Hope in the future, but there’s work in the meantime

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches
January 22, 2023
1 Peter 1:13-25

Sermon recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, January 20, 2022

At the beginning of worship: 

Are you humble? What I if told you that humility is at the heart of the gospel, would you believe it? As one author writes, “Christian discipleship cannot be supplemented with a dash of humility for flavor but must have humility as the main ingredient.”[1] Because of what God has done and is doing for us through Jesus Christ, Christians are to be humble and gentle people. 

Before reading the Scripture:

Today, we’re continuing with our look at 1st Peter. As I said last week, I’m preaching out of this book through Lent. First Peter is “not a course for inquirers,” nor does it give us a “comprehensive exposition of the faith,” one scholar wrote. Instead, this book is written for those who understand the basic truth of the gospel.[2] Peter’s hopes to encourage those of the faith who are marginalized in the pagan world. He reminds them of the hope they have in the future as well as their marching orders in the present.

 C. S. Lewis once said that “it is safe to tell the pure in heart that they will see God, for only the pure in heart would want to [see God].”[3]Although Peter mentions our call to holiness and the hope we have in life everlasting, he doesn’t bribe his readers into good behavior with the promise of heaven. Nor does he try to incite fear in them to get them to clean up their act. Instead, he assumes their goal is to see God. Heaven is their true home; therefore, he reminds them of God’s promises as he encourages them to remain faithful.  

Read 1 Peter 1:12-25.

The Late Great Planet Earth

When I was in high school, I read Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. The book had a profound and long-lasting impact on me. In the short-run, it caused me to be nervous about how long the world was going to last; in the long-run it fueled my interest in the Scriptures as well as how people can find wild interpretations in the Bible. Although Lindsey doesn’t come out and give a date for Christ’s return, he certainly hints it would be soon—like in the mid-1980s, within 40 years of 1948. As I read this book in the mid-70s, it didn’t look like we had much time. 

Was 1988 the year?

Obviously, if I interpret Lindsey’s correctly, he was wrong even though once in 1988 I wondered. I was in the check out line at a K-mart in Carson City, Nevada. A woman came into the store and at the top of her lungs shouted: “Thus says the Lord.” Everything stopped. We all turned and looked at this lady. She continued, identifying Ronald Reagan (who at the time was winding up his last year as President) as the anti-Christ and warning us the end was at hand. As soon as she finished, she turned and walked out, not providing time for questions. All of us—cashiers and customers—stood stunned. Did she know something we didn’t. Obviously, not.  

Signs in the sky

One summer in high school, shortly after reading The Late Great Planet Earth, I became convinced the end was here. It had been a stormy day with numerous thunderstorms sweeping through the region. Early in the evening, as the last storm cleared, that fiery globe we know as the sun dropped below the horizon. Although the sun was not visible, its rays stuck the clouds in a way that everything turned blood red. It was eerie. I should have enjoyed the moment. But instead of being in awe at God’s creation, I thought the end was at hand. I pointed out the sky to my mother. She thought it beautiful and didn’t seem concerned, so I went into my room and prayed. 

Obviously, I was wrong, the world didn’t end. Since that time, I have learned to appreciate such special spectacular displays as a blessing from God instead of a sign of impending doom.

Why do we worry when the end will come?

There appears to be something about us as humans that make us curious about the future. That’s why so many books are written about the second coming, but it doesn’t stop there. After all, we pay consultants to predict what’s going to happen to the economy and to tell us where to invest our money—that is if we have any left after buying groceries.

Think about other ways we try to learn of the future. In many places, foretelling and palm reading appear to be a cottage industry. All you need is a quaint older home, a plywood sign, and something other than a basketball into which to gaze. The Farmer’s Almanac has been around for centuries, supposedly informing what the weather will be in the coming year. Most primitive religions have shamans, whose role is to predict the future. However, scripture is clear. The future is for God to know, not us.[4]

Peter’s audience: those without control

However, we want to know and to have some control over the future. It may have been no different for Peter’s audience. But in a way, Peter’s audience didn’t have much control over anything. As I explained last week, they have been alienated from society, who ironically thought of the Christians as atheists. They are, in a sense, homeless people. They don’t fit, a problem that the church faced for the first several centuries. 

The church after Constantine

After a few centuries things did change. Thanks to Emperor Constantine, the Roman Empire adopted Christianity and the church moved into the center of power. It’s been a rocky road ever since… 

Story about Francis of Assisi

To illustrate this, let me share with a legend of Francis of Assisi. This humble disciple was supposedly once given a tour of the Vatican by the Pope. According to legend, when the Pope showed Francis the papal treasury, he couldn’t help but brag. Referring to the story in Acts 3 with Peter and John at the temple, the Pope said: “No longer do I need to say to a poor beggar, silver and gold I have none.”   

“True,” Francis said, “but neither can you say, ‘stand up and walk.”[5]When the church became successful and powerful and rich, we lost the ability to trust and depend upon God. It became too easy to depend upon our own abilities, a battle we fight to this day.

Resident Aliens

One book that has been eye-opening to my entire ministry is Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon’s Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. The book was published during my last year in seminary, and I first read it shortly afterwards. The authors point to how the church became a supporting institute to western culture. 

