Thursday, May 29, 2014

Easter 6 of Series A (1 Peter 3:13-22)

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this confirmation day comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the third chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ, the world hates confirmation. What we are doing today, what many of you did on your confirmation day or will do one day in the future, is completely antithetical to how the world treats religion. The world tells you that your faith is a personal and private thing, something to keep to yourself; today you trumpet that faith boldly, clearly, and publically, for all the world to hear. And more than that, you aren’t simply confessing that you are a Christian, you are being even more specific; you are confessing that you are a Lutheran. The world tells us to keep faith as vague as possible, it speaks the lie that there is little difference between denominations or even between religions. But today you are saying that one branch of the Christian Church, the Lutheran confession, is your confession. You are pledging allegiance to specific teachings associated with a specific church body, not just some vague faith that is only your own. You are telling the world that you aren’t buying what it is selling, that you will hold this faith no matter what it does to you. Confirmation, if we take it seriously, is a declaration of war, it is the bold confession that you will stand against the world and will confess this faith even unto death.

There have been times in history when confirmation did mean a death sentence, and even today confirmands still promise to hold the faith they confess no matter what the world tries to do to them. Confirmands who keep their faith to themselves, or who quickly forget their vows to be faithful in hearing God’s Word, are little threat to the world; they can live quite comfortably within it. Confirmands who, on the other hand, take their confirmation vows seriously are an offense to the world, and the world will attempt to stomp them out. But do not be afraid. “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.” Do not fear the world; fear Christ, trust in Him more than the threatenings of your enemies. Do not keep silent through fear of the world. So many Christians are cowed into silence through the hostility that they face; within the four walls of a church they speak of Christ, but out in the world, they keep their mouths shut, afraid of the consequences.

You are not called to such a spirit of fear. Peter calls on all Christians to fear Christ, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Confirmation is just the beginning, only a start. Christians are to be always prepared to make a defense. You are to be prepared at all times, constantly looking for the opportunity to speak of Christ, to defend your faith against opposition or simply to answer questions of unbelievers. The opportunities come sporadically, but you are to be always ready to meet them with a clear confession. You are to be prepared, that is, well versed in the Scriptures; confirmation instruction has given you a foundation, but it takes a lifetime of study to be prepared to answer the questions of the world, to make that bold confession in different situations. If you treat confirmation as graduation, then the world is going to chew you up and spit you back out again. Unbelievers aren’t going to throw you softballs—in fact, the world gives out harder questions than me or any other pastor could ever give you.

The world is going to call on you to confess the faith from hostility or curiosity, and you must be ready to speak. But how we speak is almost as important as what we speak. There are plenty of Christians out there who are speaking with great boldness to and against the world; I wish that every person here today had such courage that we see in some parts of the Christian Church! But their witness so often is ruined by arrogance and anger. They speak the truth from a position of smug superiority, which only turns others off. The focus ends up being on themselves, not upon Christ. I am convinced that one of the greatest threats to Christianity is out of control Christians, who say things that, while they may be true, they are said in a way that will only drive away the unbeliever.

Only those who fear the world think they have to fight hatred with hatred, anger with anger; that when the world reviles, they must revile in return. But Christians are not called upon to fear the world, we are called upon to fear Christ, making our confession “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” Those who follow the humble Savior are called upon to be humble themselves. You confess the faith when the world calls on you to confess; not to make yourself look better, but to proclaim Christ. The focus is always on Him. You speak in humility, not to win an argument, but to call a fellow sinner to repentance and faith. You speak the Law as one who also must hear the Law; you speak the Gospel as a beggar telling another beggar where you have found bread. And how you live your life matters! How many non-believers have been turned off from the faith and scandalized by the openly sinful lives of supposed ‘Christians?’

You can only have true humility when you do not fear the world. When you are secure in Christ, then you can stand boldly, but humbly, against the world, giving a defense of the hope within you, no matter what this world does to you. And such security only comes through Baptism. Confirmation turns you back to your Baptism; you confess the faith you were baptized into; you ‘confirm’ that this is the faith that you will take out into this world. Confirmation is a coming of age, a declaration of spiritual maturity, with all the privileges and responsibilities that come with adulthood. But you always remain a child of Baptism. “Baptism…now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.”

