This is the Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity -- June 30, 2013 at

Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church
Laurie, Missouri



1 Peter 3:8-15

To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing. For, “LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE. AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”

And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity                                                                                                                                                                                                     06/30/13

Totally Unnatural


My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

There are tremendous advantages to living in this time in history. We enjoy comforts and abundance that was unknown to the world, unimagined, just a generation or two ago. One of the big disadvantages is that we do not live in the world our parents and grandparents grew up in. We have not experienced the world they knew, and we no longer have the tools to live in that world. That makes correctly understanding reality and much of what they left behind for us in literature and art very difficult, if not impossible. It can make the future very spooky too, because the artificial world of technology in which we live is fragile and easily destroyed, and if it ended, we would face pain and troubles unimagined by most people today as well. The world we live in is totally unnatural.

Imagine a world without cell-phones, without computers, without television. I now, some of you are saying, “I can do that. I don’t have a computer, and I don’t use those modern contraptions all that much anyhow.” Now imagine that your car doesn’t work because the computers in it are disabled - and almost everything in a modern car is computer controlled - even the brakes and the transmission. Imagine life without air conditioning or central heat. Imagine having no refrigeration at all, and having to go back to ice boxes and to do without quickly perishable foods we are so accustomed to today. I know some of you lived like that as children, but we are not children any longer, and we have grown accustomed to our luxuries. Many of our neighbors have never seen a non-technological world, and they will panic, possibly violently, if they are confronted with such a life, and it may be coming soon.

The world that existed before those advances is the world in which the Scriptures were written and in which they were read for centuries. That world would seem totally strange to us, and yet it must inform our understanding of what people were saying when they wrote in the past, because they had no way of imagining the world as we live in it today. Even in that world, the Christian faith was not a natural thing. In our text, Peter describes how a Christian should live and conduct himself or herself. He describes a pattern of behavior that is simply not natural for sinful man. Our theme, as we examine these exhortations of Peter, is “Totally Unnatural”.

What Peter describes sounds wonderful, “let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead.” Wouldn’t that be nice? But where have we ever seen this sort of thing? I cannot recall it. Harmonious? We get along pretty well, but if the group is much larger than our congregation, divisions and contentions seem to arise quickly, and over the most insignificant things, at times. We can do sympathetic and brotherly most of the time, but even at that, when someone pushes it too far or for too long, we can become impatient and unsympathetic in a hurry. Even kindhearted seems do-able, but I know that some people are more kindhearted around me, as pastor, for example, than they are with some other people. But even ignoring that, these are qualities we can show now and again, and here and there, but to be consistently and always so is something with which we have trouble.

The truth is, however, that these are to be the consistent qualities of the child of God. And then we are called on to be humble in spirit. Humility is just not natural for most of us. Sin finds its strength in our desire to put ourselves first. We want to succeed. We want to be comfortable. We like to be right, and so forth. Then Peter gets to the “not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” and we know we are in trouble. It is one thing to be nice to those who are nice to us, but when they get up in our face, we want to shut them down. We have been taught not to take “stuff” from others. Getting them back, returning the ‘favor’, and zinging them in return is more our style. But blessing them when they are rude and crude to us? That is just not natural - nor is it easy to do. It is not easy to do it once or twice, but to do it consistently? That’s totally unnatural.

We are called by the Word of God to live up to a standard that is, to be quite frank about it, beyond us. It means telling yourself that the proverbs of your youth were wrong. You are not to put number one first. That is the natural way, the way that appeals to our sinful nature. We are to put someone else first - pretty much everyone else! This is a kind of living and a set of behaviors that is totally unnatural for us. It must find its power in Christ, not in you. It is given to you. Even then, it requires exercising what God gives you – humility, love, and faith. That is why humility of spirit was named first, I suspect.

If you had the text right in front of you, you would notice that the next verses are all in capital letters, which means that Peter is quoting or paraphrasing the Old Testament: “LET HIM WHO MEANS TO LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING GUILE. AND LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE UPON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.” Peter quotes that because it is the from the only Bible he has, and it shows us that these ideas, these rules for living as the child of God, are not new with the New Testament. This is the way it has always been. Being the faithful child of God is always counter-intuitive and contrary to our nature and to our natural, reflexive responses. That is because sin is our nature and quite natural to us, even as believers.

