Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sermon on 1 Peter 1:3-5, for Lent 3, "This is It???"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Last week we talked about the question of identity, and knowing who we are in Christ, so that we can be true to ourselves and true to God. Today I invite you to reflect on the question of “what’s my story?” If your whole life could be embraced in one defining story, what would it be? Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Naturally there would be quite a variety of responses if you asked people what the story of their life was. There’s all the little stories of our daily lives, what we did at work, what our childhood was like, who were our friends and family. Which people impacted our lives, where we were and what we did when notable events happened. Our lives are full of stories that tell who we are, what we’ve done, where we’ve been and where we’re going. Some of us have grand aspirations to leave an impact or legacy in life like an Olympian, inventor, or great leader. Some may want to leave evidence of a life well-lived, and that people can see what we’ve done and where we’ve been. Others simply wanted to be loved and remembered fondly by their families. Most probably wouldn’t want to be completely forgotten from history and by those whom we knew and loved. But what’s the big, defining story that can sum up your whole life and bring together who you are and where you’re going?

Michael Jackson is a well-known example of someone who wanted to leave behind an unforgettable story. More than 10 years after a concert tour titled “HIStory,” Jackson planned the perfect ending to his career, with one last hurrah. 50 big concerts were scheduled and sold out. The title of the grand finale was “This is It!” Tragically, he died prematurely, and the grand dreams to remind everyone why he was the “King of Pop” were never realized. The legacy and story he would’ve left behind were left incomplete, and many would say tarnished and spoiled by a life haunted by scandals. This is it?? However his legacy might be measured, it isn’t an imperishable, undefiled, or unfading story of his life.

Contrast this with the stories of two other lives cut short prematurely. The two thieves who hung on the cross with Jesus. Both had similar stories—a life led in crime, a just trial and conviction, and finally their death penalty. To us, the rest of their stories are a blank page. Their stories were headed to an ending of eternal death and separation from God. But one story changed dramatically at the last moment. The one thief who turned in repentance of his sins to trust in Jesus, suddenly had a whole new story. He who would’ve been lost and forgotten, a page quickly lost from history—suddenly had an inheritance of eternal life. Suddenly the last page of a story gone wrong became the first page of a story just begun. Jesus redeemed him at the cross, so that his defining story could be simply summed up as this: “he confessed his sin, received forgiveness from Jesus, and got the promise of Paradise!” Suddenly a criminal who faced death was now given the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus.

Now there’s the defining story that can fit every one of our lives. The confession of our sin, receiving forgiveness from Jesus and the promise of eternal life in Paradise. It’s amazingly simple, but it’s the basic story of who we are as Christians. It tells who we are and where we’re going. This story is yours and mine, because we’ve been born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. On our own efforts, any story or legacy we could’ve built would be perishable, spoiled, and fleeting. So don’t let your life’s story be told by something perishable, spoiled, and fading. Don’t store up for yourself treasure on earth with fame and riches—which will all be destroyed. Don’t let your story be an empty and purposeless legacy that will be another lost page in history. Instead be embraced by Jesus’ story, and have treasure in heaven.

Because we’ve been born again, we’re brought into that greater story of Jesus, who gives us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. Jesus’ infinitely perfect story and legacy spills over to us through the forgiveness of sins and all the blessings He wants to shower down on us. So we’re brought into God’s story that is imperishable—it can’t be destroyed. It’s built on the indestructible life of Jesus who rose from the dead. This story is undefiled—it’s not spoiled and marred by sin. This is no tainted legacy, but one that’s cleansed and purified of sins by the blood of Jesus. This story is unfading—it will never fade from the pages of history, because our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev. 3:5; 21:27). This incredible story of God’s love for us, told in the saving acts of Jesus Christ, isn’t a story we can hope will last a generation or two, like those with some earthly fame might. It’s not even a story that will last several millennia, as some kings, emperors, or philosophers have achieved. This is an eternal story, part of our inheritance that is kept in heaven for us. For the author of our story is the eternal God, and all whose names are written in His book of life will never perish.

There once was a time in America, when the salvation story of sinners being made right with God through Jesus Christ would’ve been widely known and accepted. Christianity had the prominent voice in our country. But it’s not so anymore, and so many voices compete for our attention. We’re told that there’s no grand story of existence that ties everything together. People are distrustful of any truth claims or explanations for why we’re here and who we are. We live in an age of skepticism and relativism, where all competing ideas are regarded as equally true—except the belief in the Bible as truth. But all the self-authored explanations for existence, from the far-fetched to the convincing, are still in the final analysis just human stories, and therefore inadequate. That’s why we must turn to the Divine Story with God as the author. The real explanation of reality, and the true source of knowledge that’s above all our limited sight. We have the privilege to help make that story known again. To retell again and again how God is the author of history, and how we’ve been reborn into the story and the imperishable inheritance.

As the apostle Peter wrote in his letter, he calls on us to live together in this story that defines us. Our story is about living with a purpose and a goal—the eternal inheritance of heaven. Peter would have us know the great mercy of our God who preserves us by His power, and that we would be wrapped up and immersed in that story of mercy. That our lives would be saturated with the blessings of God that spill over to us from the rich legacy and story of Jesus Christ, who gave His all for us. That our lives would be shielded and protected from false, humanly created stories that circulate and routinely fade and perish from history. Instead, that we would be guarded by God’s power and continue in the knowledge of the One True Faith.

Then, when we take stock of our lives, and ask the big questions of existence, “Who am I?” “Why am I here?” “Where am I going?”—we can find trustworthy answers in our Christian faith, and the Divine Story that God has brought us into. We see how our lives fit into the grand scheme of things, and how we’re like that thief on the cross whose story was forever changed for the better when he confessed his sins, received Jesus’ forgiveness, and the promise of Paradise. So at the end of our life, we won’t breathe out a defeated and disappointed, “This is it???”, but in confident faith, looking to the eternal inheritance waiting for us, we can joyfully cry in victory: “This is it! This is truly it!” For by faith in Christ, our story will not have ended, but only just begun! Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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