Confirmation is not graduation from Baptism because we never leave our Baptism behind. How can we, when it is Baptism that links us to Christ’s death and resurrection? Peter calls on us to fear Christ and not the world because Christ has overcome the world. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” His death on Calvary’s cross destroyed sin, death, and the devil; His resurrection three days later confirmed that victory, declaring throughout the world that the one who had died bearing the sin of the world had triumphed, conquering death. Our enemies have already been defeated, crushed by our mighty Savior. That is what our Baptism gives us: victory in the place of defeat, life in the place of death, and courage in place of fear. Your enemies are conquered; they can rage all they want, but they can do nothing to rob you of eternal salvation; the victory remains with Christ. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Easter 5 of Series A (1 Peter 2:2-10)

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this fifth Sunday after Easter comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ, the first lick on the ice cream cone, the first bite of the burger, the first sip of water on a hot day always leaves you wanting more, it never fully satisfies. A taste is never enough. You tasted the Lord’s goodness on the day of your Baptism, when the waters of salvation rushed over your head. You tasted His grace, His mercy, His salvation; you tasted His Holy Spirit, and as Peter says, that taste should leave you wanting more: “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” The first taste of the Lord’s goodness should leave you thirsty for more; it should give you a desire to drink ever more deeply, to receive that blessed nourishment each and every day. And so you come to Jesus, the only one who can satisfy your thirst, who has that spiritual milk to give in abundance. That’s why you’re here this morning; or at least it should be the reason you are here. You tasted of Christ on the day you were washed with the water and the Word, and today you have come to the One who satisfies thirst, the One who cannot be avoided, to whom all men must answer.

In the path of every person, standing between them and the future, lies a Stone. You cannot go around it, you cannot step over it; it is laid across the path of all, no one can avoid it. This isn’t the kind of Stone that you can ignore. Many think that they can simply hop over the Stone, that they can avoid doing anything with it, simply leaving it behind them and going on with their lives. But this is a Stone like no other; it will not be ignored, or jumped over, it must be dealt with in one way or another. This Stone divides humanity in two, it divides mothers and fathers from children, friends from one another, it splits communities and nations. This Stone divides all people, not because it wants to divide, but because people are divided upon it.

Every person who encounters this Stone lying across their path is changed. There is no avoiding it. Either the person is built upon that Stone, or they try to cast it away and find that it crushes them. There is no third option, no other path. Either the Stone is used as a cornerstone or it becomes a stumbling block. The Stone has no other effect. Many believe that the Stone can be a part of the house they build, maybe even set in a prominent place, but the Stone will not allow it. Either it is the cornerstone of the house, or it is a stumbling block, one or the other. This Stone is a cornerstone, it has no use anywhere else on the house; it will crush the person who tries to put it elsewhere. Either one is built upon the Stone, or the Stone becomes a stumbling block, period. Putting it somewhere else is as bad as casting it away; either the Stone is the cornerstone, or it is rejected by the builders, to their peril.

This Stone has been rejected before, it was tossed to the side by those who first encountered it. Peter calls it “a living Stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” This Stone was precious to God and chosen by Him, for this Stone was His own Son, sent into this world to be the long promised foundation of salvation. This Stone was of such great value to God that twice He called from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son!” But men made strange and none the longed-for Christ would know. They refused to build upon this chosen and precious stone, instead tossing it aside, putting what was chosen and precious to the God of the universe to death, even death upon a cross. The builders of Israel rejected the Stone sent by God, they stumbled over it, they tried to destroy what God gave them.

But Jesus, the rejected Stone, had predicted this; He had based His entire life and work on the words that Peter quotes from Psalm 118: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” He knew that He would be rejected, that men would cast Him away. All humanity would be divided upon Him. But in being rejected, His Father, who sent Him, would exalt Him to the place of highest honor. He would be rejected by men, but in His rejection, God Himself would make Him the cornerstone. Three days later, the stone was rolled away from the entrance of the tomb, and God’s chosen and precious Stone emerged victorious over sin and death. He emerged in glory, He emerged exalted by His Father, He emerged having triumphed over all His enemies; even death itself stumbled over Him and was crushed. He is now the deathless Stone, the living stone on which living houses are built.

