Last week, we prayed together through Peter’s sermon in Acts, Chapter 2 (the first Christian sermon) and how Peter’s instructions that we are “all witnesses” to the Good News of Jesus’ life death and resurrection should form our foundation for who we are as Christ-following people.
Over the next four weeks, we are going to look closer at the Apostle Peter: his letters, his instructions, as well as the unique way he praises Jesus and how he invites us to do the same.
Before we begin though, it’s important to understand one thing: though we celebrate the early church fathers, the Apostles Paul, Peter, James, and John, we would miss the point of all of their work and their urging if we made the mistake of thinking it was about them.
Though they are unique, though they do not always agree on the details, and though we might even prefer the teachings of one or two of these Apostles over the others, the point is that they all lived and worked in service to Christ and to His church.
I would go so far as to say that one of the most important lesson that the epistles (the letters) of the New Testament teach the church and we, its people, is that following Christ is not about us.
Following Christ is not about us. It’s about God’s action in the world.
God who made all of creation in love.
God who loved us before we were born.
God who sent His Only Begotten Son to show us the way to eternal life.
The Son who died for our sins.
The Son who was raised on the third day to show us that death is no more.
The Holy Spirit who guided (and continues to guide) the church after the Son ascended to heaven.
This whole story, told throughout Scripture and throughout the millions of lives who have followed it, this whole story is not about us; rather, it’s about the action God has taken in love for us.
As Peter reminds us, we are witnesses.
And one of the things we witness to, one of the most challenging, is that this story does not succeed or fail on our strength, or our cleverness, or even our action.
That because God in Christ did what we could not (fulfilling the law and saving us from sin) we are free.
Free from the need to get everything right
Free from the need to save ourselves and the world
Free to simply be who we were created to be: God’s beloved people, and so to live as God’s people.
Like I say, this is a challenging call.
Looking around us at the world, at our careers, at our jobs, and tasks, there doesn’t seem to be much room for “simply be who you were created to be”
In fact, rather than this gracious understanding, there seem to be more and more hurried demands every day:
You have to be more productive!
You have to save more for the future!
You have to save the planet from climate change!
But don’t forget about the economy.
And you have to save yourself!
You have to eat better!
You have to exercise more!
You have to de-stress!
Why are you so stressed?
You have to find time for a meditation class
You have to add it to your routine
Why is your routine so full?
Don’t you know you have to relax!
And that was before the whole world changed 7 weeks ago.
Since then, many of us have been given the permission we were denied so long to simply “sit and be.”
Sit and be.
Have a nap, have a snack, watch some TV, read a book, wait for things to calm down.
This illness, this virus is larger than any of us. There’s no sense getting stressed out. The best thing you can do for yourself and your neighbours is just to stay at home and take care of yourself.
What a nice change of pace.
Only... as we found out after several weeks of naps and snacks and TV… that this new pace is not one we can (or want) to sustain for much longer.
Truth be told, relaxing is nice, we want to get back to work.
And this is especially true, especially urgent, and especially stressful for people who do not know if there will be a place of work for them to go back to.
Only all of us don’t want to go back to the hectic way things were before.
Moderation therefore must be the answer.
Maybe this time, when the economy comes back on line, we will get it right, maybe this time finally we will find the moderation that has always eluded us.
Or maybe we are fooling ourselves again.
What I want to suggest this morning, through Peter’s instructions in his first letter, is that rather than seek a more moderate modern life, that what we should really be praying for is a life centred on God alone and the assurance that God has already set us free from the cages of both busyness and boredom.…
Therefore prepare your minds for action, discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.
These are the words that begin Peter’s call to “Holy Living” in this morning’s reading.
“Prepare your minds for action”
These are familiar terms in our modern world, yet what comes next is the key:
“Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed”
The world needs saving, the economy needs saving, we need saving, and Peter instructs us to look to Christ for not only the salvation itself but the hope we need to believe in such salvation.
prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 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.”
We have lived our lives (both our personal ones and the life of the church) in different ways through time.
We have tried action
We have tried being our own saviours
We have tried discipline and obedience
We have tried slowing down
Are we now ready to try focusing our lives on God alone?
Are we now ready to live, and to pray to live, as Peter and God have been calling us to do all this time?
The point of Peter’s call to Holy Living, in its original context as well as in the 21st Century is that it is a new way of being human.
Peter is not calling us to be “a little more prayerful”
Peter is not calling us to simply add prayer and Bible reading to lives focused on productivity; rather, Peter is calling us to think of ourselves differently; to think of ourselves as Christ-saved people.
As Peter continues, he reminds us of what makes this all possible:
God does not judge us as human beings based on our productivity
God does not judge us as human beings on our ability to live a balanced modern life
In actual fact, the God who judges us according to any deed has already ransomed us with Christ’s sacrifice.
Writing to his Jewish Christ-follower audience, here is what Peter says:
17 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. 18 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.
Here is what Peter is saying:
Trust in the God who gave you the law and judged you by it.
Trust in the God who, knowing you could not fulfill the law, gave Himself in Jesus Christ in order to ransom you with his blood
God knows you cannot do it on your own.
God knows that you cannot transform yourself, or live by Grace, or even trust in the promise of Grace on your own, that is why He sent His Son to save us and his Holy Spirit to journey with us.
God wants you to be transformed.
God wants you to turn around and understand yourself as His beloved child but God also knows that you cannot do it on your own.
Friends, in this time of COVID-19, we have been given a crash-course in the things we cannot do on our own:
We cannot save the world from illness on our own
We cannot control the economic forces of the world on our own
And we cannot will ourselves into hopefulness on our own.
We need God’s help.
We need God’s help in each of these things and hundreds more.
But Peter wants us to know something very important here.
The realization of that fact.
The realization that we are not enough and that we need God’s help is what makes us “holy as God is holy.”
Recently I watched an interview with American Pastor and Author Terry Walling, a man who has served people through all manner of crises and turmoil.
In his experience with crises and times of transition, he summarizes the place we are this way:
“We know that we cannot go back and yet we do not know the way forward”
We know that as human beings who like to be in control, we hate times of transition. We know that we would rather hit fast-forward and get to the “new normal” so that we don’t have to be in this place any longer…
We know that we want out of these times of transition… but we need to recognize that God wants in… that God does His best work in these times
That because we realize we are dependant.
Because we are aware of our dependence on God, God will use that realization to do great work within us.
Not only to make us more dependent on Him, more faithful, and more Holy, but also to make us better witnesses and ministers of this faith as well as to the Good News of Jesus on which it stands.
Friends, no matter where you are this day.
Whether you are overworked and overstressed.
Whether you are underworked and overstressed.
Whether you are isolated and bored beyond words.
Whether you are anxious. Whether you are sad.
God wants to use this time of transition to turn your heart toward Him and Him alone.
God wants to hear from you in prayer.
God wants to hear your stress, to hear your boredom, to hear your anxiety, to hear your depression.
God wants to hear you calling out to Him, and asking Him to make you holy as he is holy.
God wants to remake you of imperishable, rather than perishable seed, so that you may live your whole life in the enduring word of God.
This word is the Good News that was announced to you at Easter.
That Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He has risen from the grave, for your sake and for the sake of the world.