Monday, May 2, 2011

Sermon for 5/1/11 "A True Inheritance"

Sermon: "A True Inheritance" 1 Peter 1.3-9 Audio link

 Grace and peace be multiplied to you, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 It isn't uncommon for us to look to a future hope. Young people look to a time when they are grown and will make their fortune. People in poverty look ahead to a hope, a dream really, of prosperity, comfort. Literature and song are full of it. "Gray skies are gonna clear up – put on a happy face" "The sun'll come out, tomorrow" "If I were a rich man" We find this message touches our hearts. We like to hear stories of people who have received something better than they could ever dream, better than we could imagine for them. We hear those stories and we make our own dreams, thinking about what we could do, if only . . .

 After a bit of that dreaming, sometimes more, sometimes less, most of us yank ourselves back to reality. At least we yank ourselves back to something we seem to think is reality. After all, most of us aren't ever going to attract the attention of someone who is filthy rich and wants to give us all his money. We aren't probably going to win the mega-super-intergalactic lottery next week. In fact, our lives are very likely to go on about the way they have been for the last twenty years. Some of the details will change but really most of the time we don't have really high expectations.

 Yet something we need to be aware of is the fact that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has granted us an inheritance, a bequest, to anyone who believes on him. Did we earn this inheritance? Of course not. We don't earn any inheritance. There's nothing you can do to earn an inheritance. Why do you receive an inheritance? It isn't because you were nice to your parents or grandparents, though I hope you were. It isn't because you deserved a reward, though I hope you do deserve a reward. It isn't because of your merit. Inheritances don't work that way. You receive an inheritance because the person who left it to you wanted you to have it. Face it. Great Uncle Edgar could have left his millions of dollars to found and maintain a refuge for homeless pigeons. The fact that he left it to you and you only because your name happened to the the third one alphabetically among all his relatives is purely up to him. It has nothing to do with you or any merit you have. It's an inheritance. You didn't earn it.

This is what our Lord says to us all in 1 Peter. By God's great mercy, through Jesus' resurrection, we who believe have been given a living hope of an inheritance. It isn't because of us. It is because of God's great love for us. This Christian life is based on who God is, not on who we are. It is God's choice, not ours.

What kind of inheritance is this that we are promised? Peter tells us this inheritance in Christ is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, that it is kept for us.

By an imperishable hope, our Lord is telling us that, unlike all the things we hold dear on this earth, the Christian life will not pass away. We may think of some earthly things as permanent. I actually have an inheritance on earth that I tend to think of as permanent. It's a chair which my grandfather used to sit in all the time. I never met my grandfather. He died about the time I was born. About fifteen years later, my grandmother died as well. I received his rocking chair. It's a nice old chair. I sit in it a lot myself. And I suppose it's close to two hundred years old by now. It seems permanent. But it's just a chair made of pieces of wood and some iron nails. It will wear out all the way sometime. It isn't permanent. It's perishable. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe not for a few hundred more years, but sometime, that chair will cease to be a chair anyone could use. Even the things we think of as permanent in this world are not eternal. But salvation in Christ is eternal. It doesn't have an expiration date. It doesn't become any weaker as it ages. Redemption in Christ will never become brittle. The Christian is never an endangered species, for we cannot become extinct. We have an imperishable hope.

This hope we have is not only imperishable, but it is undefiled. Defilement isn't something we talk about all that much in our modern society. It means becoming unclean in some way, not just dirty, but polluted, damaged, being defective in such a way that nobody would want to be around us, corrupted so we can't serve a useful function and will end up causing harm to others. That's defilement. The Bible pictures us as defiled by sin. We are broken people. We are cursed by sin, both the sin we inherited from our father Adam and the sin we commit ourselves. Yet salvation in Christ is undefiled. There's nothing wrong with it. It's perfect in every way. Since the fall of Adam, everything we've had to deal with in this life has been defiled. Only in Christ do we find salvation which is undefiled.