“You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The Stone, rejected by men but vindicated by God, is now the precious cornerstone of all who believe. Those who cling to Him in faith are built into a spiritual house, a house that will stand into eternity, because it is built upon a cornerstone that will never die again. Everything in that house depends upon its cornerstone; without it, the house would fall to pieces, but with this cornerstone in place, the house can endure the storms of this world, the assaults of Satan, even death itself. Each believer is a living stone on this house, built into a structure that has the promise of Christ Himself that the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Those built on the cornerstone of Christ are then called by Peter a ‘holy priesthood.’ They are a house of priests, set apart from the world around them for service in God’s kingdom. Every Christian is a priest—and what do priests do? They offer sacrifices! This house of priests offers sacrifices to God, sacrifices that are acceptable only through Jesus Christ. These are the sacrifices of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving to God; these are also the sacrifices of love to the neighbor, kindness toward strangers, and service in one’s vocation. These sacrifices are acceptable to God only because the ones offering them are priests built upon the chosen and precious cornerstone. Priests are set apart, consecrated for the task of serving God and serving their neighbor, built upon the chosen and precious Stone. Peter quotes Isaiah: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”

The one who is built upon the chosen and precious stone will not be put to shame; not so for those who reject Him. “The honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.’” They reject the Stone by building with other materials, by setting other cornerstones. They toss the Stone aside, building with materials that do not last. They put trust in their own works, their ‘good life,’ no realizing that no work is good unless it is done by one built upon the Stone. They depend upon other gods or no god at all, choosing to anchor their structures upon themselves. Whatever the materials are, what they have in common is that they are not built on the chosen and precious Stone God sent into this world to be a sure and eternal foundation; that Stone will endure, along will all who are built upon it, while all other materials, all other structures, will pass away.

The Stone cannot be avoided or skipped; it cannot be tossed lightly aside. All who are not built upon that Stone as the chief cornerstone will find that it is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” Peter says, “They stumble because they disobey the Word, as they were destined to do.” This stumbling has eternal consequences; those who stumble over Christ will find themselves standing before God on Judgment Day alone with their sins. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Either one is built upon the chosen and precious stone, and will stand for eternity, or one builds with perishable materials that will not last beyond the grave. There is no third option. Those who reject the Stone will find themselves crushed for eternity, for they have refused what Christ has done for them.

But not you, for you have tasted that the Lord is good. “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness and into His marvelous light.” In your Baptism, you were built upon Christ the cornerstone, rejected by men but exalted by God. You are now a chosen race; Jew and Gentile are together the people of God. You are a royal priesthood, set aside as His priests, offering sacrifices acceptable to God in Christ Jesus. You are a holy nation, a nation that transcends time and space, encompassing all who are built on Christ the cornerstone. And you are a people for His own possession, belonging once again to the God of the universe through the reconciliation of Jesus.

Your situation has changed dramatically, you have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” You were estranged from God in sin and darkness, but are now God’s people once again, shown mercy for the sake of Christ, who died and rose again for you. You have tasted that the Lord is good; His goodness is shown in sending His Son to win forgiveness, life, and salvation for those whom He loves. You have tasted that the Lord is good, come to the feast! Here the table is set for those who hunger and thirst for Christ, who yearn for what He gives. Drink deeply of Christ here in this place each and every week—one taste just isn’t enough! In the Name of the chosen and precious Stone, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Easter 4 of Series A (1 Peter 2:19-25)

“You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this Good Shepherd Sunday comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the second chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ, sheep suffer. That is simply a fact in this world of sin. Sheep suffer. They suffer the effects of living in a sinful world: diseases and sicknesses of all kinds, accidents, natural disasters, and finally death. But that isn’t the kind of suffering that Peter is talking about in our text. The sheep also suffer because of their own sin, they face the consequences of their actions; they go to jail, they destroy relationships, they sit in time-out or detention. But Peter strongly emphasizes that even this is not the kind of suffering He is talking about. “What credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?” Don’t seek praise from God or men when you bear up under suffering that you deserved. In our text today, Peter is instead speaking about the third reason that sheep suffer: the sin of others. “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing before God.” The sheep do suffer because they dwell in a sinful world, they do suffer because they commit sins and have to face the consequences, but Peter doesn’t want to talk today about either of those reasons for suffering. Today, he wants to talk about the suffering inflicted by others.

“This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Peter gets even more specific. He isn’t just talking about any sheep who is sinned against. He is talking about sheep who are mindful of God, that is, they are believers in God through Jesus Christ. They are the ones who know their Shepherd’s voice, and they suffer unjustly, not because they have done wrong, but because they are doing good. “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” It is a gracious thing to endure suffering for doing good; God is pleased with such a good work. But He is pleased only because that sheep belongs to Christ, because that sheep believes. Non-believers can suffer patiently too, but their endurance of suffering is not a gracious thing, it is not a good work, for they do not believe.

