The Seventh Sunday of Easter, 24 May 2020
A Sermon on 1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11 by Samuel David Zumwalt
1 Peter 4:12-19; 5:6-11 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bible, a division of Good News Publishers]
12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good… 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
DYING TO RISE: ETERNALLY
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Surprised by Death
“I think you may have forgotten there is a 100% mortality rate.” That’s what one funeral director reminded colleagues who were worried about the recession in 2008. Everyone dies. The main questions remaining are when and how. So… why does death come as such a surprise? We live in a death-denying culture that, for all its vaunted pretense about openness and acceptance, just won’t admit that no one is safe and no one stays forever young in this life. Not even Bob Dylan!
Perhaps you saw the televised interview with the professor of theological ethics from Fordham University in New York City. He pointed out our death-denying culture ignores that most of the deaths from coronavirus have been to those locked away in nursing homes. He didn’t say that the media-darling governor of New York sent elderly Covid-19 patients to the very places where the most vulnerable among us live. Being pro-choice while calling yourself Catholic is a guaranteed path to popularity. Face it. The unwanted unborn and the unwanted elderly are so inconvenient.
We have always been able to send young men off to war, and now even more young women, because the younger you are the less you actually understand, until you see death firsthand, that you may be the one who ends up in a body bag. We do children no favors by shielding them from the certainty of death. If you go off to war, you will never come home the same… if at all.
As little children, we used to play “Ring around the Rosie.” We didn’t know it referred to the black plague when “Ashes. Ashes. We all fall down” meant even the death of children. And “pocket full of posies” referred to the flowers given to the dead. Yes, even children may die.
With the exception of those poor depressed souls who have chosen suicide, none of us expects that we may die today. An airplane crash, a heart attack, a random terrorist act, a drunk driver running a red light, a serial predator, drowning, drugs at a fraternity party… what do these have in common? People surprised by death. Dear ones, staying at home is no talisman against death.
Numb to Evil
Our death-denying culture is also an evil-denying culture. People, who say they don’t believe there is a devil, are usually referring to that little, red, cartoon figure with pitchfork and flame. People, who pride themselves on their sophisticated intellect, always speak so smugly about the devil being a superstitious projection of our failure to take responsibility for our own choices.
We are numb to the evil around us and numb to the evil within us. Many years ago, within a few weeks, one woman told me about the guilt she bore for killing her unborn son, and another woman told me about the joy of finally meeting the son she had given up for adoption. Both women were teenagers when they made their choice. Both were terrified, but one woman said “no” to the thief, who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. She knew abortion is murder. Yes, there is forgiveness even for a murderer, but the consequences of murder cannot be undone.
Beneath the outward appearance, the devil and his minions may appear quite attractive and even reasonable. For instance, we have award-winning actors in our family. They make a good living from their craft, but I never forget that they make their living from being good liars. An old acquaintance has made a good living working in advertising. I never forget that the people in her business make their living from being good liars. A former parishioner has made millions in real estate. I never forget that a goodly amount of money can come from being a really good liar.
When I was a young pastor in Texas in the early 1980s, there was a joke about the top three lies in Dallas being: “The check’s in the mail. The Mercedes is paid for…” The third is unrepeatable.
The devil is relentless. He is the father of lies. He is, like the coronavirus, looking for a host to infect in order to steal, kill, and destroy. Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Fidel, Pol Pot, Kim, and Ji were all once little children, who could have turned out to be great men of faith, servants of God, but we know they became hosts to the lie. Who did the devil use to corrupt and seduce them?
Dear ones, never pretend that you are incapable of becoming a host to evil. Pride, the desire for power, the need to steal beauty and corrupt innocence, yes, the seductions of pleasure and self-promotion, the desire for worldly comfort at any cost… these are means by which we become numb to the evil around us and the evil within us. The devil seeks to devour you. Resist him!
Raised to Courage
A culture that is both death-denying and evil-denying is a culture that avoids pain at all costs, and accordingly it is a culture that cannot learn from pain. Such a culture remains undisciplined.
That is, in no small part, what is wrong with the dominant strain of Christian preaching and teaching in the world today. We Americans love winners. So, any preacher who tells people what they want to hear in a package that is attractive will be greatly rewarded. But the Lord Jesus warns: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). James warns: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1).
Beware of Christian teaching that sells the avoidance of pain. Suffering comes to faithful Christians no less than to faithless Christians. The difference is between suffering that is unavoidable and suffering that could have been avoided but wasn’t. Preachers who say otherwise are liars. Let me be clear. I quit smoking 36 years ago, but my lungs are damaged today from ten years of heavy smoking. I cannot pretend that any suffering that comes from smoking is equivalent to martyrdom. No poor me. Others cannot pretend that their alcohol or drug abuse or persistent infidelity had nothing to do with the death of their marriage and family life. Don’t lie.
