Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sunday Sermon: Taste and See!

Perfection

Growing into Salvation
1 Peter 2:2-10
May 22, 2011 -- Jerusalem UCC

It’s always a special day to celebrate Confirmation.  Alissa, we rejoice with you today as you make public your affirmation of your baptism as you keep on taking steps of faith throughout your life.

Those of us who have already made Confirmation promises remember today our own Confirmation Day and the special moment it is to get up and say, in front of God and your church, that Jesus is -- for me and for you -- the way, the truth and the life.

On this Confirmation Day, the Word of the Lord comes to us from Peter, that disciple of Jesus who was the first disciple to proclaim “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

Peter got it right, you see, in that moment.
And in the very next moment, he made a fool of himself by trying to protect his “Messiah” from the suffering and death that would come.  
Peter goes from head of the class to being called “Satan” in the blink of an eye.
Yes, that’s Peter!  
The one who declared that HE would NOT be the disciple who would deny knowing Jesus.
“Not me, Lord!” Peter swore.
Jesus knew better.  Not once, but THREE times, Peter denied Jesus to save his own skin.

Yes, that’s Peter!
Faithful disciple and faithless coward -- all in the same body.
Powerful preacher and pitiful example -- all rolled up into one.

The name “Peter” ironically means “rock.”
And it is on THIS rock -- Jesus said -- that he would build his church.

Real live people are the rocks -- the living stones of the church --
People like Peter and like you and me
Who, in our best moments -- in our high church moments surely --
KNOW the good news of Jesus Christ
KNOW God in Christ Jesus is alive
KNOW that the heart of the gospel -- the good news --
is simply that Easter proclamation:
“Christ is risen!”

We are as qualified as Peter
And as UNqualified as he was
to be claimed by God as God’s own
so that you and I and we
“may declare the wonderful deeds of the ONE who called you out of darkness
into God’s marvelous light.”


In Christ Jesus, we are the town criers -- we are testimony tellers -- about the reality of God in the real world of our lives.

How often do we talk about what God is up to?  

Recently -- a lot!  The past few days we have heard more about what God MIGHT be up to than usual, thanks to a doomsday message by Family Radio International founder Harold Camping.  His prediction of the apocalypse gained a foothold in the media and with certain groups of people.  People of faith and people of no faith have been hoping -- or dreading -- that God would fulfill history by bringing on the rapture -- yesterday -- at 6:00 p.m.  



A preoccupation with the end times is nothing new.  The early church had more reason THEN than we do NOW to believe that Jesus would return soon and very soon.  Peter turns every one's attention away from a super-natural rescue mission by God to the marvelous things that God has already done and what God is NOW DOING in the lives of resurrection people.

If nothing else was proven by all of this rapture talk these past few days, it is that the preoccupation with what God MIGHT do -- and the fascination with what ONE MAN proclaimed God WOULD do -- these are things that people are captivated by somehow.

The world is looking for God.  The world needs good news -- the gospel -- that resurrection people have to proclaim.  

I don’t have to tell you that people are hurting.  I don’t have to tell you that the environment is suffering.  I don’t have to tell you that stress is causing mental and physical pain in people’s lives.  I don’t have to tell you that way too many people in our wealthy country are food insecure.  You know.  So, really it’s no wonder that people who don’t even claim to be people of the Christian faith were sort of caught up in the idea that yesterday at 6:00 p.m. God would DO SOMETHING BIG -- maybe God would give us the break we crave and just scoop us up and show us some heaven.

People are hungry to know that God is alive.
People need to see where God is at work
People need to hear where God is alive
People need to be shown that God’s love is real.

And they are looking to people like us -- those of us who say that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life - the son of the LIVING God -  those of us whom God has called LIVING stones -- so that we “may declare the wonderful deeds of the ONE who called you out of darkness
into God’s marvelous light.”


The beautiful light of the day of our confirmation -- the beautiful light of the day of our baptism -- there is nothing like those days -- for the one who is baptized or confirmed -- and for the church.  TODAY is the day that we know we will taste and see that God is alive here.  God showed up and is claiming us and especially claiming Alissa today, but not just Alissa.  For when the Holy Spirit is poured out, we are all splashed on by power of God.

We call that “salvation” my friends.  Well, WE don’t always call it salvation in the United Church of Christ, but let’s do call it “salvation” today because big time, very real salvation is what the world is so very hungry for.

So, let me tell you about salvation so that you will know what salvation is and not be distracted by what salvation isn’t.

If you are getting nervous about this whole line of preaching, well so am I. There’s nothing that puts me in either a cold sweat or a bad mood worse than some well-meaning person in my face about my salvation.  “Are you saved?” some will ask. “How do you know?”  I can help you with this -- here’s the answer.  You can memorize it.  The answer to the question “Are you saved?” is “yes, no, and not yet.”

The “yes, I am saved” part is what has already happened to each of us.  There are different ways to describe that:  We have had an encounter with the risen Christ.  God is real to us.  If nothing else, you know that the Holy Spirit was poured out on you at your baptism and your confirmation.  Peter says, “Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good . . . “ (1 Pet. 2:2) There are different ways to describe it, but “yes” salvation DID happen to you in your past if the love of God in Christ Jesus is part of who you are.

