Back to series

Good morning, church, and welcome to Vieux Carre Baptist Church, online. Go with me to 1 Peter, chapter one, we’re going to start in v.13. Last week, we started into a series through the letters of Peter that’s going to take us through to the advent season, though for the summer, we are going to pause and talk about the work and person of the Holy Spirit.

1 Peter is a letter to exiles, to a church that’s scattered and disrupted, thrown into uncertainty. And Peter writes to assure them that God hasn’t abandoned them. And he hasn’t abandoned us either, church, because he loves us. He delights in you because you’re his sons and daughters. He’ll never leave you. Even though we aren’t able, we don’t have the power, to make our lives into what we want, or what we had hoped, nothing is able to stop God, or even slow him down, in bringing restoration and redemption to our lives and to the world.

I asked Anne-Elise to finish this sentence: “This week in our lives has been defined by…” without pause she goes “monotony.” And it’s true. At this point we’ve settled into some new rhythms, but apart from Sundays, which have become the highlight of our week, what can we do? We do our work, we take care of AJ, we cook, eat, sleep, wake, rinse, repeat. If we focus on what we’re able to do right now, we have to admit that not much is happening during this time.

We asked AJ in small group on Sunday what he thinks we do for work, and he said we sit and stare at our computers and be super lame and not play. And he’s not wrong.

In our passage today, Peter writes to the scattered and disrupted church about what God is doing in their lives during this time, and it’s such a good reminder that, though our lives, in many ways, may be on pause, God is on the move even now, when everything else is stopped.

I think of this season of Spring that we are in, which inevitably follows winter, where everything is growing and thrumming. This season is a word from God spoken to us every year when things are most dark and cold and lifeless, that he is bringing new life, even up from the death in our world. Like a seed that falls to the earth and dies, and only then truly comes alive in the sprouting. What a welcome word now, and to quote Cummings,

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

Let’s read our passage together: 1 Peter, chapter 1, starting in v.13. [1 Peter 1:13-25] Pray with me, briefly. Father God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free.

The first way we see God moving in our text today, even though everything else is stopped, is by ransoming you, even now. God is ransoming you.

I’m looking at vs. 17-20, and what Peter does here is beautiful. He’s speaking now to those who are in the darkest circumstance, to the prisoners, and to give them hope he takes a prayer that he knows every last one of them is praying, asking God to rescue them, to ransom them out from their imprisonment, and he assures them, God hears you crying out to him, and he will rescue you. He’s ransoming you out of exile, out of sin, out of sadness and pain. He hears you. Keep praying. Keep looking up.

The word ransom, here, refers to a Roman practice, if a person was imprisoned facing trial, as Peter’s congregants were, or enslaved because of a debt he owed that he couldn’t repay, he could be ransomed, meaning someone would pay the debt he owed, or the price for his release, to set him free from slavery, free from prison. Peter says, God is doing this for you, but not in the way you expect. You’re praying for silver and gold to set you free from prison, but he’s paid your ransom in blood, which is worth more, to set you free from death itself.

Now some of you may say, well that’s all very nice, but maybe the prisoners and slaves would rather have the gold than the encouragement? Isn’t he just giving a next-world religious answer to a very real, this-world problem? Like the gospel tracts people leave instead of tips at restaurants, saying the gospel is worth more—yes it is, but you’re also being cheap and ungrateful. Or like the internet social justice warriors who offer endless words of truth, argument after argument, post after post, and when you look at their life, you see no real action, no steps taken to push back the darkness they rail against, and what is that worth?

But if we think that Peter is offering empty words, here, to his imprisoned friends, we’re forgetting the desperateness of the situation. He’s not leaving a tract when he could have left a twenty—he’s saying, as he said once before, “what I have I give to you.” We think of our biblical authors like pastors of today. I, sitting in my grandfather’s chair, in my house in Gentilly, writing my sermons on my laptop. But from some clues in chapter four, Peter is likely writing these letters from Rome, and if he’s in Rome, he’s probably not ok.

There are accounts of his taking a missionary journey to Rome, but I doubt it. I think he is in Rome for the same reason Paul was brought to Rome in the end—to await trial and execution. Do you think the persecution of the church in Jerusalem would spare the pastor? I think Peter is writing here at the end of his life, and he’s offering to his struggling people the hope he has, even at the end. This is not a money tract, this is Martin Luther King’s letters from prison. This is Bonhoeffer’s last letters out of the concentration camp. Peter has nothing left but a little hope, so that’s what he shares with his people.