God’s Son Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is truly God and truly human even today. Our Lord suffered, so will we. Bad Christian teaching ignores this scriptural truth. Don’t be surprised, says St. Peter, when fiery trials come to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Don’t be surprised when death comes to you. Don’t be surprised when the devil seeks to devour you. Martin Luther wrote that the possession of the holy cross is one of the marks of the true Church. He wasn’t talking crucifixes or empty crosses. He wasn’t talking jewelry. If you are faithful to the Lord God, if you follow His Son Jesus, you will suffer and you will die. Crucified with Christ Jesus and raised with Him in Holy Baptism, we follow Him through death to life!
Marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit in Holy Baptism, you have the promise of salvation. When someone asks you, “Are you saved,” the scriptural answer is: “I will be.” Indeed, it is the presumption of having been saved in the past that often allows people false comfort in the present. In other words, you can’t pray the so-called sinner’s prayer in your home and be a Christian. You must be baptized with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and live within the communion of Christ’s Church. Acts 2, as we will hear next week, is clear that Holy Baptism is entrance into the Church, and the practice of repentance is a way of life. We Christians continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of the bread (which is the Lord’s Supper), and the prayers (which is ordered worship). It is one of the devil’s relentless attacks to keep Christians away from worship. Hear that, you power-mad politicians.
The promise of God’s Word written and preached, given in Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, is that the death of God’s Son Jesus delivers from sin, death, and the devil. And we know that we will live eternally, because Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Now, live courageously!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
Dying to Rise: Eternally
“Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens so that he might fill all creation with his presence: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1340).
1 Peter 4:12 “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you...”
St. Hilary [Early 5th century Bishop of Arles, France]: “The trials and temptations which come to Christians are nothing new. The prophets of the Old Testament suffered exactly the same things. All such trials find their meaning and culmination in the cross of Christ. The servant is not greater than his master. If Christ suffered, how can we expect to get off any more lightly?” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: 1 Peter, 118).
1 Peter 5:6 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…”
St. John Chrysostom [Late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople, Turkey]: “Peter says that this will happen in due time, because he is teaching them that they will have to wait until the next life for this exaltation” (124).
1 Peter 5:8 “…Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour…”
St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca, Turkey]: “That the devil wanders over all the earth under heaven and ranges about like a mad dog, seeking whom he may devour, we learn from the very story of Job” (124).
1 Peter 5:9 “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering….”
St. Hilary of Arles: “There is a world of difference between God and the devil. If you resist God, he will destroy you, but if you resist the devil, you will destroy him” (125).
1 Peter 5:10 “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you….”
St. Clement [Late 2nd – early 3rd century theologian and catechist in Alexandria, Egypt}: “He is called the God of all grace because he is good and the giver of all good things” (125).
- What distinctions exist between suffering for Christ, with Christ, and not on account of Christ?
- How seriously do I take the persistent attacks of the devil and my need to resist him with faith in Jesus Christ the Lord?
- What is the difference between being humbled by God and approaching Him with humility?
Table of Duties
Certain passages of Scripture for Various Holy Orders and Positions, by Which These People Are to Be Admonished, as a Special Lesson, about Their Office and Service
For Bishops, Pastors, and Preachers
“Therefore, an overseer [pastor] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (1 Timothy 3:2-4, 6; Titus 1:9) (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend the necessity of having bishops, pastors, and preachers in Christ’s Church. Pay attention to the particulars of Paul’s instruction to Timothy and Titus. Discuss the pros and cons of each of the qualifications. This discussion could take place at mealtime over several days. Be sure to pray for the pastors who serve this congregation.
- If you feel safe to resume worshiping at St. Matthew’s, then continue to be mindful of dear ones who are not yet able to do so. Please leave the circular drive open for those who will still drive through for communion. Observe the necessary precautions of social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks as you move at a safe distance into and from the nave, and not gathering closely together inside.
- Set aside time daily, preferably first thing, but when you are able to focus, to hear the Word of God, to reflect upon that Word, and to ask the Holy Spirit to grant you grace to be shaped by and conformed to that Word. Daily Bible readings may be found at www.stmatthewsch.org. If you haven’t previously done so, please ask for a devotional booklet when you drive through to receive the Body and Blood of Christ this weekend. Daily lectionary readings are on p.189 in the front of the Lutheran Book of Worship (Year Two and Week of 7 Easter).
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”