Sermon: Blessed to be a Blessing
May 28th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: 1 Peter 5:1-14
One Sunday the pastor of a congregation preached an unusually short sermon. As she came to the end, she offered this explanation for her brevity and abrupt conclusion. “We have a new dog at our house,” the pastor explained. “The dog is prone to get into things and chew them up. Last night the dog got hold of my sermon and chewed up the last several pages.” The congregation seemed to understand the pastor’s plight. In fact, one visitor to the church shook the preacher’s hand after service and said, “If that dog of yours ever has pups, let me know. I’d like to buy one for my pastor.” (J. Howard Olds, sermons.com)
I had a preaching professor that regularly emphasized the point that the hardest part of a sermon is the ending. His pet peeve was a sermon that had multiple conclusions, one right after another till it finally crash lands. Peter clearly did not study under my seminary professor and neither did he have a dog to create the conclusion for him. His letter isn’t long, only 5 chapters, but Peter has tried to conclude several times and then seems to think of just a little bit more to say. Back in 3:8, Peter had written, “To sum up…” And he seems to bring that conclusion to an end in 4:11 with the line, “So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” But the next verse, which was part of our reading from chapter 4 last week, begins “Dear friend, do not be surprised…” And he goes on to share a few more thoughts on how to handle suffering, till once again in 5:11 he writes, “To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” And even then Peter goes on to add a few more lines to pass along greetings from those who are with him before his final “Peace to all of you who are in Christ.”
This morning we conclude our sermon series on 1 Peter, and I have looked at each of his endings to try to understand the bottom line of what Peter is communicating in this letter. Let’s take a moment to review where we been. Peter begins with the purpose of helping the young churches understand the implications of Jesus’ resurrection for them. He starts, “Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand new life with a living hope.” Therefore, he continues, become who you now are by being Holy and being Loving. Like Jesus, our Living Stone, we too are living stones. We participate in Christ’s purpose as stones, built together to hold God’s presence, and as sons and daughters called to serve as priests. We witness to Christ through our lifestyle of service, being honorable, respectful and cultivating inner beauty. Therefore, we will also participate in Christ’s suffering. Last week we considered how we can stand together with our brothers and sisters in Christ who endure persecution for the Gospel.
With each of these points, Peter has been reaching back into the Hebrew scriptures, into the Old Testament, to show these new believers that they are rooted in the long history of God already at work in the world and in His people. He does this again in ch.5 as he makes his point about humility, reaching back to the wisdom of Solomon preserved in the book of Proverbs. 1 Peter 5:5 quotes Proverbs 3:34, which The Message paraphrases as, “God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people.” But the original language for ‘takes delight’ (or in the NIV is ‘shows favor’) is the word ‘grace’. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” As Peter ends his letter he brings together 2 words, that word ‘grace’ and the word ‘glory’. He uses glory several times in the final paragraphs, and then in 5:10 writes, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ…” I would like to propose that the place where God’s grace and God’s glory come together is the place of blessing. And that is an appropriate place for Peter to end, because that is also the place God began his relationship with a called and chosen people, with Abraham.
In our Bible study groups we are studying the book of Genesis, and we are about to get to the story of Abraham. We are going to discover that God calls him with the words, “I will bless you; and you will be a blessing. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”(Gen.12:2-3) Peter’s first conclusion, 3:8-9, goes this way (The Message): “Summing up: Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless – that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.” Peter’s second conclusion gives some details on what this looks like, so let’s dig into it.
Be a Blessing
First, be a blessing. Peter has already written about being a blessing by being loving, by serving one another and the world as priests – like a bridge between them and God – and by living in such a way as to display God’s grace. Now he focuses on another attitude of the heart that Jesus exemplified – Humility. Peter addresses the elders first, the ones who serve in leadership roles of various kinds. They are to serve willingly, not begrudgingly. They are to serve selflessly, not looking for what they can get out of it – not for any benefits of getting their own way or controlling decisions or self-importance. They are to serve as humble shepherds of God’s flock.
Jesus had taught this lesson to Peter. Peter had a tendency to be a bit of a bully, to be brash, to be somewhat cocky. On the night before Jesus died, Jesus acted out this lesson of humble service for his disciples by taking the role of the servant to wash their feet. Peter, in a bit of false humility, tried to argue with Jesus, telling him, “You’re not ever going to wash my feet.” But Jesus replied that this was important in being a part of what Jesus was doing; the example Jesus was setting: The humility of serving and the humility of allowing oneself to be served. Humility was for everyone, for the elders/leaders and for the members/followers.
