Sermon: Therefore, Become Who You Are!
April 30th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passages: 1 Peter 1:13-2:3
A friend of mine was poking around one of those antique shops, the kind I usually drive by and dismiss them as junk shops – something like that one on the way to Janesville that even has an old airplane among the things that spill out of the building and fill the yard and sidewalk. But some people of the knack of finding treasures among all the cast-off stuff. Steve was looking for something in particular and after wandering around, he spotted what he thought might be just the thing. It was a bowl about 8 inches across that must have been used as a planter at some point in its life. The inside was still dirty with soil, dried leaves and petals were stuck to it, and it had a crack running up one side. It hadn’t attracted much attention from the owner of the store or other customers, as it was buried under a pile of other old stuff, books and cups, and little thises-and-thats. Steve carefully pulled the bowl out of the pile, and hiding his pleasure at his find, went up to the register to buy it. He took it home and carefully set about cleaning the bowl, which he had recognized as a fine piece of porcelain. He worked slowly to get all the dirt and grime out of the pattern, he repaired the crack, finally restoring it to a thing of beauty. When it was done, Steve set it in a place of honor in his home, using it to display 3 ornamental eggs. The bowl showed them off perfectly.
Now let’s imagine for a moment that the previous owner of the bowl, the one who had used it to hold dirt and flowers, returned to the shop looking to get her bowl back so she could put it in her garden again. The owner might direct her to Steve. And if she sought Steve out and asked him for the bowl, he might explain how he had cleaned it up, inside and out, and that the bowl was now fulfilling its real purpose and was being truly appreciated for what it was. To fill the bowl with dirt again would be an injustice, an insult even, for the bowl had now become what it was made for. (illustration adapted from NT Wright, The Early Christian Letters)
The good news is that we are like that bowl! As Peter continues to explain the implications of Jesus’ resurrection to Christian believers in the letter we call 1 Peter, he writes about God redeeming them from an empty way of life. That’s sort of what my friend Steve did for that bowl. God has bought us to get us out of a dead-end path, rescue us from a futile lifestyle. But we were not a cheap, junk yard deal; God paid a very high price for us. I have put the Message version of the scripture passage on the back of the bulletin again, and Eugene Peterson puts it this way, “It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ’s sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately – at the end of the ages – become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It’s because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.”
Last Sunday we heard Peter explain that through Jesus’ resurrection, through the new life he received after death, we too are given brand new life – a new birth into a living hope. “Becoming a Christian means that what God did for Jesus at Easter, he does for you in the very depth of your being.” (NT Wright) Hallelujah! We have been purchased by God through Jesus. We have brand new life! But then what? What’s next?
The moment the bowl was in my friend Steve’s hands, it was redeemed, freed from a life in a junk shop. But of course it didn’t immediately become beautiful, it took time and effort and patience. There was cleaning and healing and transforming work to be done. And that is what Peter writes about in our reading today. Therefore, he starts. You have been given brand new life, therefore … This passage begins and ends with “therefore.” In the version on the back of the bulletin Peterson uses the word ‘so’ instead of ‘therefore’. Verse 13, “So, roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready.” And again in 2:1, “So, clean house! Make a clean sweep.” In between the ‘so’s or ‘therefore’s Peter has 2 instructions on how those who received the new birth into a living hope are to now become who they are. That is the title for my sermon today, Therefore, Become Who You Are!
First, to become who we are now we are to be holy, or another way to say that is we are to get cleaned up. We need to put our minds in gear, which means we need to be thoughtful, mindful, about what we are doing rather than just mindlessly going with the flow and doing whatever feels good in the moment. While our emotions are important and can guide us, they have to be balanced with an alert mind. We are not to let ourselves be shaped by harmful desires and habits, but we are to be shaped by God. Peter writes, “Let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, I am holy; you be holy.”
In Bible study we have started reading Genesis, from the beginning with creation, and spent some time thinking about what it means that God created us in God’s image. One of the ways to understand this is to think about a mirror. When you look in a mirror, it displays your image in it. It reflects your image back to you and to anyone else who is looking at the mirror. God created us to reflect God’s image into the world; the world can look at us and should be able to see something of God in us. God is kind; when we are kind, we image God. God is patient; when we are patient, we image God. God is trustworthy; when we are trustworthy, we image God. God is holy; when we are holy, we image God.
