Sunday, May 16, 2010

Homily For Exaudi (Easter 7)

 1 Peter 4:7-11 (12-14)

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Beloved in the Lord, “The end of all things is at hand” – Thus warned the Apostle Peter just shy of two thousand years ago. And, what with the Roman occupation and persecution of Christians by both Jews and pagan Gentiles alike, it must certainly have seemed as though the end of all things was very near.

So how are we to understand Peter’s warning today? Taxing wars against non-defined enemies have stretched our resources, patriotism, and patience to the breaking point. Horrific natural disasters, earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis seem to occur with ever-increasing frequency. And now there’s a hole in the ocean floor spewing 200,000 gallons of oil a day that seems beyond man’s ability to stop. Add to these car bombs in Times Square, unemployment, rising fuel prices and taxes, uncertainty about healthcare and social security, homosexual marriage, and abortion … for many it must seem as though the end of all things is very near. What can we do? What should we do?

“The end of all things is at hand,” warns the Apostle, “therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” Is this an exhortation to not panic? Yes, but it is more than that. It is an exhortation to fearless, selfless, sacrificial love and service; it is an exhortation to die to your self and to live to God. That is, keep on doing what you’ve been doing, what Christians always do, and, at the end of all things, do it all the more in sobriety and in self-control. And then Peter begins his stewardship sermon: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Are you surprised that Peter’s instruction for what to do as the end of the world draws near is essentially “Keep on doing what you’re doing”? You shouldn’t be, for this is why you are here in the first place. This is why the Church is here at all. This is why the end has not yet come. There’s still work to do: selfless, sacrificial, loving work for the good of others to the glory of God in Jesus Christ. And, when the world is running down, do we just make the best of what’s still around? No, on the contrary, the people of God work, serve, sacrifice, and love all the more in everything, that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

That is why Peter instructs you “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly.” The most important thing that you are to do at the end of all things is to keep on loving one another. And Peter adds to his exhortation that “love covers a multitude of sins.” Does that sound surprising? It shouldn’t. Love is the fulfilling of the Law. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Love always gives and forgives. Love lays down His life for friends and enemies alike. Jesus Christ is the love of God for you, poured out in sacrificial love on the cross, resurrected, and ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven. God has so loved you in His Son that He now sends you to love others with His love that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

Loving one another isn’t always easy; sometimes it’s difficult even to like one another. Imagine what it must be like for our holy and righteous God to love us hate-filled, rebellious sinners, who too often put their fear, love, and trust in created things and not in the Creator of all things, and to love us so much as to sacrifice His only-begotten Son for us. If God has loved us in this way, how can we not love one another? People sometimes say that to love someone doesn’t mean that you have to like them. That may be true to a point – Peter exhorts you to love one another, not to like one another. However, I suspect our understanding of like is a human contrivance to pare down or to simplify God’s universal command to love. It’s like the lawyer who sought to justify himself by asking Jesus “Who is my neighbor?” It’s like tween-age girls asking each other “Do you like him, or do you like-like him?” We like to think that we can love our neighbor without liking them – do you hear how childish that sounds? What Peter is saying to you is that you must first love a person, and, if you truly love them with God’s love in Jesus Christ, then liking them simply is not an issue.

It is your enemy, Satan, who tempts you to make petty distinctions between love and like, and he afflicts the Church of Christ severely. In the realm of stewardship in the Church, which is supposed to be the loving management and distribution of God’s gracious gifts of time, talent, and treasure, Satan tempts you to be petty and territorial, to view your brothers and sisters in Christ as being critical of you and agenda-driven against you. He tempts you to view your service in Christian Education, as an Elder, Properties & Grounds, Finance, Missions, Music, Fellowship, even making the coffee as your own personal little fiefdoms that you must defend from all attackers. In such a way the devil would destroy your love in your service and he fills Christ’s Church with bitterness, resentment, conflict, and strife. But Peter exhorts you that you are to use your gifts to serve one another, in love, as good stewards, good managers, of God’s grace.

Again, this is why you are here. This is why the Church is here at the end of all things, to keep on loving earnestly and using the gifts that God has given to you, gifts of time, gifts of talents and skills, gifts of financial treasure, as good stewards and managers, in service to one another in love, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ is a beacon light shining in the darkness of sin and death, guiding those lost in the darkness to Jesus, the Light of the world. The Church of Christ is a city on a hill that is to be visible to all the world as a sanctuary for rest from labors and a hospital for souls sick unto death. The Church of Christ is the loving heart of Jesus displayed in humble, selfless and sacrificial service to the world. The Church of Christ is the spiritual womb that gives birth to children of God in Holy Baptism by the life-creating power of God’s Word. And the Church of Christ is the sheepfold in which the Good Shepherd gives unto you His sheep living water that refreshes and enlivens parched souls unto eternal life and feeds His sheep on the best of meats and the finest of wines, laying down His own life, in sacrificial and selfless love, for you.

This is why you are here. This is why the Church is here at the end of all things. And this is why, above all else, you must love one another. “Show hospitality (graciousness and kindness) to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards (good managers) of God’s varied (and multitudinous) grace […] in order that in everything (you do or say or think) God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To Him belong glory and Dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

In Jesus’ + Name. Amen.

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