In fact, the sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd suffer because they are mindful of God, because they believe. The world inflicts great suffering on Christians; it always has, and it always will. It hates that flock, it wants to stomp it out, because this world is in the hands of Satan, and Satan is the sworn enemy of the Church, he wants that little flock to be destroyed, he wants no one to spend eternity in heaven. So the sheep are persecuted for their beliefs, for owning a Bible, for holding worship services. They are persecuted for going to Sunday School, for serving as an elder, for speaking the faith to another. In this country, the sheep are simply verbally abused, skewered in the media and behind their backs, but elsewhere, they are quite literally slaughtered for following Christ.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd are attacked for believing as a Christian, but they are also persecuted for living as one. The world tells them to believe what they want to on Sunday morning, as long as it doesn’t affect how they live in this world. Sheep are persecuted for not following the practices of their neighbors, for not engaging in sexual immorality, filthy language, or irresponsible behavior. Especially today, we are reminded of how biblical womanhood and motherhood has been distorted and marginalized by a world of abortion on demand, feminism, and sexual freedom. Those who maintain a biblical view of the family are called ‘bigots’ and ‘prudes,’ they are told that their opinions are not allowed, and women who want to model biblical motherhood find themselves swimming upstream. When the Good Shepherd’s sheep refuse to join in the practices of this world, they can expect to be shunned or verbally abused, they can expect to suffer.

But the sheep of the Good Shepherd also suffer for the same reason that all sheep suffer: they live among sinners, and sinners inflict suffering upon other sinners. A sheep’s suffering at the hands of others may have nothing to do with their Christian faith. A tyrannical boss, an abusive spouse, or an out-of-control government inflict suffering upon Christians and non-Christians alike. The thief who robs a home or car doesn’t care whether the sheep he sins against belong to the Good Shepherd or not; he simply wants their possessions. Suffering inflicted by others will come, one way or another; the question for the sheep is, how do they respond to it?

Peter gives them the answer: follow Christ. “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His steps.” Suffer following in the footsteps of Christ your Lord. Suffer being traced out upon His cross, suffering as He suffered for you. His cross, His Passion, are an example for you to follow, and Jesus Himself calls on us to take up our cross and follow Him. Today, we live with an extremely domesticated cross. We put it on our walls and on our necks, which is good, but we forget that it is a symbol of suffering, that the cross proclaims to us that it is only through tribulation that we will enter the Kingdom of God. To Peter’s first hearers, the cross was a present reality; there was the very real possibility that some he wrote to would die upon what hangs around your neck.

The only way to endure the cross is to suffer mindful of God, as Peter exhorts you: “This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” Suffer not forgetting who you are or whose you are; suffer ever mindful of God, remembering that it is He who holds you in His loving hands, despite anything that this world does to you. Our example is Christ: “When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten.” Suffer not responding to the violence and abuse of this world with violence and abuse of your own; suffer patiently, enduring attacks against you as one who belongs to the Good Shepherd. Christians don’t take revenge any more than Christ took revenge; how can those who are called to “turn the other cheek” justify violence against their attackers? Suffer giving a witness to the world, suffer putting your persecutors to shame, showing that you are different than those around you. Suffer not as a pushover, but as a Christian, as one who knows that this world can only kill the body, it cannot harm the soul. Stand your ground against the evil around you, refusing to let the sufferings they inflict compromise your faith or lead you into sin. Suffer patiently, with word and action speaking to and against the world.

Suffer in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd. His Passion is the ultimate example of suffering for doing good, as Peter reminds us: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” He was perfect, sinless, His only crimes were to give forgiveness, to preach the Kingdom of God, to heal the sick and to raise the dead. But for those crimes He was condemned to death, He would be stricken by the scourge, smitten by the cross, and afflicted by the jeering crowd. Jesus had the power to release Himself from suffering; in a moment He could’ve destroyed those who persecuted Him. Had He responded in anger, Pilate’s palace would’ve been destroyed, the soldiers would’ve laid dead, the religious leaders would’ve faced the same torture they wished to inflict upon Him. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, refused to act. “When He was reviled, he did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten.” 

He endured those sufferings, all that the world inflicted upon Him, that bitter cup placed at His lips to drink. He faced every ounce of suffering that you experience in this world at the hands of others; He endured every bit of what you endure, and more, He suffered God’s wrath. But He did not fight back, because His suffering was for you. He suffered bearing your sin. “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” He took all your sins, all your sufferings upon Himself and suffered for them. He commended Himself to the judgment of men and of God, He “continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.” The righteous Judge declared the innocent Good Shepherd guilty, for this Jesus, who had no sin, suffered bearing the sin of all the sheep, He suffered in your place and in mine.