What does it mean to be holy? What is holiness? Holy means set apart; to be set apart for a special purpose. A church sanctuary is holy, set apart for the special purpose of worship. A Bible is holy, set apart for the special purpose of communicating God’s word. We are holy, set apart for the special purpose of worshiping God, and for the special purpose of being God’s presence and servants in this world; the special purpose of helping others to find that same brand new life with living hope in Jesus Christ. We clean up our lives to be holy, set apart for God to use us.
We do this not because we are afraid of a God with a book full of rules who is watching to catch us if we step out of line. God is not waiting to punish you if you trip up. No, Peter writes, “You call out to God for help and he helps – he is a good Father that way. But don’t forget, he’s also a responsible Father, and won’t get you get by with sloppy living.” The NIV puts it this way, “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverence.”
You are the bowl that has been redeemed from the junk shop; you have been cleaned up for a place of honor, with a special purpose. Don’t let a previous owner take you back to the old purpose, the old life. You now know what you were made for, and you can absolutely trust God to treat you with fairness, with kindness, with great love. God has already begun to put you to new use – one that fits you perfectly. Therefore, become who you are! Keep on becoming who you are!
Then Peter writes, “Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth…” And ‘following the Truth’ means the Truth of who you are as a person loved by God, redeemed by Christ, the Truth of your special purpose in this world, the Truth of living in the way God created us to live, taking care of God’s investment, living in peace with others. Peter says, “Now that you’ve cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it.”(Msg) “Love one another deeply, from the heart.”(NIV) The command to love God and to love one another is what this life is all about. We love because God first loved us. Redeeming us for renewed life with special purpose was God’s plan from the beginning; it was no afterthought.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem on the night before he died, he gave them a new law, one which fulfilled all the previous commands. That is why we call that day Maundy Thursday; Maundy means mandate or command. Jesus washed his disciples feet, he broke bread and shared the cup, and then he said to them, “Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples – when they see the love you have for each other.” (John 13:34-35)
You are made to love and be loved, therefore, become who you are!
Peter knew that the people he was writing to had been given brand new life in Christ, but he also knew that there was work to be done, changes to be made, transformation to be realized. He knew how difficult it would be for those churches he was writing to become what God was redeeming them to be. He knew that they were young in their faith. He knew that they were threatened by persecution and difficulties in their lives. He knew there were many pressures from the world around them, from the political system around them, from their community, wider families that may not understand. So he warned them, in verse 14, “Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now.”
We, too, face many challenges and pressures that can undermine even the best intentions to live into our brand new lives, to live in the Post-Easter mindset. Your challenge may be a big crisis that knocks you off your feet, knocks the breath out of you, or it may be the daily grind, the everyday nitty gritty details of life that just bog us down. You may feel pressures to keep up with those around you, to keep up with the latest facebook fad or twitter trend. Maybe pressures to conform your opinion to the loudest voice or share quips to get the most likes. Becoming who we are, being holy, being loving, takes thought and effort – but we are given help by God.
Peter uses two different metaphors – he mentions seed, the imperishable, enduring, living seed of God’s Word; and he mentions milk, pure spiritual milk. That milk, that seed is nourishment directly from the source of life, like a blood transfusion even. In this instance, when Peter writes about God’s Word he is not talking about the Bible – as Peter writes his letter, the New Testament as we know it has not been put together– Peter is talking about God’s Word, Jesus. Therefore, become who you are by being hungry for Jesus Christ, by letting His strength be your strength.
We take small steps toward holiness, like a baby that starts with milk and moves toward solid food, like a plant that starts as a seed and gradually grows to its full stature. Peter ends with a list of ways in which we may still be shaped by the world rather than by Jesus Christ. It gives us a practical idea of things we can work on as we become who we are, become holy and loving. I will read his list, and as I do I invite you to close your eyes and listen, listen for the Holy Spirit to bring to your mind how one of these things may need to be cleaned up within you, so that you can truly become who you are in Christ.
Therefore, make a clean sweep of:
Malice – that is meanness, mean-spiritedness
Deceit – lies, half-truths, attempts to mislead
Hypocrisy – being insincere, having a double-standard, not walking the talk
Envy – jealousy, even comparing yourself to others
Slander – insults, put-downs, negative sarcasm, blame.
Please pray with me, Holy God, we confess to you that there are thoughts and feelings in our hearts that do not reflect Your Goodness, Your holiness, Your love. We give you permission to work within us, to strengthen us by the power of your Holy Spirit to clean up those things we which dirty us and keep people from recognizing Jesus in us. Thank you, Jesus, that you will guide and help each one of us to become who we truly are. Amen.
Closing song: Take Time To Be Holy # 540