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II Peter 1:3-8
Living Stones: “Steps to Holy Living”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
So, a man approached me the other day because his brother had died. These brothers were big-time businessmen, multimillionaires, and would cheat their mother out of her last dime. That’s just the kind of people they were.
The man who approached me said he would buy our church a whole new wing, with state-of-the-art electronics and all the bells and whistles we could dream up, if I would officiate his brother’s funeral and call him a saint, a holy man.
Well, you know me. I would love to get this church some new, fresh, 21st century equipment – but I’m also a guy who doesn’t like to lie. If you ask me if I like your new haircut, I’ll probably tell you….
So what do I do? I can’t call this lying, thieving, scoundrel of a man a saint!
So I thought and prayed about this a long time. Here’s my plan. After my opening remarks about his business accomplishments, I’ll say, “And compared to his brother, he was a saint!”
Obviously we’re not getting a new wing added to our church. (And obviously, that’s not at all a true story.)
Holy Living is really hard work! Just try to “be holy” for the next 40 minutes while I’m preaching! (You see? When you heard I was preaching for 40 minutes you already lost your “holy”!)
But look at your Sermon Notes Page, right in the center of the page is a verse from I Peter 1:15. Peter is actually quoting from the Old Testament. What does it say? “Be holy, because I (that’s God speaking) am holy!”
In Swahili: “Ni matakatifu, kwa sababu Mimi (that’s Mungu speaking) ni mtakatifu.”
It’s impossible, isn’t it? How do we/I be holy?
Well friends, we cannot be holy! At least not as holy as God requires us to be. At least, not by our own power.
Rowan Williams writes, “Christian people are ‘holy’ simply because they have been adopted by God into a relationship, into a family which calls God ‘Father’”. Remember last Sunday’s sermon by Jamie Fiorino? Romans 8 records Paul’s proclamation that we have become children of God by God’s work of adopting us and making us co-heirs in His Kingdom. In John’s Gospel John tells us that “to all who did receive [Jesus], to those who believed in His name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God!” (John 1:12-13).
But the process of having our entire identity shaped as God’s children takes a long time. It is slow work. Life-long work.
During these couple of months following Easter we have been invited to listen to the Apostle Peter, and hear some Biblical instruction that’s been around for nearly 2,000 years, and is based on totally true counsel, about “good masonry” with the Bible believed as God’s trustworthy Word for being built into God’s Cathedral.
Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. This comes from a letter he wrote to the churches in Asia Minor, south Turkey, to people who faced death daily. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we apply ourselves to God’s available and reliable Word – the Bible. II Peter 1:3-8….—-
3 His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 4 Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Look at your Call to Worship. Eugene Peterson, in his version of the New Testament called The Message, makes this passage from I Peter 1 seem alive and vital. “Roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. … As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”
Roll up your sleeves and put your mind in gear – not to do more work, not to try harder, but in order – to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives! Let yourselves be pulled in – “let go and let God” do His work – let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life. “I am holy; you be holy!”
It seems that when we think of someone who “is holy” we think of one of two types of people: Mother Teresa, a modern day saint of Christian living; or Ned Flanders, a modern day stain on Christian living.
We all know something of Mother Teresa: the Roman Catholic woman who founded the Missionaries of Charity among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. She is a very positive view of being holy, but one that very few people can reach.
Ned Flanders is Homer Simpson’s next-door neighbor who truly is a good man, but who comes across as “holier than Thou” most of the time. He becomes a very negative view of being holy, and one that far too many people act out every day! Self-righteous and moral uptightness.
The Ned Flanders character represents so many Christians in the media, that being “holy” has become something to mock and laugh at. Acting “holy” without an inner-spiritual change doesn’t please God or our neighbor.
But it’s not just Christians acting badly that have given “holiness” a bad name. People in general just don’t like moral and spiritual boundaries. The snake in the Garden of Eden convinced Adam and Eve that the good boundaries God set up (because He loves us) were really God’s way of being a spoil-sport. And you and I have been duped into thinking the same way!
But there is another way to look at this. C.S. Lewis wrote: “God’s demand for perfection need not discourage you in the least in your present attempts to be good, or even in your present failures. Each time you fall He will pick you up again. And He knows perfectly well that your own efforts are never going to bring you anywhere near perfection. On the other hand, you must realize from the outset that the goal towards which He is beginning to guide you is absolute perfection; and no power in the whole universe, except you yourself, can prevent Him from taking you to that goal.”
He also wrote: “You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
Peter tells us that God has given us everything we need for a godly life.
But that does not make it easy; nor does it take away our responsibility to carry it out. Yes, God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but shall have everlasting life – God did the work!
But we still have to do the work of receiving it.
James says, in James 4, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Our work is to humble ourselves. And, for some of us, that is super hard work!
What is the work of receiving the gift God has for us when Jesus arrives? Acknowledging that we need this gift! Opening our hands, our hearts, our lives, to accept the gift (humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord). And then using that gift as it was intended to be used – that is obedience!
No, we cannot earn the gift of salvation, or of full relationship with God as heavenly Father, or of the Holy Spirit filling our lives with His power – but once we have received it we have a responsibility to obey!
Peter says, “for this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” These are the steps (stepping stones?) to holy living – these make us into living stones in God’s Cathedral!
My prayer for you today, my prayer for us as a church, my prayer for me as your Pastor, is that we can determine which of these “steps” we are strongest in, which step is most sure-footed, most stable, most concrete – and then work on the next step. Pick just one step, and grow by praying and then becoming that step.
Maybe faith is where I need to start. Do I trust God enough today? Does He have rule over my bank account and my debit card?
Am I good – faithful, steadfast, dependable, sturdy, reliable?
How’s my knowledge – of God’s Word and of God’s ways?
Knowing God’s Word does not automatically translate into living God’s Word – are my impulses under control, am I able to avoid temptations, how’s my anger management or my need for attention?
Can I persevere through the hardships – is joy and hope clouded out by despair and fear?
Godliness? Wow, this is hard. When people see me, do they see God’s character?
Mutual affection – this seems easy – do I love you as much as you love me? This word comes from the Greek word for love: filadelfia=brotherly love, fond-brotherness. Do we show that love in ways that we can each experience it? Am I too judgmental or too whiny or too stand-offish?
And love? How is this different? Mutual affection goes both ways. This love is the Greek word agaph: This is the I Corinthians 13 love, the love that asks for nothing in return. Am I able to love the person who grates against my every nerve? The woman at work, the man at the coffee shop, the insurance guy, the one who irritates my every cell?
Which one will you work on this week? Pray for that character trait every morning, be aware of your responses and your weaknesses in that area, and pray for God’s wisdom and Holy Spirit to fill you.
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s step into Holy Living – on purpose!
If you heard God calling your name today, if you sense that Christ’s death and resurrection was meant for you today, if you want your life to withstand life’s storms today – drop a note in the Offering Plate, and I’ll get with you later this week. Let’s dedicate, rededicate, our rocky past into service as living stones today!
Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Let’s be ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives! Amen!
Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 41-48.
Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity; MacMillan; NY, NY; 1953; Pp. 158-160.
Williams, Rowan; Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief; Westminster john Knox; Louisville, KY; 2007; P. 112.