He suffered to take away that sin. “By His wounds you have been healed.” Our wounds, the suffering inflicted upon us by a sinful world, by our own sin, and by the sin of others, are all healed by the wounds of Christ. His shed blood is the balm that soothes the pain away. He gives healing in this world, the healing that comes through His blessed forgiveness, and He promises healing for eternity, found in the peace of the resurrection. By His wounds you are healed! His cross is the answer to suffering, because it promises the end of suffering, the end of sorrow, the end of sin, and the end of death. His wounds heal you when you come to this place and receive His blessed forgiveness, in Word and in Sacrament, His wounds heal you when you face any kind of suffering in this world of sin by comforting you with the promise of ultimate deliverance.

He suffered to bring you back to your God, to restore lost and wandering sheep back to their Creator forever. “You were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd because we are wandering sheep, and He seeks us out, giving up of Himself to bring us back to Him. He calls us by name back to the fold, making us His own. The voice of Christ is not for reviling, for threatening, but for calling lost sheep. And that is what He does, calling you to His sheepfold, where He heals you by His blood, comforting you in the midst of your afflictions, and finally, when the Last Day comes, bringing you through Himself to the green pastures, the quiet waters, the laden tables, and the overflowing cups of eternal bliss. In the Name of the Good Shepherd, who lays down His live for the sheep, Amen.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter 3 of Series A (1 Peter 1:17-25)

“If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this third Sunday of Easter comes from the Epistle lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of Peter’s first letter. Dear friends in Christ: Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia! Easter changes everything. Christ is risen, and death is destroyed. Christ is risen, and the angels sing. Christ is risen, and the demons fall. Christ is risen, and your life will never be the same. Christ is risen, and you now call on God as ‘Father.’ Christ is risen, and you have a new citizenship. Your old citizenship is no longer any good; God has replaced it with a new one. Your pledge of allegiance is now the Lord’s Prayer, where you boldly call upon God as your Father. And if you call upon God as Father, Peter says, “conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile.” You haven’t switched clubs, you haven’t changed school districts, you haven’t even exchanged the passport of one country for that of another. This is much more serious than that. You have been joined to the God of the universe, and He doesn’t tolerate dual citizenships. You are His, you belong to Him, so “conduct yourself with fear.” If you dare to call upon your Father in prayer, remember who you are, remember whose you are, and remember where your citizenship lies.

What is a citizen? A citizen pledges allegiance to a nation, promising to obey its rulers and support its causes. A citizen also often has a way of life that conforms in many ways to the culture of that country. Your citizenship used to reside on this earth, it was bound to this mortal dust. You were a slave to sin, an earthbound creature, doomed to death. Your citizenship, your allegiance, was to the powers of this world, to the devil and his countless allies. You pledged allegiance to Satan’s dominion, you obeyed His rules and supported his causes. You had a way of life that conformed to the culture of sin; you lived a self-centered life, loving only yourself and seeking your own way. You were a citizen of this earth, through and through, a miserable slave to sin.

But Easter changes everything. You are now free in Christ, released from your slavery. Saint Peter writes, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” You were a slave to sin and death, under Satan’s dominion. But Christ ransomed you, He paid the price to purchase you with the shedding of His own blood, and now you belong to Him. You have a new citizenship, the citizenship of heaven. Nothing that your earthly citizenship gave you could ever pay the price of freedom; no amount of gold or silver can release from sin and death. A price was required that no citizen of earth could pay, and so Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, took on our human flesh, and paid it Himself. This was God’s plan for you all along. “[Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.”

It was God’s plan from eternity to make you a citizen of heaven, to take you from the citizenship of the earth, a citizenship that enslaved and delivered only death, to a citizenship that frees you and gives you life everlasting. Jesus paid the price to win that citizenship upon the cross; He made you a citizen of heaven in your Baptism. “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” Your first birth was perishable, it made you a citizen of this earth. The womb of your mother, like every other womb in history, could only bring forth perishable seed, children doomed to die. Your citizenship in Satan’s kingdom was bestowed the moment you were conceived by a sinful father and sinful mother.

