May 18, 2014: 4th Sunday after Easter

Let us pray: Dear Savior, today we have come to honor You and to thank You for the greatest, most important of all our blessings: knowing that You completely forgive us for all of our sins. Without that certainty our lives would be filled with apprehension, fear, and inner unrest. So, thank You for setting our hearts free. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM THE FORGIVING LORD CHRIST!

TEXT: I Peter 2: 4-10

Dearly Beloved by Christ:

Chicago got some snow this past Friday. And you were complaining about Spring? Snowstorms get people’s attention, especially when the power goes out. Suddenly all the “stuff” that makes our days so hectic grinds to a quick halt. Suddenly you have to focus on what’s vital for your life—not the TV, phone aps, or the full schedule, but food, heat, and water. It makes you appreciate all that stuff we usually take for granted.

So, what are the fundamental, foundational building blocks that undergird your life? What are the things you literally cannot live without? Put in church terminology, what is the foundational pillar upon which the Christian Church is built? What are we all about and exactly what do we stand for? Well, let’s do the drill down. Why does the Church exist?—To honor God Almighty. We were created for that express purpose. How do we know Who God is and how do we approach Him?—Through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ. What did Jesus do?—He died on the cross to make us right with God, paying our eternal debt to Him for all of our sins. And how does Jesus give us this payment?—Through faith. And finally, what’s the currency of this payment?—The forgiveness of sins. So, if you boil it all down, the Christian Church’s foundational principle is the forgiveness of sins.

I

Can anyone live without forgiveness for their sins? Well, it depends on how you define “living.” If you mean: can people go to work, raise a family, take vacations, and eat a meal without knowing Christ and possessing His forgiveness, well, the answer is: yes. The vast majority of folks live that way every day. However, if you mean: can people have a clean conscience, embrace each day without internal apprehension, and know that when they expire heaven is truly their home, well, the answer is: no.

If you examine all the world religions, apart from Christianity, every one of them fails to have the forgiveness of sins as their cornerstone. All of them preach and teach human efforts, human attempts at trying to please God and others. Islam teaches it by stressing submission to Allah. Submission based on fear, not forgiveness. Buddhism teaches an inner striving for balance in life which leads to calmness. But when evil comes calling and upsets that applecart, it has no answer. Most people who believe in “god” agree that evil exists and that “god” is against it. So, their answer is to try to do what they, or society, defines as “good” and somehow that will be enough to please “god.” But, when is enough, enough?

As a Christian, how are you doing with this “forgiveness litmus test?” Do you always try to forgive others for their sins against you—whether real or imagined? Or do you walk around carrying grudges or ill-will against them? It’s a really good thing that Jesus doesn’t do that when it comes to you, isn’t it? The bottom line is that forgiveness enables us to sleep better, to have inner confidence, to look at people with compassion and not hatred, and generally revives our souls. The forgiveness of sins makes us unique and special. Knowing that God Almighty has freely forgiven all our sins in Christ lifts that huge burden of grief, shame, guilt, worry, fear, regret, and sometimes a malaise with life itself, off our shoulders. Forgiveness is Godly love in action.

II

The most important thing in St. Peter’s life was God’s forgiveness for his sins. He learned that the hard way. Think of him denying his Lord and running away from Him during Christ’s trial. Think of how morose and lost Peter was before Jesus appeared to him after the resurrection and restored Peter to faith. Peter never forgot what it was like to be alienated from God. Forgiveness is restorative. It is for these reasons Peter focuses like a laser upon Jesus alone in our lesson. This is why Peter calls Him a “living Stone.” Yes, Jesus is the cornerstone, the foundation of our faith and the Christian Church. We’re built upon Him alone because He brings us forgiveness from God!

Peter is well aware that those outside the Christian Church don’t grasp this fact or understand just how important it is for life. As he says: “this stone causes people to stumble and makes them fall.” They fall into back-biting, conditional love which changes with the wind, greed, hatred, and some adopt a “holier-than-thou” attitude of superiority because they think being forgiving is being weak. But nothing could be further from the truth. To say such a thing is to say that God is weak. Well, He’s not! It takes a big man or woman to be forgiving. That’s because true forgiveness always stems from love for lost souls. If forgiveness is good enough for God it should be good enough for each of you, too.

Pinewood is a Christian Church. That means we’re home to God’s forgiveness. It’s what we’re all about. As our Mission Statement in the narthex reads: “Sharing the joyous news of forgiveness in Jesus Christ with needy souls is our chief purpose. To that end we seek to nurture everyone we meet.” St. Peter says the same thing in our text: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

Amid the hub-bub of life, it’s easy to forget exactly why God made us, why God saved us, and what’s truly vital for a blessed existence. St. Peter knew the inner pain of falling into that trap. That’s why he is trying to save you from such pain by emphasizing the core principle of the Christian Church, or you and me, which is: The forgiveness of sins. Amen