Sermon for Second Sunday of Easter
April 27, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1Peter 1:3-9
Sermon Theme: “Born Again into the Kingdom of Heaven”
(Sources: Anderson’s Preaching Workbook, Cycle A; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 2, March 9-June 8, 2014; original ideas; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis Online Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Well, the joy of Easter should still be with us, and I don’t mean Easter candy and cookies, — as too much left over candy eggs may still be giving the kids stomach aches! I mean the true joy of our rebirth in Christ made possible by the Resurrection.
So, how does one keep rejoicing and hoping while they are still enduring the hard times, trials, troubles, and difficulties of life? That’s what folks reading Peter’s letter wanted to know, and so do we!
Our after-Easter attitude reminds me a little bit of a commencement address given by Bob Hope who was the highly paid speaker for a graduation class. Of course, his audience was just graduating from college and he was there to give them advice about the disappointments and dangers as they leave academia and go out into the cold, hard, cruel world. Then he gave them the advice. He said, “Don’t go!”
Well, that’s what you’d expect a comedian to say! But that’s not what the Apostle Peter says in the short excerpt that is our sermon text for today.
You see, when Christ died on Good Friday, the faith of His followers also died. They went into hiding; they thought it was all over; for them, hope and joy had died, along with faith.
Christ’s Resurrection gave the disciples of Jesus a new birth.
What does it mean to be born again, or born “anew,” – Lutherans don’t tend to like that term “born again,” though it’s Biblical. It means we die daily to selfishness and sin through repentance, we turn the center of our lives over to Christ, and we no longer live, Christ lives in us. Peter says we should bless God for our new birth and rejoice.
So, if we are going through many trials and troubles in our life, Peter says that such trials serve to purify us in the genuineness of our faith. The metaphor of refining gold through the fiery tests is used by Peter to show how faith in Jesus Christ is refined in a similar manner. So if a person is going through many trials, Peter would say that this refines one’s faith and shows the genuineness of what they actually believe. Such faith is even purer than gold. This should be reason for rejoicing.
If you have ever done ceramics, you know that the paint and glaze you put on the figurine you’ve created looks rather dull and ordinary; but, after you put it in the kiln, it reacts to the extreme heat of the kiln, so that a beautiful sheen comes over the ceramic figurine. Only after the paint went through the fire did the true beauty come out. And so it is with our faith.
Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are born again into Christ’s kingdom. Where is Christ’s Kingdom? It begins here on earth when Jesus came to Bethlehem. It exists wherever the Body of Christ is found. It won’t be fully experienced until we are in heaven. It is a reason to rejoice!
As human beings, it is sometimes hard for us to think of rejoicing to be born again into the Kingdom of Heaven, because that would involve leaving this earthly life. It’s easy to feel joy becoming a part of the Body of Christ and working in His Kingdom here on earth, but fully experiencing His Kingdom in heaven is a tad frightening. It’s all right to hope that it will be later rather than sooner.
There’s a wonderful story told by the Hospice people in Wayne, Nebraska, that puts a different light on this:
“Once upon a time, twin boys were conceived in the same womb. Weeks passed, as the twins developed. As their awareness grew, they laughed for joy. ‘Isn’t it great that we were conceived? Isn’t it great to be alive?’
“Together, the twins explored their world. When they found their mother’s cord which gave them life, they sang for joy, ‘How great is our mother’s love, that she shares her own life with us.’
“As weeks stretched into months, the twins noticed how much each was changing. ‘What does it mean?’ asked the one. ‘It means that our stay in this world is drawing to an end,’ said the other. ‘But I don’t want to go,’ said the one. ‘I want to stay here always.’ ‘We have no choice,’ said the other. ‘But maybe there is life after birth!’
“’But how can there be?’ responded the one. ‘We will shed our life cord, and how is life possible without it? Besides, we have seen evidence that others were here before us, and none of them have returned to tell us that there is life after birth. No, this is the end.’
“And so the one fell into deep despair, saying, ‘If conception ends in birth, what is the purpose of life in the womb? It’s meaningless! Maybe there is no mother after all!’ ‘But there has to be,’ protested the other. ‘How else did we get here? How do we remain alive?’
“’Have you ever seen our mother?’ said the one. ‘Maybe she lives only in our minds. Maybe we made her up, because the idea made us feel good!’
“And so the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear. Finally the moment of birth arrived. When the twins had passed from their world, they opened their eyes and cried for joy. For what they saw exceeded their fondest dreams!”
It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is an analogy about being reborn into heaven. And like the twins, how can we believe in someone we have never seen? How do we know that that glorious promise is not in vain? Because, we believe by faith. Think of the wind. We don’t see it, but we see what it does and how it moves things. When I see a person living a powerful Christian life – even willing to sacrifice his life for his faith – then I know Christ lives inside him.
Because we are part of the Body of Christ, people around us have a right to expect a certain genuineness in our faith, because we are people connected to the source of all power. Peter proclaimed that we have a living hope. We have access to the ear of the ruler of the universe, and claim to serve as God’s ambassadors. People expect us to be blameless, holier, even a little peculiar compared to people who do not share our hope.
Standard Oil used to advertise with the slogan, “You expect more from Standard, and you get it.” People expect more from us, and they’d better get it if we want to accomplish our hope of transforming the world. They would never expect us to say to a graduating class, “Don’t go!,” because we are filled with the joy, hope and peace of the Resurrection. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.