And, although what Peter prescribes is totally unnatural to us as sinners, this unnatural behavior is natural to our nature in Christ. It is part of our nature because it is His nature. He lived for us, and not for Himself. He died for us, because He did not deserve death by Himself. He paid the penalty of the wrath of God against us, and rescued and redeemed us from sin and all that we have deserved. Peter refers to that when he writes, “for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.” The blessing we inherit is forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation. He is also indicating that these ways of conducting ourselves are not optional, or just suggestions. They are the conduct of the Children of God. They are not laws in the sense that you must do them or you will miss the mark and not get to go to heaven. They are law - for they tell you what you are to do and how you are to be - but they are descriptive of those who actually are the children of God. If you blow these off and do your own thing, you simply demonstrate that you are not the child of God, and you are not going to inherit that blessing. You don’t lose something by failing to keep these laws, you merely show the world that you never had it to begin with.

He who means to love life and see good days - the child of God - refrains from speaking evil or guile, which means any sort of dishonesty. He turns deliberately away from evil and does good and seeks peace. He does it because he knows that such is the way of beloved of God, and it carries the promise that the Lord is attentive to their prayers, as well. Those who cannot bring themselves to do these things, or who choose to do evil - in an on-going way - put themselves at odds with God and reject His mercy and grace.

Peter asks the question, then, And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? Doing good is usually not a problem. Everybody appreciates being treated well and honestly. This should make this conduct a no-brainer. But the truth is that it is so totally unnatural to sinful man that it does draw the ire and hatred of some, simply because they hate what is holy. They see Christ in such behaviors – quite rightly!– and they hate Christ, whether it is Christ Himself or Christ in you! There is a common proverb about the reaction of the flesh to what is holy, “No good deed goes unpunished.” It is not Biblical, but it is true enough. Holiness draws the fire of the servants of the Old Evil Foe. Peter knows that, and God inspires him to write about that truth too. But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Peter quotes the Old Testament again, and he reminds us that is has always been so. Faithfulness to God is never the majority opinion, and rarely loved by the world. But we, like the people of old, are to trust God and not fear them. I am put in mind of the words of Christ in Matthew 10, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Peter says to sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. That means deal with Christ as your Lord, and treat Him in your inward being as holy by believing in Him and placing your trust in Him, doing what is right and holy without regard for the intimidation of the world. Instead of fear, we are to see the opportunities that God may be setting about us. Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. Rather than fearing their intimidation, we are to be prepared to answer their questions and accusations with the hope of the Gospel and the confession of Christ. The gentleness and reverence speak to how we speak, and that we remember that we are not God-chosen because we deserve it, but because of His great grace and love - and even our enemies may be converted and saved by that same grace of God.

Of course this sort of self-control and self-possession is totally unnatural. It is the gift of God, the Holy Spirit at work in us through Word and Sacrament whenever we see it or manage to accomplish it ourselves. Like every gift from God, He gives it to us to take it out and use it.

But here is a secret: God knows you cannot and will not do this consistently. Christ has done it for you. Then He died for you, so that are forgiven. Christ is your righteousness and life, even in this. If this sermon has accused you for failing to be what Peter instructs us to be then the Law of God has achieved its goal – to accuse you and drive you to repentance and to hear the gracious Word of forgiveness in Christ Jesus. God loves you, and He has redeemed you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil. Your sins are forgiven! Go, and sin no more.

God gives you the power to do walk in His grace, and teaches you in His Word and guides you by the Spirit. It is in your hands to live in the forgivenss of sins, and to live it out in the manner that Peter exhorts, as the faithful, chosen, child of God in Christ Jesus. If you try and fail, (and I can assure you that you will fail at times) we rejoice that we have a Savior! He forgives you and stands you up again and invites you to do it right this next time. None of us does this perfectly, but we can grow in this difficult thing too by simply practicing being the holy child of God that you have been called and created anew to be in Christ Jesus. He gives you the power to desire and to do that which is totally unnatural!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)


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