Easter 2, 2017, Glen Carbon, I Peter 1:3-5
Walter Braem was pastor of our Pipe Lake church in Northwestern Wisconsin until I was 14. Nearly every Sunday we closed the service singing, No. 644 in the Lutheran Hymnal. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” Ending with, “praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.” I never thought much about back then, but it is fitting to close the service in which we received the Word by returning praise to our triune God. As will happen again this morning, we were also sent on our way home with the promise of the Lord’s safe keeping and life lived with the face of the Lord shining upon us in the week ahead.
In our epistle lesson for this Sunday, Peter begins his letter praising God for all the blessings his readers have received in Christ. “Blessed, (or Praise) be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” Peter is writing to the Christians living in territory bordering the Black Sea in the northeastern part of what is now Turkey. People from that area Pontus, Cappadocia and Asia were present in Jerusalem at Pentecost. But now having become Christians, they were like foreigners and immigrants in their land. He calls them exiles, temporary residents, scattered throughout the area. To become a Christian in first 300 hundred years of the church meant having to make a huge change in lifestyle. Leaving behind old gods and worship of idols and the pagan practices that went with them. At this point in time, there wasn’t much active persecution, but more of an alienation from society, perhaps something like we feel at times living in a culture that seems to be increasingly at odds with what we believe to be right and true and godly. So this morning we join in exploring what we have received through God’s great mercy which has caused us to be reborn into a living hope through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Our God is a God of mega mercy. Once we have sung the Alleluia, Christ is Risen on Easter; once we have declared I know that my Redeemer Lives; once the organ and sound of the trumpet have faded from our ears; once we go back home and hear and read all the goings on in our world; once we went back to our ordinary life last Monday, God’s mega mercy was still with us.
Remember the close of the Ten Commandments in Luther’s Catechism about God punishing sin for the next 120 to 160 years? It took me some years to understand that God wasn’t extending his punishment for three or four generations, but was placing a limitation on his judgment against sin. His punishment does not go on forever. What does continue forever, is his love and mercy, carrying forward for a thousand generations (40,000 years) for those who love him and live accordingly. Scripture tells us that God is compassionate and gracious slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. King David needed to learn this. After the tragedy of his adultery and scheming to murder Bathsheba’s husband, David’s family life became something of a soap opera. His son Absalom murdered his half – brother Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. David banished Absalom. But after a couple of years, Joab, David’s chief of staff, sent a wise woman to David to convince him to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem. At one point she says, “We are all going to die, we are all like water that is poured on the ground and can’t be gathered up. But doesn’t God forgive a person? He devises a way so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”
We Christians exist as Christians because of God’s mercy. God devised a plan to bring us, outcast sons and daughters back home again. “He caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” We have been given a brand – new life. One night during Jesus’ ministry a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to him. During their conversation, Nicodemus became a bit confused, because Jesus told him he couldn’t see the kingdom of God unless he were born again. What? He needed to get back in his mother’s womb and be born again? “No, no,” Jesus said, “You need to be born of water and the Spirit.” Be baptized, and then the eyes of your faith will be opened and you will see the kingdom of God standing right in front of you.” That is the new birth every one of us experienced at the baptism font. God’s mercy giving us a new life.
We are given a new birth into two things. A living hope and a salvation which will be revealed fully when Christ returns. What of this living hope? Like God’s mega mercy it also persists forever. Now the disciples in our gospel lesson had living hope, but they didn’t realize it. They were still behind locked doors, filled with fear that they might be the next ones to be hung up on crosses. Peter and John had raced to Jesus’ tomb and found it empty just as the women had told them. But they didn’t understand that all the Old Testament pointed to Jesus’ resurrection. Suddenly Jesus’ appeared saying, “Peace be with you.” Then after showing them his hands and his side, he said he was sending them, fearful though they were, out into world, under the power of the Holy Spirit with the power to forgive sins. They were to carry God’s news of a living hope that would lead to salvation. Because they obeyed Jesus, we are included in his’ thousand generations of those who love him and live accordingly.
We also hear of Thomas who wasn’t present that first Easter evening and he had grave doubts about this rumor of resurrection. So now it came to the week after Easter, this week, the disciples are still playing it safe behind locked doors. Jesus appears and he accommodates Thomas’ need to stick his finger into Jesus wounds. In a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt, Jesus and Thomas are standing in the center of the painting. The other disciples are gathered off to the side in semi-darkness. Jesus’ showed Thomas his scars. Suddenly, he who had been in darkness of doubt, is standing in the light. He is taken aback in surprise, exclaim, “My Lord and my God.” He grasps that he is born again to a living hope through Jesus death and resurrection. With the new life, he has an inheritance which will never decay, never be stained by evil and with will remain free from ravages of time. A treasure stored in heaven for him.
We have the same living hope. An inheritance of perfect salvation, to be revealed when Christ returns. Think of what that means in the context of our world. Last week a man walked up to two workers for Laclede gas and shot them and killed himself afterward. Think of the utter hopelessness in which so many live today. This happens repeatedly. Or consider a person who was invited to join a Christian online site. She responded, “Thank you for the invitation, but I’m a militant atheist and proud.” That is her hope, but it’s all based in herself. Ultimately that hope will take her nowhere but the grave. But we have a hope that is kept in heaven for us, guarded, not by what I can convince myself is true, but guarded by God’s power. Therefore, we are able, not just to be happy, but to rejoice with joy beyond words because we are obtaining salvation based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ who gave his life that we might live. Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for such a mega mercy.