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1 Peter 1:22-25
I invite you to open your Bibles or your service folder to our second lesson, 1 Peter chapter 1, as guided by the Holy Spirit, Peter reminds us that the Word of the Lord Endures Forever.
The coming of a New Year can be a sentimental time. It’s a time when you think back on the past year and notice all the changes that you might have been too busy to notice as you went about your busy life.
A few days ago one of those “on this day 5 years ago” pictures came up on my phone. It was a picture of some of the grandkids. They all fit on our big stuffed chair. This year, five years later, there is no way they would all fit. Some are almost 6 feet tall. A lot has changed in five years.
It’s hard to believe that our congregations have been in their respective buildings, 11 years for Bethel and 8 years for Grace. Many of our current members never experienced setting up and taking down chairs in the gym at NELHS, or the orange carpet and drafty windows in the old building in Seward. A lot has changed, and, maybe we have even begun to take what we have for granted.
Many of you have experienced change this past year. There are a lot of new babies. Many have moved to different homes and different towns. Some have different jobs. All of us have new aches and pains that we didn’t remember having last year. Some are remembering a loved one who is no longer with us.
Peter quotes the word of God through Isaiah as he thinks about how things change over time. All flesh is like grass, and all its glory is like a flower of the field. The grass withers, and the flower falls. Everything has a life span. The grass and the flowers don’t last very long. Our pets might be around for 5, 10, 15 years, but they get old and eventually die. We usually outlive all of them, but ultimately, we are like the grass. We age. Our glory, our strength fades. Sooner or later, unless Jesus returns first, we will all face death. Our flower will fall.
We know the reason for all these changes. SIN. Once sin entered the world through Adam and Eve’s disobedience everything became subject to decay. Paul reminds us that the whole creation is in bondage to decay- flowers, trees, animals, humans, the structure of the earth and the universe- everything is aging and wearing out like a garment because God doesn’t want his creation to be subject to the effects of sin forever. And God uses the fact that all flesh is like grass, he uses creation’s bondage to decay, for a good purpose. He uses it to keep us from focusing on things that don’t last. He uses it to remind us that this life isn’t all there is and that we need to prepare for the end- the end of our lives and the end of all that God has created.
We are often tempted to focus on Adam and Eve and how they ruined God’s perfect creation, but in reality, we need to focus on ourselves. We are far from perfect. Not only did we inherit a sinful nature, but we sin daily, not just by what we do that’s sinful, but by things we fail to do; not just in our actions, but by things we say and even by things we think. If we spend too much time complaining about how Adam and Eve messed everything up, we will miss the point. The bottom line is that we have a sinful nature and we sin against God daily. Asking why this is the case doesn’t matter as much as asking what can be done about it. That’s what Jesus focused on as he spoke with Nicodemus. He told him, you must be born again. Your first birth was physical, the result of perishable seed. As Jesus said, flesh (perishable flesh) gives birth to (perishable) flesh. In order to overcome the change and decay brought by sin you need a second birth, a spiritual birth, a birth that’s the result of imperishable seed.
What is that imperishable seed? Peter says it’s the living and enduring word of God. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever. Everything else we know is subject to change and decay, but God’s word is truth. It never changes. What he commands never changes with the times. What he promises is always trustworthy. What God says in his word is even more certain than death and taxes.
God’s word is living and active. It’s not, as some say, just ink on paper. It proclaims the good news of what God has done for flesh that is decaying because of sin. It proclaims that God had a rescue plan for Adam and Eve and their descendants. He sent his son to be born under the law and keep it, fulfilling his demand for righteousness. He sent his son to suffer and die and take on himself the punishment we all deserve for our sins. It proclaims the good news that, in Jesus, there is forgiveness and eternal life. As Peter says at the beginning of his letter, In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you.
The living and enduring word of God, proclaimed on its own, or connected with the water of baptism, gives life, spiritual rebirth. The Holy Spirit works in and through it to create faith that Jesus is our crucified and risen savior, our only hope for escaping the change and decay caused by sin. And, by God’s grace, this is the word (this living and enduring, life-giving word) that was preached (or Good Newsed) to you.
Looking back on the past year and seeing all the changes, feeling your age, and remembering who you may have lost, can be a little depressing. But don’t forget that the good news of God’s living word has been preached to you! Through it you have been given new life, spiritual life and eternal life in Jesus. This doesn’t just give you hope for the future- it is the only reason for the hope of heaven; but Peter reminds us that it also has an effect on our daily lives.
Peter says, since you have purified your souls by obeying the truth, resulting in sincere brotherly love, love one another constantly from a pure heart. In Jesus God sees you as pure and righteous. The Holy Spirit has enabled you to obey the truth, to trust that Jesus is your only escape from the bondage of decay, of sin, death and the power of the devil. Your new heart of faith not only knows God’s love for you, it wants to express sincere, God-like love for others.
The early Christians set a great example of showing brotherly love. They met daily around the living and enduring word of God to encourage one another, to receive admonition, instruction and be strengthened in faith. They shared with each other and made sure there were no needy persons among them. Their brotherly love was noticed by those around them and was something that attracted people to ask about their motivation. It gave them many opportunities to preach the good news, to share the living and enduring word with others with the result that the Lord was adding people to His Church daily.
Just think what an effect such a demonstration of brotherly love would have in our world today, or even in your family? In a world that is filled with so much hatred. In a world where it seems that everyone takes the words and actions of others in the worst possible way. In a world where few seem to understand how to apologize or to forgive, if you show sincere brotherly love, it will get noticed. It will be attractive to people and you will have the chance to share with them the living and enduring word of God. It will give you the opportunity to share your motivation, the unselfish love that God has for you that moves you to speak kindly, to take people’s words and actions in the kindest possible way, to apologize when you are wrong, and to forgive when you are wronged.
Peter’s words suggest some important resolutions for the New Year. Daily remind yourself that the world and everything in it, including you, is passing away. Make daily use of the living and enduring word of God, for it is only through the word that you are born again with imperishable seed, and strengthen and kept in faith so that you are prepared for the time when everything will perish. Daily be reminded of what God has done, is doing, and has prepared for you in Jesus so that his great love for you moves you to show sincere love for others, starting with those closest to you and including even your enemies.
Undoubtedly you have faced a lot of changes in the past year and you will face a lot more changes in the coming year. As you do, remember that is it only the living word of the Lord, his promises to you in Jesus, that endure forever.