Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sermon: 1 Peter 1:22 - 2:5 God's True Grace brings us life and love through the gospel

I wonder if you’ve got green fingers. I know for sure that I definitely don’t have green fingers - if you have any plants you’re wanting to perish, just give them to me to look after. I’m not even very good when it comes to recognising flowers - I know lilies, and daffodils, and roses, but beyond that, I’m stumped. But if you’re a gardener, you might have been drawn to the picture at the heart of our reading today, where Peter writes of seeds and grass and flowers.

Many of you know the way and the time to plant your seeds and bulbs; your gardens could compete at the Chelsea Show, with your amazing azaleas, colourful crocuses, and your perfect petunias.

But when Peter writes of grass and flowers, he’s pointing to the fact that they don’t last very long. The snowdrops have sprouted and are long gone. The daffodils are on their way out. The grass withers and the flower falls, says Peter, and they’re a sign of our perishable nature. Peter quotes from Isaiah 40, where the prophet declares that ‘all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls.’ We’re only too aware of this fact. None of us is around forever - just this week I was at the funeral of a minister who died aged 62.

We’re all perishable. The contrast is with the imperishable. It’s a word Peter likes to use. Already he’s reminded us of the imperishable inheritance which is ours in Christ (4) through the imperishable blood of Christ (19). Now, he’s talking about the ‘imperishable seed.’

But what is this imperishable seed? What is it that lives and endures and carries on? ‘the word of God’ - or as Isaiah puts it, ‘The grass withers... but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ That means that what God has said will always be true - his word is unchanging, ever living.

Just think what it will do for us and to us. The word of God is this imperishable seed - now what do we do with seeds? We plant them. So how was this seed of the word planted? ‘That word is the good news that was announced to you.’ Peter is saying that the gospel, the good news, as it is proclaimed, is the seed which is planted in our lives. We’re given new birth through the seed - we’re ‘born anew’ and made new as we hear and receive and respond to God’s word. We’re changed from being perishable to being imperishable, as we look forward to our inheritance, life with God for ever more.

So as we gather together, as God’s word is proclaimed, it’s as if the seed is being sown - I wonder if and how you prepare for Sundays? Even though I’m not much of a gardener, I know that you need to prepare the ground - you need to get it ready so that the seed will go down deep and be able to grow. So how do you prepare for church? It’s not just about getting dressed and bringing your envelope and making it on time - do you pray? Lord, help the preacher today as he speaks. Lord, help each of us as we hear your word. Lord, may your word go down deep and bear fruit.

Do you come expecting to hear from God? Or is it just a part of your routine? I heard recently of a minister being asked if there was anything special at church that Sunday. He almost said no, that there was nothing special; no gimmicks, no visiting speaker. But then he caught himself on. Of course there's something special - God, the creator of the universe, is speaking through his word to us.

That brings us to the fruit we should expect from the seed of the word. What will the fruit look like in our lives? What will be the sign of the imperishable word being planted in our hearts? Will it be bigger heads as we’re filled with lots of bible knowledge and trivia? No! The fruit of the word according to Peter is ‘genuine mutual love.’

Remember Peter is writing to the church, to the gathered believers. As we receive the word, as we’re born anew, so we are brought into this new situation where we love one another. In other versions it speaks of ‘brotherly love’ - of being brought into God’s family and relating to each other in love. Peter urges us to ‘love one another deeply from the heart.’

We're called to keep on loving as we hear the word, which teaches us to love. You see, in the church there are different people and personalities and likes and dislikes, backgrounds and achievements. But the way we know that we have been born anew through the word is in the way we love one another. It’s like nothing else on earth.

I’ve been in workplaces where no one got on together, everyone hated each other and tried to undermine each other. Families can be at war behind the net curtains. Clubs and societies are bound by a common interest whether it’s crochet or croquet, food or football. But the church is a group of very different people bound together in the family of God, with a genuine mutual love.

I’m not much of a gardener. The only things I’m good at growing are weeds. But I know that if you want a good garden, you need to uproot the weeds. That’s why Peter says that if we’re growing the fruit of love then we need to get rid of certain things. They’re out of place: ‘Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.’ Notice that they're all related to how we relate to others.

Perhaps lists like this one are something to work through - do I grow malice? Am I envious? Have I slandered? What the things in my life that prevent me from loving my brothers and sisters in the church family? What do I need to do to change that? How will I seek to love those around me today?

As Peter continues, he wants us to keep going and keep growing. Now here’s a quick question for you. What does a car need to go? Petrol or diesel. Has anyone ever put the wrong fuel in? What happens? Well, you’re going nowhere. The car won’t go, unless it gets the right stuff.

Or what about babies? I’ve heard of mums and dads being worried by health visitors monitoring babies to make sure they’re gaining in weight. How do babies grow up big and strong? They need their milk. And how do they let you know they need their milk? You soon know of it - the baby will scream and cry to say: give me milk! It’s great to have lots of children and babies in church, and it’s fine if they make some noise - Peter uses them as the picture of the Christian, wanting to grow; needing the nourishment to become big and strong; longing and craving for the pure, spiritual milk.

I wonder would that picture represent you and your need for God’s word? Is that your attitude to the Bible, that you desperately need it; you can’t do without it; it’s like your milk to make you grow into salvation. You see, there’s no secret to growth as a Christian. It’s not a series of principles or ten step processes. The word that gives birth is that word that grows us.

God’s word is all we need as we are changed and made new; as it leads us to get rid of the ways we used to do things and brings us to love one another deeply. It’s the good news about Jesus that we need to hear and be reminded of and be feeding on.

Would a baby survive on one bottle of milk in the week? Come back next Sunday for another wee drop? Of course not! Or what about you - one big dinner on a Sunday to do you through this week? It's ridiculous! Yet Peter says that the Bible is our pure spiritual milk, the thing we need to grow strong in our faith.

Perhaps this week you will decide to take up your Bible and read a few verses or a chapter each day. You could start with Mark's Gospel or Philippians or even 1 Peter. Ask God to speak to you as you read.

God in his grace has given us his word which is the imperishable seed that brings us to new life in Jesus, which helps us to grow, and calls us to love one another as sisters and brothers of our heavenly Father. Let's do it.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th May 2013.

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