By the way, they are critical of both the conservative and the liberal expression of the faith. They see both as the opposite side of the same coin, focusing on the political process. In other words, both talk about what we can do to change the world. Instead of calling for a church that’s foremost task is to change society, they call for a “confessing church,” whose purpose is to worship Christ and to determine how to live as followers of Jesus in a hostile world. For you see, our call does not come from society but from the Lord and it’s to him that we’re to be faithful. 

Hawerwas and Willimon see the “Confessing Church” as a church on a journey as its members, resident aliens, strive to know God. [6] This sounds a lot like the church Peter addresses, don’t you think?

Opening conjunctive

Our text for this morning opens with the conjunctive, “Therefore.” When you see such a word, you should go back and review what’s been said. He also shifts to the imperative.[7] Essentially Peter says, “because of what I said (what we covered last week), do this.” While our salvation depends on God, we are still expected to work with God as we strive for holiness. 

This “therefore” is followed by the command that we prepare our minds for action. But the Greek here translates more literally, “grid up your minds for work.” This creates an image of one rolling up their tunic as they prepare to go into the field to labor. We are not to spend our time just waiting for Jesus to return. Instead, we are to be busy, doing his work. Peter began this letter reminding his readers of their hope, now he moves on to our relationship to God as “obedient children.”[8]

On a journey to God

Peter sees us on a journey. We’re not home yet; we’re not home till Jesus arrives. But while we’re waiting, we’re to be busy doing his work. Our foremost task, with God’s help, is to strive for holiness. That’s the standard set for followers of Jesus. 

Striving for holiness goes against popular goal setting theory which says you set achievable goals. This is a goal we can never achieve on our own, but then that’s the message. We must depend on him, on our Savior, on the one who sacrificially gave his life for our lives. Our hope is in Christ, who paid the price for our redemption. Because of what Christ has done for us, we are to live for him.

God as a parent

Peter describes our relationship with God as that of a child relating to his or her father. As children obey parents, we are called to obey God. We’re also to fear God, but not in a terrifying fear that one might have of a vengeful God, but in the respectful fear that we might have of our parents. This is the type of fear that kept me from racing my dad’s car because I didn’t want to tell him I wrapped it around a pine tree. Such fear is good—it keeps us in line, but it also helps us to stand in awe of God and his power and glory. 

We don’t have to fear earthly masters

One scholar, recalling the precarious existence of Peter’s audience, suggests they’d understood his message as “Christians don’t have to fear their temporary masters [here on earth] because they fear God.”[9]Jesus says something very similar: “Do not fear those who can kill the body…, rather fear him that can destroy both the body and soul.”[10]Such an attitude puts things in perspective. Because God is good, instead of seeing our fear as binding, we should see that it frees us to be in awe of God’s glory.

An imperishable seed

Our passage closes with a reminder that this new life we have as Christians is born, not of a perishable seed, but an imperishable one. While Peter quotes Isaiah 40 (the grass withers, the flower fades), we’re reminded that our hope is grounded in God who has saved us eternally. But this doesn’t mean we can brag about the state of our souls. Because of what God has done for us, we can’t be prideful. Instead, such knowledge provides us hope and humbles us as we love God and our neighbors.[11] Amen.  

[1] Christopher A. Hutchinson, Rediscovering Humility: Why the Way Up is Down (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2018), 31.

[2] David L. Tiede, “An Easter Catechesis: The Lessons of 1 Peter,” Word & World (St. Paul, MN: Luther Northwest Seminary, 1984). 194.

[3] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain as quoted by Rueben Job and Norman Shawchuck in A Guide to Prayer (Nashville: The Upper Room, 1983), 151.

[4] In a sermon I gave a year ago (using Jesus’ words and Saul striving to learn of his future), I tried to make this message clear. See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2022/01/remain-at-your-post-stay-awake/

[5] See Acts 3:1-10. This story has been told in many places. It probably isn’t factual but certainly illustrates Truth in a capital “T” sense. 

[6] Stanley Hauwerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989), 36-46. 

[7] Joel B. Green, 1 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 33.

[8] Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 65. 

[9] Tiede, 197.  Tiede is quoting Gerhard Krodel, “The First Letter of Peter,” Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, Revelation by Fuller, Sloyan, Krodel, Danker, & Fiorenza (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), 74.

[10] Matthew 10:28.

[11] See Hutchinson, 94. 

The destination may be blurred, but the road is sure…

4 Replies to “Hope in the future, but there’s work in the meantime”

  1. The lady who came in to Kmart must have been sure she knew something that others didn’t but there are always a few who think that. I hope you have a good week.

    1. She must of thought she had special knowledge to have pulled off a stunt like that. In a way, I would have liked to have talked to her, but in another way it was best to let it go

  2. Aloha, Jeff! I also read “The Late Great Planet Earth” in the mid-70s when I lived in Garden Grove, California. It must have been terrifying for you to think the world was ending, or perhaps you were inspired and hopeful? I’ve never thought the world would end, although now I sometimes wonder when I think about Putin and the terror he has unleashed in the world. People have probably been predicting the end of the world from the beginning of time. Crazies like “Heaven’s Gate”/Hale Bopp haven’t helped. Thanks for your sermon on 1 Peter 1:13-25. You always make me think. Have a good week!

    1. There does seems to be a truth in the longer the human race endures the more rope we have to hang ourselves! Putin is scary, but there is much more chance of nuclear weapons getting into non-state hands who use them to set off a war against states, which could bring an end to life as we know it. The 70s were scary for different reasons, but the lesson to learn is that we’re never in control.

Comments are closed.