This sermon was preached at a BCP service of Holy Communion at Emmanuel Church Northwood Sunday 12th June 2016 (and again Wednesday 15th June 2016). The readings were for the Third Sunday after Trinity; 1 Peter 5:5-10 and Luke 15:1-10.
Today’s Gospel reading is filled with the Joy of salvation. The Shepherd rejoices with his friends when he has recovered his lost sheep. The woman celebrates with her friends when she has found the missing coin. More than this, Jesus tells us that the angels in heaven are filled with joy when sinners repent and turn to God. These stories in Luke 15 are followed by the story of the prodigal son, a story with which I am sure we are all familiar with as a vivid metaphor for the love which God has for us!
The Gospel, the truth about Jesus Christ – the one who lived and died and lives for us – is genuinely amazing. The themes within it have been drawn out and reflected on through countless paintings, through music of each and every genre. It can seem as if all the classic western novels are influenced by the Christian conceptions of self-less love, of forgiveness, mercy and redemption; whether they agree with these values or not. It has been said before, but ‘the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest love story of all time.’
Now, we come to church on a Sunday and we hear the story, we sing the songs and we pray ‘Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name’. This is all good and proper, but for each of us there has to be something more than just a story; we need a connection between the stories of faith and the reality of our lives. We listen to the stories of the shepherd and the lost sheep, of the woman and her lost coin, and of Jesus dying for us on the cross and we become convinced that this should be more than an ancient story, that it continues to mean something to us! In our lives, filled with their own intricacies and complexities. In our lives, made up of the things which bring us happiness, and the things which frustrate and sadden us.
It is this that the Apostle Peter writes about throughout his epistle. Again and again, he takes the Gospel which they have heard preached and says “Therefore”.
In this short epistle Peter writes five times ‘Therefore’. In chapter one he starts with the ‘grace that was to be yours’ therefore ‘set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ’. In chapter four he speaks of Christ’s suffering, so therefore we suffer against sin and the temptations of the world. Then he starts with the reality of the return of Christ and says ‘therefore’ be sober minded and love one another earnestly.
Again, Peter writes of the difficulty that Christians will face ‘Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful creator while doing good.’
These therefores are so important.
Each time they start with God and what God has done or will do.
Then they move from what this means about God,
to what it means for us.
What’s fascinating about this is that when Peter starts with God, so often he starts with the reality of suffering, of difficulty. For Peter, the Gospel of Jesus is intimately tied up with the suffering of Jesus for us, and of our suffering for him in our lives. Here we find within scripture this insistence on holding together our stories of faith with the realities we live with in a connected and authentic manner.
Our epistle reading starts with ‘Humble yourselves therefore’. We are to humble ourselves because of what has come just before. Immediately before we read that God opposes the proud and lifts up the humble. However, just before our reading starts Peter is encouraging elders and church leaders to be good examples to their congregations, to their flocks. At that point he says ‘And when the chief shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.’
We are not to humble ourselves just to earn God’s favour, to be seen to ‘do the right thing’ but we do the right thing because we live with the expectant hope that the chief shepherd will appear to us again!
We as Christians are to live not just remembering the ancient stories but in the living reality of Jesus as our Lord! Yes, there’s an element of responsibility here for us, we are to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. But this powerful and mighty hand of God is not raised ready to strike us down if we misbehave. Far from it! The emphasis on God’s power and authority is not to fear monger but to encourage us to have faith, to trust in him. Peter writes, cast all your cares, all your anxieties, upon him for he cares for you!
Jesus cares for you.
That’s a bold statement, trust me I know but it is the truest thing which I will say all week. Jesus cares for you!
We can all too easily try to deflect away from this. We can say well yeah, I know that but things are difficult at the moment. We can say that we believe that Jesus cares for others but he doesn’t care for us, he hasn’t ‘shown up’ for us personally. Whether we have known it all our lives, or struggle to accept it today we say yes to both the fact that Jesus cares for us, and the objections that life is and can be difficult for us.
Peter writes, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Jesus cares for us, but I assure you that the devil and the shadows of sin in all its forms desire nothing but the worse for us, hoping to trap us in death and to keep us from the love of Christ. This opposition appears to us each in different ways but it will always be the subtext to the anxieties and thoughts which we have about life and one another which cause us to hesitate, which distract us from focusing on Jesus and loving one another as we ought. I say ‘anxiety’ with a great deal of care. I am not saying for a moment that to be anxious or to suffer from anxiety is sinful or even demonic. What I am saying is that we were not created to be anxious and that whenever that is our experience we have to hold that it is an uncomfortable relic of a broken and hurting creation damaged by sin.
But! the God of all grace, who has called us into his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, will make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
Peter concludes his letter by encompassing our suffering in the love of the God who cares for us. This God is the God of all grace. His free and unconditional love is ours not because of anything we have done or said but because of who Jesus is as the one who died and lives for us! Through his death, resurrection and ascension he has called us into eternal glory! This means that he will make us perfect; he will make us stable, strengthened and settled. This is the surest grounds we can have for hope and it is hope which, seizing us in our hearts drives us on in the power of the Holy Spirit to take the Gospel beyond being ancient stories of faith into the reality in which we here at Emmanuel live today.
Peter wrote that we are ‘born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through fair for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.’
As we turn to celebrate Eucharist this morning, may we cast all our cares upon the God who cares for us. I pray, with Peter, that ‘Though you have not seen Christ, you may love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”