Maybe you would still rather have the gold than the blood, but Peter sees clearly, in the end, where true worth lies. God is ransoming you, he writes. He is a judge, v.17, that cannot be influenced, like the judges we will face tomorrow, and he loves us enough that he would pay our ransom in his own blood, a passover lamb to rescue us again from slavery in the empire. A king who will again bring us home from exile. Christ is our hope, and our hope is sure.

So today, Christ is ransoming you. Everything else may seem paused, but he is unstoppable. Even today, he offers to pay whatever price to free you from your slavery to addiction, your imprisonment to sin, the inevitable death of your relationships and your soul. Are you upset that with an omnipotent God that you’re still locked inside your house? Would you rather have the gold than the blood? It makes sense.

I’ve prayed those prayers many times in my life. I’ve prayed for people over and over again, asking God to heal them, and when they’ve died, I’ve screamed in anger at the Lord because he didn’t do what I wanted, and over and over again he tells me, “I have healed them, and not just temporarily, but permanently; they are whole.” And I tell him that’s not good enough, because they still died and I’m still without them now, and I cry, and he cries with me, for days and for years, until I can laugh again and see that his salvation is better than what I had asked.

He gave me, not what I asked for, but what I needed, which is just to say that he’s a good father. AJ asked me the other day for a real sword, and I gave him a toy. It wasn’t what he wanted, but we don’t know what to ask for. We can’t imagine that our father knows more than we do what we need, and even what we want, even what will give us joy and make us thrive. He is ransoming us. No one, nothing can stop him. He has answered our prayers, and if you scream and cry, he will cry with you because this life is so hard, and broken. No one’s more deeply aware of the brokenness of our world than the one who crafted it and knew it in its innocence. And after he cries, then he will continue with his work of restoring the earth and ridding it of sin, death, and sadness. He has never stopped; he has never even been interrupted. His plans have never had to change.

The second way we see God moving in our text today, even though everything else is stopped, is by making you holy, even now. God is making you holy.

I’m looking at vs. 13-16 which read, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

These verses can feel like a heavy weight when you first read them. “You shall be holy,” in our culture, sounds like a threat; we hear an implied “or else.” Be holy, or else you can’t be part of our church. “You can’t sit with us.” Be holy, or else we’ll look down on you, we’ll treat you as less-than, you’ll never belong. In the original context of this verse in Leviticus, it was a law with dire consequences for those who broke it. But here, in the new testament, we have to understand that God, himself, bore those dire consequences. Here, the law becomes a promise, and our part in our own holiness becomes a joy.

Some of you, especially if you’re new to the faith, might be surprised to find out that ordinary Christians in the Bible are, over and over again, called “holy ones,” saints—even the church in Corinth, and that church was messed up—you think we have problems. Every believer, then, is holy. Every believer is a saint. But how is that possible?

Take me, for example. I’m deeply flawed, not in the humble brag kind of way, but in the anxious, will-you-still-love-me kind of way, and being with myself all the time, knowing intimately my own faults, I’m the last person I would call holy. Because the word holy means I’m worthy to approach God, and as I read through the law, even as I hear Peter say not to give ourselves to our passions, I hear over and over again how I’ve fallen short. I’m not worthy of God—not if he’s perfect. I’m not good enough to be one of the church people, then, I’m not one of the holy ones.

None of us are holy, in that sense, good enough by ourselves; good in the same way God is good. No matter if we judge ourselves by the law of God or not, we know we aren’t perfect. Every time we hurt someone we love, every time a relationship ends badly, or we hurt even ourselves. We aren’t the heroes of our own stories, but still, the scriptures tell Christians again and again, we are holy, worthy to approach God like a child approaches his father.

It’s because God is making us holy by his Spirit through the work of Christ on the cross, because by his death he ransomed us from the law. He paid the debt we owed to the world, the debt we kept trying to pay with all of those good works and followed rules. Now we’re free. When Peter quotes, “You shall be holy, for I am holy,” it’s a promise, not a threat. It’s not an imperative, not a command. You will be made holy. God himself will do it. God is making you holy, even now, when everything else is stopped.

