Sermon for April 23, 2017

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter

April 23, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  1 Peter 1:3-9

Sermon Theme: “Facing Trials and Pain with Faith and Hope”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations: original ideas and examples; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; Life Application Study Bible)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I was a teacher for 30 years, both in high school and college, before I became a pastor, and now, I have been a pastor for almost 30 years; as a consequence, I have been compared to the Energizer Bunny.  About ten years ago, one of my former high school students, now a retired Lutheran Pastor, told another former student that he had visited with me, — to which the other replied, “You mean that old codger is still living?!”

Not too long ago, our LCMS District President asked my Circuit Counselor if I were still preaching, and he seemed awe-stricken that I still was.

However, I must say emphatically that I am no Energizer Bunny compared to Rev. Wayne Brouwer’s old friend, who was older than I and still going strong in the pulpit.  The old pastor had reached a good age and was mostly ready to go.  In fact, he jokingly said he had more lives than the proverbial cat with nine lives.  On too many occasions, because of cancer and accidents and blood diseases, doctors had written him off.  Yet, like the Energizer bunny, he kept going and going and going.

At a Circuit Pastors’ meeting, all the pastors present got to talking about how they hoped their congregation would remember them when they passed away.  One pastor said he hoped people would say nice things about him at his funeral, especially that he was a Godly man.  Another said he hoped folks would remember him for loving his family and being a pastor they could count on.

Having a great sense of humor, Wayne Brouwer’s old friend said, “When people come by my casket, I hope they look at me and say, “Oh, my!  He just moved!”

None of us wants to die, yet all of us face that prospect with a one-hundred percent certainty.  Except that after Easter, you can’t count on death any more.  Jesus reversed the natural course of events and shattered our pre-conceived notions about terminations.  Jesus came back to life.  Now everything changes.

In today’s sermon text, Peter, in the later years of his life, preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus’ resurrection, and then reflects on its unquestionable significance in his life.  The lectionary may be a little confusing, because the Gospel tells the “doubting Thomas” incident right after the Resurrection, whereas Peter’s letter was written many years after Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

Our text begins with Peter telling us our first assignment is to give praise to God the Father of Jesus.  Even when troubles come and we have problems, we should FIRST praise the Father.  Why?  Because He has given us a new birth, a living hope, through Jesus’ Resurrection, that is, He has caused us to be “born again,” says Peter.

One problem is we all want our life to be “coming up with roses happy” all the time, to the very end.  I can tell you that as an 82-year-old, I have had many trials.  I have felt much testing to see if my faith is genuine.  So have you.  So will you.  Don’t let the trials and pain that lie ahead of you surprise you.  We must face them with faith and hope.  That’s Peter’s message for us today.

People live and die with many kinds of hopes.  My mother loved to quilt, and she made many beautiful quilts in her lifetime.  Throughout her life, she always had the hope that someday she’d have a “quilting house,” – just a little house in the backyard.  Then she wouldn’t always have to hang her quilts in the living room, which necessitated raising the quilt to the ceiling when someone came to see her.

During the last few years of her life, she finally got her quilting house, which was such a blessing, as quilting was just about all she was physically able to do then.  To be sure, many folks live and die without the fulfillment of such a hope.  However, Jesus is the only hope that will not fail us.  “By His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the Resurrection,” says Peter.

Peter’s words offer us joy and hope in times of trouble, and he bases his confidence on what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  We’re called into a living hope of eternal life.  But our hope is not only for the future, — eternal life begins when we trust Christ and join God’s family.  God will help us remain true to our faith through whatever difficult times we must face.

Many people live with many kinds of faith, — faith in money, in material possession, intellect, etc.  Some people live with no faith in anything.  I don’t know which is worse, because faith in Jesus Christ is the only faith with which to face the trials and pain that lie ahead of us.

In our text, Peter compares the faith of Christians to gold, which is refined through the fiery furnace.  Hard times, persecution and other forms of adversity are like a smelting furnace that purges away that which is temporal or unworthy, leaving that which is precious and eternal.

During part of those 30 years of teaching, I taught in the Fine Arts Building at Wharton County Junior College.  My classroom was practically next door to the art classrooms, which were more like workshops, and they had a kiln in one of them.

I loved to watch the art students do ceramic figurines, which they would create and paint with colors and glazes.  These glazes and paints would react to the extreme heat of the kiln and create a beautiful sheen over the ceramic piece.  It was so fascinating, because before the figurines would go into the kiln, the paint was rather dull and ordinary.  Once the paint went through the fire, however, its true beauty would come out.

True Christian faith is much like that paint and glaze.  Without the fires of trials and tests, our faith stays rather ordinary.  But after the test, when God brings us through it, our faith becomes more pure, more sure, and more beautiful so that it may “result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

Our lectionary for today includes John’s gospel about “doubting Thomas,” who must see and feel the nail holes and place his hand in Jesus’ side, before he would believe in the Resurrection.  It’s included, because many of us identify with Thomas, — to have faith, we must have proof.  Jesus says to Thomas and to us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

When we look at Peter’s letter, written so many years after the Resurrection, we see that Peter remembers what Jesus said to Thomas and applies it to his picture language of refining gold.  Genuine faith is more precious than gold, because those who have it, although they have not seen Jesus, and do not now see Him, love Him, believe in Him, and rejoice with joy.

To be sure, facing trials and pain with faith and hope, and even facing death with faith and hope, are God’s gifts of grace to us who are “born again” Christians.  With faith held, hope is fulfilled.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.