Stewards of God's Grace

1 Peter 4:1-11; Rev. 21:1-6                                              All Saints Day

Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                          1 November 2015

 

This was the first year Richard and I considered being Halloween humbugs.   Legitimate excuses I promise!   He was working all day and night from his home office, receiving calls about dying patients on the one day of the year that lasts longer than 24 hours!  And I, well I’m not a fun person on Saturdays.   I work on sermon, walk through the service in my head, think about it some more.  Pray and go over it again.  Saturday is a workday for me -- not a good night for distracting doorbells.  But yesterday afternoon at 4:00 pm, as a last minute gesture, I went out to buy the poison – I mean, candy.   And of course, the Trick or Treaters ranged from infancy to seniors in high school.   My mom told me I was too old at 6th grade, but adulthood used to start earlier in those days.   People used to marry and start a family in their early twenties.   Now everything is later.   Young adults are now anyone under 40 (under 50 in FL)

 

But I guess that’s okay because we live longer.   In fact, we live so long, we like to imagine that this life is not terminal.   It is terminal – for all of us.   You can roter-rooter your arteries.   You can lower your blood pressure.   You can get the annual mammogram at whatever age they finally conclude we should start doing that.   You can lift your face, your buttocks, and other body parts, but death is still coming.   You know, All Hallows (All Saints) Eve (Halloween) developed over time and generations to help us deal with our fear of death.  To dress up as ghosts and goblins or to wear fun costumes or to put fake tomb stones in the front yard is a good way to distract us from the real scares of life and death.   Richard and I have always thought it best to deal with the reality of death directly with our children.   Rebecca was just four when my dad died, but we took her to the family viewing and encouraged her along with the other three children to touch his dead body, to know how cold a dead body feels.   After Daddy died, at bedtime Bible story time, she asked almost every night for the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.   Children want to hear of death, and of the promise of life to come.

 

Today’s two readings from the New Testament each speak of suffering and death.   The reading from 1 Peter 4 says that we should get serious about living like we are dying.   Revelation 21 gives us a vision of the end – where there is the new heaven and earth, no more tears and pain.

 

1 Peter 4:1-11

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same intention (for whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin), 2 so as to live for the rest of your earthly life no longer by human desires but by the will of God. 3 You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. 4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme. 5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was proclaimed even to the dead, so that, though they had been judged in the flesh as everyone is judged, they might live in the spirit as God does.

 

7 The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8 Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10 Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11 Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. (NRS)

 

Okay, look at the scripture in your bulletin, first paragraph of 1 Peter 4, on the green insert page.   Peter says, prepare to suffer, intend to suffer, just as Christ did.   Because your life is about serving God’s will, not human desires.   You’ve already partied, lived loud and loose, and been crazy long enough.   Grow up.  Don’t you know that way of life is deadly?   Living with excess does not make you happy.   Remember the movie, Bucket List?   Which was the happier man?   Morgan Freeman’s character had invested in family, lived a modest life.  

Jack Nicholson’s character was wealthy, moving from woman to woman, using people at every turn.  He had a broken relationship with his daughter.   Sure Jack could afford for the two men to have as much fun as they wanted, but in the end, we saw that valuable relationships mattered more than money and play toys.    

 

1 Peter 4 says that those who live with excesses in world pleasures will have to account for their waste, for their sin, and even for their judgment toward those who try to live as Christ.  He even says that the Gospel (the good news) is proclaimed to the dead, so that they might live in the spirit as God does.   That’s encouragement that it is never too late.   But why wait?   Why test the mercy of God?   Why take love for granted?   Why not live a valuable life right now?   Paul said to the Philippians, “To live is Christ, to die is to gain.” 

 

To live well is to live like you are dying.   In the second paragraph of 1 Peter 4, we charged to be mindful that the end is near.   Now we would never try to predict the end of all times, any more than we will predict the end of your life here on earth.   Some of us will die early, and some of us late.   But either way, our job is to maintain constant love for love covers a multitude of sins.   Our job is to be hospitable toward one another, welcoming one another kindly.   Our job is to be faithful stewards/managers of the gifts we have been given, serving one another.   Our job is speak the very words of God, and to serve with the strength of God.   The very words of God!   Not just preachers when they are preaching, but all of us when we are living day in and day out.   Words of God from our mouths.  Serving with the strength of God – you got a lot of strength if it is God’s strength.   That God may be glorified in Christ in all things.    Let’s rehearse this job description again.   Constant love (I don’t know about you but I’ve got my own multitude of sins to cover, so I want to grow in love.).   Warm and kind welcome.   Faithful, generous managers of money, time, talent – so we might serve one another.   Speak the words of God and serve with the strength of God.   Glorify God in every way.  

