Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter, Year A Based on I Peter 1:3-9 By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson "Resurrection Hope"
What do we do when we face hardships and become discouraged? What do we need in times of trouble, when all is not well with the world with which we live? How do we cope with life's difficulties? These were the kinds of questions the writer of I Peter attempts to address, as Christians in Asia Minor faced severe persecutions in a hostile world. Christians were, at this time, regarded as a major enemy of the state. By virtue of being a Christian; by confessing one's Christian faith; one could be murdered by the state.
Thus, what these Christians needed the most in this situation was a word of comfort, encouragement and hope. But what exactly is hope? At times, it seems rather complicated, elusive and almost impossible to pin down. It has been described as both a noun and a verb. It's a reality that shapes and influences the past, present and future. Some people see it as a blind optimism; they tend to idealize the world by believing that everyone and everything is getting better every day in every way. They ignore the fact and reality of evil at work in the world. Other people have associated hope with trust, confidence, courage, patient endurance, and joyful expectation.
In our second lesson today, we learn that THE FOUNDATION AND ROOT OF OUR CHRISTIAN HOPE IS JESUS CHRIST'S RESURRECTION. The writer reminds us that in our baptism, we are given: "a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." In other words, in baptism we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ; and because he is our living Lord; we are given a living hope. Jesus Christ's resurrection as the foundation and root of our hope means a lot to us.
It reassures us that our hope is not something we are able to produce on our own--rather, it is a gift from God. Therefore, it's a gift we can trust since God is trustworthy. Even in the face of our greatest defeats and failures, our hope is not lost or defeated. In the eyes of the world, it may seem that way--however, because we are an Easter people, our lostness and our defeat is changed into a new life and victory. God, in Christ was able to accomplish what no one could or would ever be able to accomplish on the cross and in the resurrection.
As David Chancey has observed: "People around us put hope in every kind of material thing. They put hope in the stock market or in their bank account or in a job or in a person. The stock market plummets, an emergency wipes out their bank account or that person fails them or their company abruptly dismisses them, and they no longer have a job.Where is their hope? The only hope that is alive is that which we put into a living Lord Jesus Christ."
THIS HOPE IS LIVING BECAUSE JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN AND LIVING. IT'S A HOPE THAT LASTS IN ALL OF THE CHANGES AND CHANCES OF THIS LIFE. This hope--says our second lesson--is our inheritance, our birthright as baptized Christians. The writer puts it this way: "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." These three words: imperishable, undefiled, and unfading used here to describe our inheritance, are actually word-pictures of our hope.
According to Dr. William Barclay, the first word, imperishable: "can also mean unravaged by an invading army. Many and many a time Palestine had been ravaged by the armies of the aliens; it had been fought over and blasted and destroyed. But the Christian possesses a hope, which no invading army can ravage and destroy." Our hope and inheritance will never die or perish, since it does not depend on anything earthly or temporary. Another translation possibility of the word "imperishable" in our text is: not being subject to corruption or decay. This fits in well with our connection of hope with the resurrection of the body. The resurrection hope points us to that truth of Christ victory over the powers of death, which is a victory that we shall all one day share with Christ, when we are raised from the dead. Then corruption and decay shall no longer have power over us.
According to Dr. Barclay, the second word, "undefiled": "means to pollute with impious impurity. Many and many a time Palestine had been rendered impure by false worship of gods. The defiling things had often left their touch even on the Promised Land; but the Christian has a purity which the sin of the world cannot infect." The pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink and soil we grow foods in take their toll on our physical life as well as on the whole planet--however, our heavenly inheritance will put an end to all of this sort of pollution, impurity and defilement. There will be no more pollution in heaven. This shall be the case, since in heaven there shall be no sin or evil.
The third word describing our hope and inheritance is unfading. According to Dr. Barclay: "Time wilts flowers or yellow clippings we place in our scrapbook. Leaves fall from trees, blossoms drop from flowers…" In our sinful human condition, we shall all grow older and one day we shall die. "...but our place in heaven will never wilt or fade away." As Jesus himself said, in his heavenly realm, neither moth nor rust shall be able to consume or destroy our treasured inheritance; our resurrection hope.
HOW LIVING IS THIS RESURRECTION HOPE FOR YOU, TODAY AND EVERYDAY? One of the sobering ironies that I've encountered over the years has been: how Christ's resurrection, living hope is often found in the least-likely situations among people whom one would not expect to be hopeful. It is indeed rather ironic that Christians living in situations of poverty, oppression, persecution, violence; Christians who suffer cruel injustices every day and are deprived of their basic human rights and the basic necessities of life--in many cases, are the most hopeful about life and their future. Theirs is a living hope based on Christ's resurrection, which no earthly power is able to take away from them. These poorer brothers and sisters in Christ have much to teach us about Christian hope.
So, whenever we feel that our world is falling apart; whenever we are confronted with the complexities of our time; whenever we feel tossed about in every direction like a small boat on a stormy sea; whenever we face hostility or persecution on account of our Christian faith; we are encouraged to remember that we have been given A LASTING, LIVING HOPE, ALONG WITH AN IMPERISHABLE, UNDEFILED, UNFADING INHERITANCE KEPT FOR US IN HEAVEN. May we celebrate this resurrection hope every day of our lives!
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