Peter writes, “All of you, leaders and followers alike, are to clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” Or as Peterson puts it, “be down to earth with each other.” Humility is portrayed as a piece of clothing we put on. The word literally means to “to tie a knot.” It refers to the apron or coveralls that a servant put on before going out to do the work of the master – whether in the fields or in the kitchen. The servant had no agenda of his/her own. The only agenda was to do what the master asked. Perhaps this Christian model was in John F. Kennedy’s mind when he declared in his inaugural address in 1961, “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you – rather ask what you can do for your country.”
I wonder how our days might be different if, as we get dressed each morning, we imagine ourselves tying on an apron of humility, an apron of submitting to God’s plan for the day. How might your day at work different if you were wearing that apron? How might your interactions with friends and neighbors and store clerks be different if you were wearing that apron? How might Sunday mornings be different if each one of us entered this church with that apron on? Or into church meetings or community meetings? Within Christ’s community, everyone is given the same servant apron – men and women, rich and poor, old and young, educated and uneducated, weak and strong. It’s the apron we receive in our baptism. “Each member bows to the other. Each member lifts the other up in honor. This is the pattern that is to govern the whole of the messianic community, according to the mind of the Messiah himself.”(Douglas Harink, Brazos Theological Commentary)
So Peter writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” From that thought Peter continues right into, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” One of the obstacles which keeps us from serving others in a truly selfless manner, that keeps us from wearing that apron of humility, is the concern about “but then who’s going to take care of me?” The ideal of self-sufficiency and individualism is very strong in our culture. But that saying “God helps those who help themselves” is not found anywhere in this Bible – it’s just not there! Instead, we find the ideal of being totally dependent on God. In fact, the only way any of us can say, “Ok, I’m going to focus totally on what you want, God,” is if I actually trust that God is going to be taking care of me while I do that. Casting my cares, my anxieties and worries and needs, on God is the very foundation for humility.
Receive a blessing
The reward for being a blessing is the promise that you will in turn receive a blessing. It is God’s promise. Peter reminds us that we will receive the crown of glory, we will share in the glory that is being revealed. There will be suffering for a little while, but then God himself will restore us, empower us, strengthen us and establish us. All the ways that the world might beat us down, burden us and break us, will in time, be repaired.
On Wednesday we had the privilege of hearing from Jeni Pedzinski, a young woman who has faithfully tried to listen to God’s call in her life and to be obedient to that word. Jeni sensed God’s call to serve in missions and went to Palmer Seminary in Philadelphia with that in mind. She began to explore this mission call with our American Baptist International Ministries while she was still studying, and shortly after graduating and being ordained as an American Baptist pastor, she began mission service in Thailand. I think she probably imagined a glorious life of serving the poor and oppressed, and she was assigned to the New Life Center in Chiang Mai that helps to restore, empower, strengthen and establish young girls who have experience trauma and exploitation, particularly the trauma of sexual exploitation. But for Jeni, the first year in Thailand was dedicated just to learning the Thai language. Next, she was assigned to do the office work. Jeni told us she struggled with that for a while, wishing she was on the front lines of transforming young lives. But in prayer God spoke to her. God said, “Jeni, I didn’t call you to be important.” Instead, Jeni told us she has learned to love what she is doing as God matches the administrative and communication needs of the New Life Center with her natural abilities and strengths. It reminded me of a quote attributed to Mother Theresa, “Not all of us can do great things; but we can do small things with great love.”
Jeni is a wonderful testament to the sense of humility and desire to bless others that we are called to in Christ. She is also a testament to the blessings that one receives from such a life. Jeni shared how blessed she felt to be able to serve in Thailand, how blessed she felt to come to meet the women in this church who were kind and supportive since her visit in 2012, and how blessed she feels to have the love and prayers and support from our congregation. God sustains her humble service and rewards her with such joy.
So when life is demanding, when you feel irritated, or tired, or ignored, or unappreciated, or taken advantage of or taken for granted, ask Jesus to tie the apron of humility around you and walk beside you. Follow his example of humility and grace, which will lead to a sharing in his glory. This is God’s economy of blessing: “Bless – that’s your job, to bless. You’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.”
In his book Guerrillas of Grace, Ted Loder includes a prayer for Easter that goes in part,
Lord of such amazing surprises
As put a catch in my breath
And wings on my heart,
I praise you… for this resurrection madness,
Which is wiser than I
And in which I see
How great you are,
How full of grace.
Closing song: # 101 “My Jesus, I Love Thee”