Your second birth, on the other hand, is imperishable, it makes you a citizen of heaven. The womb of the font, the washing of the water with the Word, can only bring forth the imperishable, children who will live for eternity. At the font, you were given the birth that wipes out all that your natural birth gave you; in Baptism, Satan’s chains are loosed, your sins are forgiven, and you are given possession of life eternal. Through Baptism, Easter and all of its great gifts are brought near to you, they are applied directly to you as the water flows over your brow. A new citizenship is bestowed upon you, a citizenship that endures, because it is given through imperishable seed. Through Jesus, you are now “believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” Your faith and hope are in the God who raised Jesus from the dead; when Jesus walked out of the empty tomb, God declared to the entire world that the ransom was sufficient for the sin of the world, that death truly is defeated.

The resurrection declares that your citizenship is now in heaven; you are no longer a citizen of this earth, for there are no dual citizenships, you are either a citizen of one or a citizen of the other. So do not live as if you remain a citizen of this earth. You have been delivered from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, do not live in them any longer. Do not pretend that you remain a citizen of this world; you are not, you have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, you have been given a new citizenship. The ways of this earth are futile; they deliver only death. Self-centeredness, self-gratification; those have been the customs of the citizens of earth since the Fall into sin, and they have delivered countless millions into bondage. You have cast off those chains; why should you, as a citizen of heaven, seek to satisfy your own desires and make your own rules? You are no longer Satan’s slave, you belong to Christ, you have been freed from those practices, from the constant need to satisfy your unquenchable sinful nature.

The citizenship of this earth fades away, it will not endure. Nothing that it offers will endure, its glories help no one beyond the grave. I love sports probably more than the average person, but are sports more important than Sunday morning worship, than devotion and Bible study, than prayer? Will it matter in eternity how good I am at shooting free-throws, or if I know all the stats, I’ve watched every game, but know little of Christ, if I have neglected my neighbor? No. And we can list off many other perishable idols and ask the same kinds of questions: money, success, beauty, popularity, etc. Do not live as if the perishable things are the most important, do not live as if they will endure; they won’t, only your heavenly citizenship, the gifts given by Christ, endure.

That citizenship is eternal, kept in heaven safe for you by Christ Himself. Live as one who has a citizenship that endures, live as a citizen of heaven. This doesn’t mean that you ignore the things of this earth; far from it. Saint Peter tells us, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Citizens of heaven follow the practices and customs of heaven, which are characterized by one word: love. This love is sincere; the citizens of this earth serve others in order to get something for themselves, so that what appears to be selfless is actually selfish. Citizens of heaven serve others in sincerity, without any thought of gain. This love is self-sacrificial, following the pattern of Christ. The citizens of heaven freely give of themselves, putting the needs of others ahead of their own, for they have already been given everything.

You have been purified, cleansed, baptized by Christ Jesus to love one another sincerely. Your hearts have been made pure in the sight of God through that washing, and thus you are called to a life of love. Love your neighbor sincerely, showing to them the love that was first shown to you. Love your neighbor sacrificially, giving of yourself for their good. You may be called upon to give up your money, your comfort, or even your life to serve others. Love may call on you to take a stand for the most vulnerable, putting your reputation or your body on the line to protect others. Love may mean speaking the Law to someone living as a citizen of this earth, calling them away from their sin to repentance and faith. Love expresses itself differently for each neighbor, but love always calls on you to give up something of yourself for the good of another.

Such sacrifice doesn’t trouble the citizen of heaven, because everything on this earth is fleeting and perishable; no amount of self-sacrifice and love will ever diminish the inheritance given through Christ. Saint Peter quotes from Isaiah chapter forty: “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.” This world will not remain; everything it offers is temporary and fleeting. What remains is God’s Word. God’s Word remains, it endures even when you do not. When you fail to live as a citizen of heaven and instead appear to all the world as one of theirs, a citizen of this earth, the Word of the Lord remains forever, and His blood-bought forgiveness is more certain than your sin. Repent today and every day of living as a citizen of earth; return to the font, renewing your citizenship, and you will be cleansed by Christ’s ever-abundant forgiveness. 

The Word of the Lord remains forever. This world pretends that it remains, but Isaiah teaches us that everything of this earth will fade away; it is perishable, but what Christ gives is imperishable. His promise is the one thing that endures in this world of sin. Peter says, “This Word is the good news that was preached to you.” All the glories of this world are as grass next to the glories of Christ. Easter changes everything. Because of Easter, you will be imperishable at the moment of the last trumpet, your citizenship will be in the new heavens and the new earth, and that citizenship in that blessed country will never end. Your new birth by imperishable seed will come to its fulfillment with an imperishable body, yours for eternity, for you have been born of the water and the Word, and the Word of the Lord endures forever. Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.