What about the fact that our inheritance is unfading? Again, we look around us and see that even things we supposed were permanent seem to fade over time. Maybe you've seen pictures of the beautiful marble statues from ancient Greece and Rome. I don't know, maybe you've seen them in person. Probably the oldest sculpture I've seen in person was in the town of Italica, a former Roman military settlement near Seville, in Spain. Now that I think about it, I'm not sure if the sculpture was of Trajan or Hadrian. It was one of those ancient Roman emperors. But it was about 1800 years old. After sitting out in the weather for that long it isn't surprising that the sculpture is a sun-bleached white. I expect you've all seen sculptures like that, or at least pictures of them. Did you know that they were originally painted? They had colored hair, brightly colored clothes, eyes with pupils, these were full-color sculptures. You wouldn't know it now, would you? They faded to the point the color was no longer recognizable. We don't have to worry about that happening to the Christian life. Our inheritance in Jesus Christ will never fade. It not only doesn't perish, it doesn't change or wear in any way. Jesus keeps us in eternity, providing us with all we need, simply because of his good favor toward us, and promises that nothing can ever happen to us.

You'll notice that I changed from talking about "our inheritance" to talking about "us." Because, in fact, our redemption, that which makes us partakers of eternal life, our being brothers of Jesus in the resurrection – that is what the inheritance is. The inheritance Jesus gives is salvation. But it isn't just some theory of salvation. We want to banish that from our minds. The inheritance Jesus gives is life. It's real, everlasting, undefiled, permanent, rich, full life. Jesus gives us ourselves as the inheritance. But the version of us he gives us is that which has been redeemed, that which has been regenerated, that which has been washed from sin, that which is refined and protected by him. He gives us life as it should have been. He gives us life which has been redeemed from death. He gives us life from which every sin and stain has been washed. This is the inheritance which fills us with joy, such joy that we can't express it. We have been promised a real inheritance.

Peter tells us that the inheritance is kept for us. Again, it is not something theoretical. We don't calculate the probability. We don't ask Jesus how much he really needed to suffer on our behalf. We don't ask why God gives this inheritance. We simply confess that it is preserved and that it is for us. We do nothing worthy of it. We simply receive it according to our Lord's great love for us.

How is this inheritance, this eternal life revealed? It is revealed by God's promise in Christ Jesus, who does not desire that any should perish. It is revealed by Jesus' promise that he has come to walk with us, to redeem us from sin. It is revealed by Jesus' promise to be with us to the end of the world. Life in Christ is promised by Jesus, who came to show himself as God with us.

How is this eternal life sealed? It is for us. How does Jesus put that address on the package? How does he give us a guarantee of his care for us? It is sealed in the death of Jesus on our behalf. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us so we could become the righteousness of God in him. When Jesus died to conquer sin, death, and the grave, he conquered your sin, your death, and your grave.

How is this eternal life appropriated? How do we receive it? We receive it by faith in Jesus raised for you and for me. If Jesus remained dead he would accomplish nothing for anyone but possibly himself. But in the resurrection Jesus gives us a living hope. He gives us a promise that we will be raised also with him. He shows that death is not able to hold the dead. We will all be raised, we will be changed in a moment, in the blink of an eye, the dead will be raised to newness of life. We will be taken to be with our Lord. There is no need for fear.

In the meantime, our risen Lord has promised that he will be with us. Our inheritance is still a promise. The will has been read and we can know that we are to receive the inheritance. Yet we do not receive it fully until the resurrection. For now, we receive hints at eternity. One of those we receive today, as we receive a taste of our inheritance in the body and blood of the Lord. He has promised to be with us always. Here he is, then. We will gather and look to our risen Lord who has promised to be with us. We will proclaim the peace of the Lord. We will pray that the Lord will have mercy on us. We will receive the true body and true blood of our Lord and then be dismissed with God's benediction, being told to go in peace. We are not alone. We are not without resources. We have an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, unfading, and which is kept for us.

Let us pray.

Our Lord, creator and sustainer of all, Emmanuel, God with us, grant that we may see you in your mercy and lovingkindness. Let us receive your presence, the inheritance you have given us, our salvation, with a humble and contrite heart, looking to you as the author and finisher of our salvation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Dave Spotts
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