We play a role in this holiness, but it’s the role, Peter writes, in v.14, of an obedient child. I tell my son, every day, to do things I know he can’t do. We’ve talked about this: I ask him every day to help me make breakfast, and we walk through it together. We pour the milk together, because it’s too heavy for him. He washes the fruit, and I cut it, because life is easier with fingers, and I don’t want to go to the ER right now. I want him to take part, not because I really need him to help me, but I want the time with him, and in all of these followings after me, he’s learning how to be in the world and how to help our family.

I know many of you feel like you’ve taken a step back in your relationship with God. The stress of the past couple of months has put a stop to all of the progress you were making, and maybe even you’ve fallen back into old sins that you thought were in the past. Hear this: it’s not ok. Your sin has done more damage to the world and to your own life than you could possibly feel or know. But at the same time, God loves you more than you could possibly feel or know, and he will not leave you alone. He will make you holy. He is making you holy even now, because nothing can stop him.

The hope you feel through this, the sober-mindedness when the world is losing its mind. The peace you have, even in the face of disease and death, all of these are the work of God in you. Your father is allowing you to take part in your own upbringing, even though you mess it up, even though you get in his way. He’s teaching you how to be in the world, and when you falter, look at our father. Watch what he’s doing, or ask him to help you. He’s going to answer you in the way that will help you most to grow.

The last way we see God moving in our text today, even though everything else is stopped, is by sowing you like seed, even now. God is sowing you like seed.

Vs. 22-25 say this: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

I know we usually think of being born again in a sense of human birth, but here, next to this passage in Isaiah, Peter’s words have a dual meaning. Next week, we’ll talk about being born again as children, but this week he’s talking about crops and a common conception at that time that a seed has to die, in some ways, to be born again.

He’s quoting from Isaiah, during a part of that book written during the dispersion of God’s people, the same dispersion Peter says his people are reliving as they scatter, disrupted. God was comforting his people that everything in this world is passing away, and faster than we think. Even Rome, which must have seemed so invulnerable. Even us. The great glory and grandeur of these conquering kingdoms who ruled the known world in their days—they’re like a wildflower. They bloom in the spring, you cut them and bring them inside, they die in a day or two, you throw them out, gather more. The seasons change and whole field dies. More will come in their place. They will be the same and have the same flowers. They are brief and meaningless, unless they help us to delight in the beauty of what God has crafted.

Peter writes, these things that have the power to throw us into exile and away from each other. They’re brief. Our lives, too, are brief. We’re like seeds, but God has changed what we will become. He’s reshaped us by the living and abiding word, so that we, too, live and abide. When the rains come and we’re buried, we pass away, and that’s when our life begins. I think of the live oaks in New Orleans, which have lifespans that baffle me. My son climbs on trees I climbed when I was his age, which lived through Katrina, Betsy, the civil war, the revolution, even before my family arrived here ten generations ago. Even so, eternity awaits us after brief lives filled with dirt and rain.

Friends, one day you’ll be able to leave your house without being afraid for your life. Even if that’s a year from now, the time will be brief. We’ll look back on this, someone will write a book that future high schoolers will have to pretend they’ve read. We’ll gather together again, and sing songs all together. Life will settle into a new normal, but only for a little while. Soon, more rain will come, and we’ll be buried. But that’s not the end for us. Because God has placed eternity in our hearts, and when we die, life will spring up from us, life that makes this one look dry and small.

It’s started even now. Even in the middle of all of this, God is sowing you like seed. Every time you die a little bit to yourself, life springs up in the place of what was lost. You allow a particular sin to die in your life, and in its place, where you always expected to find emptiness, instead life springs up. You give of your time and your money, and where you always expected exhaustion and regret you find fruit and growth. You give up some pride actually to allow another person to know you fully, sin and all, and where you expected to be mortified, there you’re revived.

Even now, in our lives, we get a taste of life to come. Looking at v.22, as God makes us holy, and we obey like children this truth we’ve found, we can reap a harvest of love for one another. Love, which is the goal, the fruit of all of this sewing and growing. Love revealed by “the good news that was preached to you.” Good news that Christ is able to ransom us, to make us holy, and to sew us into the world. Trees, planted in places where people are hungry for the love of God.

I would invite you, if you want me to pray for you, of if you just want to talk to someone, our contact information is on this Facebook page. And I hope you’ll pray with me now.

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