need for some people.  And on and on…

There are so many sermons about love that really don’t get to the heart of the issue at all.  God doesn’t want you to learn about a love that only goes skin deep.  He wants you to know that love takes everything you are, body, mind, and soul.  He wants you to know that love cannot flame out because it’s not about passion and feelings.  He wants you to know that love does not set conditions; it has no fine print.  He wants you to know about love from the one who defines it (1 John 2).  He wants you to know about love that is not based on you – where you come from, what you do, how you look – but comes from him, based on who he is and what he does.  He wants you to know that his love for you is also his love for others.

And so, God inspired the Apostle Paul to write this sermon on love in 1 Corinthians 13.  This is the sermon we need.  This is the sermon that perfectly reveals God’s love for us and at the same time perfectly teaches us what his love will do through us for others.

Paul starts out with the first 3 verses describing great things like speaking in different languages or even speaking in spiritual, angelic tongues, having the give of prophecy, being able to move mountains with his faith in God’s power, having a generosity that is boundless, and being able to suffer through the most difficult hardships.  Any one of those things would be a great blessing from God, not just useful for me but also very helpful to others around me.  But having those abilities without love is just plain old annoying or worse.

Do you know the clash of cymbals?  My parents do.  I was in sixth grade when I bought a drum set, and not the electric kind that you plug in and can hear only if you have the headphones on.  I bought the real kind.  Boy, did I want to practice the drums, every day, in fact.  I would practice beats and fills.  I would play along with CDs and the radio.  And it was for the whole house and probably neighborhood to hear.  I cannot comprehend how my family put up with it.  It’s not like I had them in a padded room with a door.  They were in the basement family room to fill the whole house with their beautiful banging and clashing.  I guess they must have really loved me to endure that.

If you don’t fill your words and actions with the love that comes from God, then all those amazing blessings Paul mentions are about as good as a 6th grader trying to learn the drums in your home.  It’s just a whole lot of banging and clanging.  It’s annoying and irritating.

Why would God be so blunt?  Why would he say that really beneficial blessings like speaking in languages, prophecy, faith that can move mountains, cheerful generosity, and patient endurance are annoying and of no real purpose?  Because without God’s kind of love, these gifts don’t serve others the way God serves us. They are not being used for God’s glory and his purpose but are just self-promoting and self-gratifying.  And God’s love just doesn’t do that.  The goal of faith, hope and love is not to puff you up, earn you recognition and glory, make you feel better.  The goal of faith, hope, and love is to serve God and raise others up, give others encouragements, make others better.

See, love and selfishness do not go together.  Love never asks the question, “What can I get out of this?”  Love never says, “I need it now, ” or “It’s my way or the highway.”  Love is not interested in putting others down while you elevate yourself.  Love cannot be in the same realm as anything that would go against God’s Word.

Instead, here is the perfect sermon about love: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think when I read these words of God: “I am a failure.  I can’t do that.  Maybe I can do it for about 15 minutes or an hour, but all day every day for everyone I come into contact with, because God says love your neighbor.  I am a total loser.”  God says this is the sermon you need on love.  Not any of those movies or songs.  And I think, “If this is the kind of love that needs to be a part of my life as a child of God, then I’m in big trouble.”

Can you remember a time when you weren’t patient?  It was probably this morning or right now.  How about kind?  Again, it already happened today.  Envious, boastful, proud?  Check, check, and check.  Go on down the list and all I see is things that I fail to do for people, even those in my own home.

But remember this sermon is from God.  He wrote it, because he knows this kind of love very well.  It’s not that he sees it so regularly in our lives, but he knows it so well because this is the kind of love that he has for you. No conditions need to be met.  No levels have to be reached.  No works must be done.  No prayers must be said.  This is the love that is at the heart of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  This is the love that Jesus displayed as he lived and died for you.  This is the love that brought him back from the dead so that you and I would have an eternal home with him in heaven.  This is the love that he continues to shower on us every single day.

We claim to be too busy for a lot of things, and Jesus is patient.  We are unpleasant, and Jesus is kind.  We are arrogant, and Jesus is humble.  We are looking to raise ourselves up and lower others, Jesus is looking for ways to spiritually lift us up so that we can put others first.  We get angry and hold grudges, and Jesus peacefully forgives and forgets.  We find delight in our pet sins, and even though it stings, Jesus compassionately gives us the truth of law and gospel, sin and grace.  We don’t fight the good fight against the devil and all his evil as we should, so Jesus fought him for us and won.  He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Jesus never fails.

My brothers and sisters, here is the perfect sermon on love: Jesus. Period.

If you are wondering how in the world this kind of love can come out of you and show itself not just to those dear to you but to all, I want you to think of where Jesus is right now.  He’s not being selfish, doing something that only benefits him.  He’s not off somewhere else, neglecting us.  He’s not boiling over about all of our loveless hearts. He’s right here speaking through this word of God.  He’s right here a little later in his body and blood.  He’s right here and in each one of us through faith that he put there in baptism.

How could this kind of love ever show up in your life is maybe not the right question.  The question is where else could it be?  How could this love of God not be in your life?  See, Jesus put it right there in your heart.  Jesus keeps it there by the power of the Spirit working through his Word and Sacraments.  Jesus keeps his promise to never leave you nor forsake you.  Jesus keeps his promise to never fail.  He keeps his love for you and in you so that it will go to work through you.

Here is not a love that selfishly desires what I want but a love that selflessly serves what others need.  Here is not a love that ignores sin but a love that confesses it, forgives it, and leaves it.  Here is not a love that sets conditions but a love that gives joyously and eagerly to all.  Here is not a love that gives up but a love that can do nothing but hope and persevere.  This love you have been given by God and this love you give others from God.

I could go on and on and on, but God’s perfect sermon on love says it all so simply and in just 13 verses.   So maybe just one thing remains… the Amen.