Sunday, May 18, 2014

Remember Who You Are

[This was prepared to be shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, today.]

1 Peter 2:2-10
The story’s told of a young man who was settling into a dorm room for the first term of his freshman year of college. His parents had said their goodbyes. A bit later, he looked around his room and found a note on his bed. It was from his mom. “Dear Cameron,” it read, “Never forget who you are.”

Those few words weren’t meant to constrain a young man from growing and being transformed by his life and experiences and the things he would learn in college.

They were meant instead to remind him of his birthright, of the love of his family, and the character that had been forged within him in the first eighteen years of his life. "Don’t forget the person you have become before this day." "Don’t forget your identity when you face the disappointments, tests, and even temptations of adult life." "No matter the changes that lie ahead, keep drawing on the strength of who you are."

This, in a sense, is the message that the apostle Peter gives to the Christians living in first-century Asia Minor, which we find in today’s second lesson. “Never forget who you are as people saved by God’s charity--His grace--through your trust--your faith--in Jesus Christ,” Peter is saying.

The Christians to whom Peter wrote needed that reminder. They were facing some sort of persecution. What it was exactly, we can’t be sure. But whenever Christians face opposition in the world...whenever there are people telling us that faith in a risen Savior is foolish...or the world claims that living life God’s way, rather than the world’s way is naive...or when people tell us that when you’re dead, you’re dead, Christians desperately need to remember who they are and how they came to be who they are.

It’s in the remembering, that we can be re-membered to who Christ has made us to be.

Just before our lesson for this morning, Peter shared thoughts in a section that some label, a “call to holy living.” This, Peter was saying in that section, is how you live when you’re grateful that God doesn’t judge you on the basis of the good or bad you do or the good you don’t do, when you’re grateful for God’s undeserved grace. In the verse immediately before our lesson, he writes: “...rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind." In other words, get rid of your sin by confessing it and letting the Savior Jesus take it off of your shoulders and letting the Holy Spirit help you to avoid committing the same sins over and over again. (Although I must confess my own penchant for committing the same sins and having to repent for them repeatedly, a testimony to God's grace and patience!)

Let’s look at what Peter writes next in the words that make up our second lesson, 1 Peter 2:2-10 (pages 850-851 in the sanctuary Bible): “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Spiritual milk here is the word about Jesus, the word that God’s heart breaks at the thought of losing any one of us because of the sin we inherit at birth and so, He decided to become a human servant among us to die and to rise and to give a new and eternal relationship with God to all who repent and believe in Christ.

We never grow so old or advanced in our faith as to not need to keep craving the life-changing power of that word.

I once met a couple who had both grown up in Christian homes. In fact, both were preachers’ kids. But they’d forgotten who they were. They stopped feasting on the message of hope in Jesus. They’d both made a lot of mistakes. And, contrary to the will of God, they were living together without benefit of the marriage covenant.

I liked them and, as I sat in their living room, I worked up the courage to ask them: “How do you feel about God?”

“I love God,” the man replied with feeling. “But I don’t have much room for him right now.”

Listen: No matter how far you and I may wander from the God we know in Christ, no matter how little room you may think you have for God in your life, He always has room for you.

It’s a matter of remembering who we are as the result of our Baptism--children of God--and craving for the power of the Gospel to be at the center of our lives again.

And that's a power that can transform each day we live on this earth, as well as our eternities. “...I am not ashamed of the gospel,” Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes...”

Keep craving the spiritual milk of Jesus and His Gospel, Peter says. The message that changed you from God’s enemies to God’s friends will also keep your hope and confidence in God alive. Remember who you are.

Peter goes on in verse 4: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

In Jewish and Christian thought, “the Stone” was another title for the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed king and savior God promised hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus. Psalm 118:22-23 had predicted, in fact, that the world would reject the Stone, would reject Jesus.

The reasons people rejected Jesus then--the reasons that people reject Him today...the reasons I once rejected Him--boil down to really just one. As a friend once told me, explaining why he wasn’t a Christian: “I want to build my own life and I don’t think that Jesus can do that for me.” He might have said that he didn’t want Jesus to build his life because the moment you let Jesus take over building your life is the moment you cede control of the direction of your life to Him.

Jesus will take those who turn to Him away from death, toward life.

Away from separation from God, toward fellowship with God.

Away from futility, toward purpose, meaning, significance.

When, throughout our lives as followers of Christ, we lay down our sinful rebellion, remembering who who we are by God’s grace and surrendering to the truth that the One Who made us and bought us back from sin and death through the blood of His Son might have a better idea of how we tick, we experience peace.

When the life of the living Stone enters into us, we become living stones--or, as Martin Luther put it, we become little Christs--the life death, and resurrection are re-enacted within us.

And like Christ, Who offered Himself for us, we offer the only acceptable sacrifice to Him, humble acknowledgement of our need of Him. “My sacrifice, O God,” King David writes in Psalm 51:17, “is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

In verses 6 through 8, Peter quotes several passages from the Old Testament about the Stone, the Messiah. The upshot is that those who obey the message of the Gospel--who believe in the the good news of Jesus Christ--live. But those who disobey it--who refuse to trust the God Who, in Christ, holds the outstretched hand of love, forgiveness, and new life to all who believe, stumble over the living Stone.

By the way, Peter isn’t saying in verse 8, that some people are destined to be saved, while others aren’t. He’s saying that those who refuse Jesus are destined for separation from God.

If you’re drowning in a flood and refuse the help of a rescuer, it isn’t the would-be rescuer who sealed your fate, your destiny.

Romans 8:1 reminds us: “...there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...” And, as we mentioned a few weeks ago, Jesus Himself said: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

Next in today’s second lesson, Peter wraps things up in a big bow, verses 9 and 10: “ are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

When you get caught up in the problems and controversies, the tragedies and temptations of this life, when sin gets hold of you and threatens to pull you under, remember who you are: You are God’s people.

Christ died and rose to make it so.

And He’s given you a mission, a purpose for living: You’re to pass the message on about how God called you from the darkness of sin, death, and futility to live in the light of His love and power permeating even your darkest and most difficult moments.

Once, Peter says, we were not people, nobodies, phantoms roaming this earth without hope.

But now we are people, somebodies, children of God called by name by God.

Our names are written in the book of life for eternity.

And, by grace through faith in Christ, we are beneficiaries of the promise of Jesus...
  • a promise good in classrooms and labs,
  • office cubicles and construction sites,
  • in funeral homes and intensive care units,
  • in marriage beds and baby nurseries,
  • on athletic fields and concert stages,
  • anywhere we live...
the promise is for those who believe and it’s like a blank check from Jesus ready for us to cash again and again every day. It’s the promise He gives in Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always.”

That’s Jesus’ promise to you and me. And it’s worth remembering and worth re-membering ourselves to Christ and His body, the Church, every moment of every day.

Remember always who you are through Jesus Christ, children of God! Amen

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