 

Why?  Because of grace.   (image: The Gospel is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift to God. )  Because we’ve been given this grace in Jesus Christ, this gift of life and promise of life eternal.  

Now’s the time to talk about the Reformation.   Halloween is also Reformation Day.   The reformers did not intend to split the Roman Catholic Church.   No, Luther and Calvin were just trying to re-form the Church, to remind people that Christian faith is a gift of grace from God. They wanted to emphasize the gift and the growth of the person who receives the gift.  We cannot buy or deserve or earn the gift of grace, nor should we take it for granted.   That cheapens the gift and this is the GIFT of all gifts.   Unfortunately, the medieval Church was caught up in requiring indulgences, the monetary pay-off for sins.   You could call it lobbying the Church for God’s forgiveness.   In those days, religious leaders had become, as they were in Jesus’ day, too powerful.   Any time a religious leader is very powerful, we should be on alert.  

 

All of us, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants (the three branches of Christian faith) are in more agreement than difference in theology these days, so I don’t like to emphasize differences.  We all know are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and growing in grace requires human responsiveness.  Faith without works is dead, according to the book of James.  So what does faith look like?   Faith is more than a one-time “thank you very much, I accept the gift.”  It is starts there and moves to a transformed life.   It is a life that stewards, that manages well, that utilizes well the gifts of God.  It is a life that embodies the five goals of Peace Church.  Inspiring worship.  Authentic relationships.  Nurturing discipleship.   Compassionate outreach.   Responsive stewardship.   When we are all working cooperatively on these goals, then we become the body of Christ, and our life together glorifies God.  

 

But it starts with gratitude for God’s gift.   That why I chose this scripture from 1 Peter for today.   We are in gratitude season, so we are asking you to bring your financial pledges for 2016 next week.   You cannot buy the love and forgiveness of God, but in giving generously, you can grow in faithfulness and joy.  You can live like you are dying, you can intentionally suffer a bit (be less financially strong, but spiritually stronger, as Peter implores you)  by leaving a legacy that will please God and help others to know the love of Christ.   Every time you pledge to the church, you are taking a step toward deeper trust in God to provide for you.  Every time you take a step toward generosity, you are moving toward love, which covers a multitude of sins.   You are saying, “I know that this life is terminal and the life to come is eternal.”   And that life is going to be amazing.   This life is so short, but that life is forever.   And the joy of forever, the promise of tomorrow begins by living it now.   Eternal life is a gift to be embraced in the now. 

Waiting only makes it harder to trust later, while learning to suffer with Christ adds meaning.  It is the paradox of life and death.  I’ve been reading two books at the same time this week.   Philip Simmons’ award-winning book, “Learning to Fall” is the story of a thirty-five year old husband and father, who writes as he journeys with ALS, a disease that slowly takes away his ability to move, and in ten years his earthly life.   Yet what happened to him and to his family in those ten years of suffering, of falling, quite literally, added enormous meaning, character to his life. 

 

In David Brooks best-seller, “The Road to Character” we are challenged to rebalance the scales between our resume virtues and our eulogy virtues.   All Saints Day is the day to think hard about the eulogy virtues, rich inner lives marked by humility, generosity, kindness, and inner depth.   When we see the connections between this life and the next, when we are in touch with our own and other’s mortality.   I’m dying.   You’re dying.    All of us are dying.   Then maybe we can value one another more, not less.   We can accept the gifts of this life with tenderness and gratitude, and cover the multitude of sins with our desire to constantly grow in love.   God is love, and love is what we will see in the end.   Pure love that burns away all bitterness and hatred.   The Gospel is proclaimed to the living and the dead.   Now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face-to-face.

 

I don’t want to steal Ed’s thunder, because I know he wants to share with you the revelation and gratitude to God he has experienced in recent months as he reflected on life and death.   But I do want us to read the Revelation of John about the new heaven and new earth that are coming.   I want you also to have a vision of the wonderful healing God has done, is doing, and will complete one day.   The healing of all wounds, the wiping of all tears away, the reconciliation of all broken relationships, the removal of all pain.   It’s coming.   Embrace it now.   This is the day of the Lord for which we long, for which we dream, for which we live with confidence.   Sure, it takes some faith to keep believing, to hang on to hope, for as Hebrews 11 says, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.   And as Hebrews 12 says, “we have a great cloud of witnesses” cheering us on to the finish line.   Do you see them?   Think about them.  

All the people we named at the beginning of this service --  so many of your parents, children, siblings, spouses, so many faithful saints, cheering us on, reminding us that this is not all there is.   And for those who did not show their faithfulness here, remember the boundless mercy of Christ, and that the Gospel is proclaimed to the living and the dead.   There is so much more beyond what we can see…. The kinds of things that John saw in a revelation from God

 

Revelation 21:1-6

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away." 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, "See, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6 Then he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (NRS)