The “no” part is that we HAVE been promised a day when God will save all of creation.  That day did not happen yesterday.  Don’t look for it or try to predict it.  No one knows the day or the hour so it’s not really a thing to spend a lot of time trying to nail down. No, God hasn’t saved the world yet. God’s history has not been fulfilled yet.  No, God’s kingdom has not come on earth as it is in heaven.  No, we are not saved in the way that God ultimately desires.

The part we live in every day is the “not yet” part.  Are we saved?  "YES," because of our baptism; "NO"because God’s fulfillment of history has not happened; and “NOT YET” because we -- who live between what DID happen and what WILL happen are the “works in progress” -- we are BEING saved all the time.

I like what author Maya Angelou says about this.  When someone says to Maya Angelou “I’m a Christian” her response is “Already?”

“Growing into salvation” -- you can also call it discipleship; you can call it following Jesus.   This is the life-long movement of our faith -- what we do together as the community of faith called teh church -- we are growing into salvation.


The apostle Peter says it this way in verses 2 and 3 (1 Peter 2:2-3)
“Now that you have tasted that the Lord is good, crave pure spiritual milk, the way that newborn babies do, so that by it, you may GROW into salvation.”

Getting stuck in the past --or being preoccupied with the future -- is to miss the opportunity to live in the good news and to proclaim good news for TODAY!

What Peter tells us about this is every bit as real -- maybe more so -- than looking to the clouds or to an earthquake to produce evidence of God’s real life salvation.

This is what Peter says to us:
Be like a newborn baby about it.
Crave the spiritual milk so that by it you may grow into salvation.

Now this is graphic if you take Peter seriously.  Because we know that Peter was not really talking bottles and formula.  

Peter gives us a very mother-like image of God.  If you are a mother, or have been close to one, with an infant, you know that Peter is talking about something very very real.

When it comes to milk newborns are relentless!  Do you want to be a hungry newborn?  REALLY?  Think about it . . .

When a newborn is hungry -- he is not all that cute.  She screams persistently. Baby knows who has the milk.  The baby gets close and can smell it. Baby gets all excited about it - baby roots around, little head bobbing all around -- almost breathless -- so eager sometimes that hungry baby makes it even more difficult to get the milk that is so badly wanted.

In a very real way, it is a cooperative effort between Mom and baby -- Mom needs to give milk to the baby and the baby needs the milk.

Once feeding the baby is vigorous and enthusiastic -- single minded -- concentrating on the milk only looking up to look into the mother’s eyes.

The newborn doesn’t quit taking in that milk until she or he is good and satisfied.  And a well-fed baby is peaceful, sleepy (or asleep), relaxed, happy.
We look at THAT baby and say “Aw … isn’t she cute? or isn’t he cute?”  Yes, for about 2 hours and then that precious baby is crying for that milk all over again!

THAT’S the way Peter is asking us to approach the “pure SPIRITUAL milk” that we are to have.

What is that pure spiritual milk?

It is what God has to offer us -- different from the imitations that we so often settle for
The pure SPIRITUAL milk is tasting that GOD IS GOOD,
the spiritual things that only come from God -- for our growth and nourishment.

It would be a misunderstanding and a mistranslation to hear that this milk is specifically the Bible words found in the book we call the Bible.  I want to convince you of the value of being fed by your Bible -- but the word “word” is not found here.  If you see this translated as “the milk of the word” that is a mis-translation.  The Greek word is an adjective not a noun, and that’s all you need to know unless you want to know more. But if you are going to feast on the milk of things that feed you, and if the Bible does feed you, and I hope it is ONE thing that does, then I want you to know what you are feeding on!  

Peter uses vivid colorful language here to make a point:  Peter calls us living stones.  Peter tells us to taste -- regularly -- that the Lord is good -- and to be relentless in pursuing that tasting -- like a newborn in search of milk.  Spiritual practice is what we call that in the Christian faith.

Peter pretty much calls God a nursing mother, ready and able and present with us to show us where the nourishment we really crave is to be found; God is ready to hold us in our anxiety and need; God is -- even now -- giving us exactly what we need to grow us into salvation.

God has literally spread a table before us -- in the life we have -- in the people, the situations, the circumstances -- even in the presence of our enemies -- even in tragedy -- Gods’ mighty acts are there to be seen and tasted -- and to be told.  And, of course, always in the church.  These rocks of the faith all around you are living stones, hungry newborns, not stuck on the birthing table, but still growing into salvation.

This table is ready.  Have you tasted that the Lord is good?

Keep on craving what God has to offer YOU
So that by accepting the gifts of God, you may grow into salvation, today and forever.  Amen.


(The very precious photo above is courtesy of Amy at Anktangle and was published in her post called Growing and Gaining, which would have been an excellent sermon title for this one!)

3 comments:

Amy @ Anktangle said...

I enjoyed reading this, Mom! I'm really glad you used that photo, too...it's one of my favorites. :-)

Songbird said...

It's a beautiful picture! And what a great text for Confirmation. Love what you did here.

seeker said...

Loved this...."So, really it’s no wonder that people who don’t even claim to be people of the Christian faith were sort of caught up in the idea that yesterday at 6:00 p.m. God would DO SOMETHING BIG -- maybe God would give us the break we crave and just scoop us up and show us some heaven."

Oh, so very, very, sadly true for so many.