Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Sermon for 3/18/2020: Midweek Lent III (UnChristian World Series)

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Christianity in an UnChristian World: Love

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Looking at our lives as Christians in an unChristian world, Peter writes of husbands and wives. These verses cause no small amount of contention in our time, because the world reads them and considers them demeaning to women. If taken out of the context of the rest of Scripture, perhaps they might be. But when one speaks of husbands and wives in the Bible, always standing there is Christ and His Bride, the Church. Human marriages are to be images of that relationship. Picture a husband who loves his bride so much that he willingly lays down his life for her; picture a bride who willingly submits herself in return to her husband—though never forcibly. In such a relationship, both husband and wife are raised up. 
            Peter points to Abraham and Sarah as an example, which has no small amount of irony for us. We know that Sarah was a very beautiful woman, which is why Abraham seemed to be always afraid that someone else was going to kill him and take her for a wife. And yet, Peter says, she is an example not of outward beauty but of inward, “the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit,” whose “hope was in God.” Because of her trust in God, she submitted herself to Abraham, even calling him “lord.” This doesn’t mean she never spoke up or stood up for herself; we know she did, telling Abraham to send Hagar and her son Ishmael away. The Lord told Abraham to listen to her and do what she said! But in calling Abraham “lord” and submitting to him, there is the acknowledgement that the Lord had given her to Abraham and Abraham to her. Her heavenly Father was working good for her through Abraham’s calling as her husband. And so she sees the Lord in her husband. Once again we see a picture of Christ and His Bride, the Church, who calls Him “Lord” and “Savior;” we expect every good from Him.
            And there is more irony with Abraham. Peter writes, “Husbands are to live with their wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel.” Abraham did not seem to do this. Twice, out of fear for his own life, he allows Sarah to be taken and almost made the wife of rulers: first the Pharaoh of Egypt, and then Abimelech, King of Gerar. Abraham was a sinner too. Today, the world would be upset that these verses that call the woman “the weaker vessel,” and yet the world would ignore the fact that these verses tell us that women should be “shown honor.” Husbands are to treat their wives as precious and worthy of being shown such honor. These verses have nothing to do with power and physical strength, and everything to do with how we regard one another. Again, consider how valuable and precious Christ considers His Bride and how He has honored her. In the same way, as Peter says, “All of you have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.”
            That is what we should do. That is how our life together should be. But just as was the case with Abraham, it isn’t always so for you. We are sinners who commit grave sins. And that is why, at the end of this chapter, Peter points once again to Jesus. There is our hope. The righteous One died for the unrighteous ones, “that he might bring us to God.” He did that in His death, resurrection, and ascension. He took the punishment for our sins. He broke open the grave. He who perfectly submitted Himself here in this life has now ascended; “all powers have been subjected to Him.”
            All this has been given you in your baptism, and baptism now saves you.” This washing removes the stain of sin from your soul. That water unites you with Christ in His death and resurrection. It is where you receive Him and all that He died to give you. You are safe in Christ, saved in the water. You are safe, forgiven, and protected in your heavenly Bridegroom.
            The baptized are united in Christ, Christians in an unChristian world. That life is going to look quite different than those of the world and what they’re used to. Since that is the case, “Always be prepared to make a defense”—to give an explanation—“to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Tell them of Christ and His forgiveness and the new life He has given you. Do not be afraid. Indeed, fear no enemy, for no one can take away what God in Christ has given to you. If you suffer for the sake of Jesus, blessed are you. Again, it doesn’t mean your life in Christ will be easy, but you can trust that your Savior can and will use everything in this world and life for your good. We may not always be given to understand how, but faith clings to that word of promise.
            The world tends to think of love only as an emotion. The Bible speaks of love as action. Jesus didn’t just say “I love you;” He lived love, especially on the cross. He has given that love to you so that, in all your relationships, living as Christians in an unChristian world, you can love without fear, for “perfect love casts out fear.” That perfect love is Christ: His forgiveness, His promises, and His victory...and all of that love is for you. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.

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