For audio, please click here. The microphone went out, so the audio goes in and out and isn’t great quality, but thanks to our sound guy and our IT guy, we got something…
I Peter 4:7-11
Living Stones: “Seeing Ourselves thru God’s Eyes”
Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church
This woman pays a visit to her psychiatrist. She’s attractive, well paid in her profession, and generally well liked by friends and colleagues. She says, “Here’s the thing, Doctor. I think everyone in the world is staring at me. And I think the only reason they’re staring is because I’m a big fat ugly pig with fat on my …”
The psychiatrist stops her and says, “I’m going to interrupt you there. I can tell you right now, quite objectively, that none of that is true. To be blunt, you’re smart and attractive and a very likable person. If anything, I was going to comment that you seem a bit thin and tired: maybe even a bit frail and underweight. Sometimes we have a lot of ill-informed feelings, and in here the goal is to get to the root of those feelings, so we can see why it is we’re doing what we’re doing.”
He’s evidently struck a chord, because the woman instantly breaks down in gentle sobs, repeatedly nodding in agreement. She wipes her eyes, blows her nose, looks at him, and says, “You’re right, you’re right … I need a nose job, and I never look good in jeans. I think that’s why I pack on the lard like this.”
Last Sunday’s message included some discussion of hearing/receiving/understanding God’s call on our lives – which prompted a number of people to tell me, in any number of different ways, that they really do not think God has “called” them into any specific ministry or Christ-centered life choice.
Of course, I disagreed with that perception. And it’s seldom (probably never) because we deserve His calling based on our preparedness and abilities. Like this poor woman at her psychiatrist, we are unable to see ourselves except thru our own eyes. There’s an old Bumper Sticker theology that says: “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called”.
Today marks the close of a 9-week study through the Epistles of Peter to 1st Century churches in Asia Minor, to Christian believers who risked death every day simply for their faith. And today we will hear this Apostle’s teachings about how God calls us into ministry based, not on what we think of as useful qualities, but on what God sees in us.
Listen to these words from the Apostle Peter. Listen to how he says we find faith-filled integrity when we trust His vision of us more than our own. I Peter 4:7-11….—-
“7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gifts you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.”
This paragraph begins with “The end of all things is near.” Have you listened to any news over the past two weeks? Have you paid any attention to this year’s presidential campaign efforts? Yeah I know that Peter wrote this letter almost 2,000 years ago – and I also know that for nearly two millennia people have thought that “the end was near”.
And I am not generally an alarmist. Do I believe that all the earthquakes and fires and global climate change and violence and worldwide political hoopla are signs that today is THE day? My answer is that I have no idea if today seems more like THE day than December 7, 1942, felt like THE day; or than September 11, 2001, felt like THE day; or than Passover in the 34th Year of our Lord felt like THE day….
It is a Foundation Stone of the Christian faith – Jesus Christ will return in glory to fully establish His Kingdom and to judge all humankind. I don’t know when. The Bible leaves those kinds of details a mystery.
But I say we’d best heed Peter’s words and Be ALERT so that we may PRAY. KJV says, “be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer”. The Greek grammar here means, Be watchful and clear-headed for the purpose, toward the goal, of praying.
Jesus told His followers, back in the Sermon on the Mount, to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”. Be alert! Watch. Keep your eyes focused … on God and God’s things!
The Ten Commandments are summarized with: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.”
We do not know, we cannot know, when Jesus will return, when the end is coming. But we do know who wins in the end. And since we live in the liminal space between “Christ is risen” and “Jesus is returned!”, Peter tells us how to live our lives.
And since most of us do not see ourselves as worthy of God’s love and His call on our lives into His service, today we listen to Peter tell us something different!
Not worthy of God’s love? Not good enough to be called into God’s Kingdom service?
Listen to these three stories from the Bible – stories most of us are very familiar with – I share them today as some of my most needed reminders of who I am and how God sees me. And because these are biblically held principles describing human nature through particular human lives and God’s character through specific divine actions, we can trust them to remind all of us who we are and how God sees each of us!
- The story of Moses’ calling into God-following deliverance: Exodus 2 and 3 tells the story of Moses in the wilderness tending his father-in-law’s sheep when he sees a burning bush – burning, but not burning up! God invites him to come close to Him and then sends him to meet with the Pharaoh. What does Moses say? “Not me, Lord! Why me? I’m no good! Just a sheepherder (and a murderer, on the lam). I’m not good enough to represent God!” And God says, “Do not worry. I’ll be with you. Now go….”
- The story of the Old Testament Judge named Gideon being called into leadership: In Judges 6 we see that the Israelites are sinning, doing what is right in their own eyes, and paying no attention to God’s Word or their neighbors. And then it says, “Now the Angel of theLord came … while Gideon threshed wheat in the winepress, in order to hide it from the Midianites. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!’” Gideon was threshing wheat in the winepress – scared, hiding, almost cowardice; but what does God see? A “mighty man of valor”! And, God told him, “The Lord is with you!”
- The story of Jesus’ baptism: I know how unfair it is to use Jesus as an example of God seeing something good in a human; but this is still one of my favorite Father-God moments. In Matthew 3, Mark 1, and Luke 3, John the Baptist is in the Jordan River baptizing people with a baptism of repentance, and Jesus walks into the water, John recognizes Him as the Messiah, Jesus goes in for His baptism and a voice from Heaven sounds out: “This is my Son with whom I am well pleased!” Jesus had not yet even started His ministry – no leprosy had been cleansed, no blind or lame had been healed, no dead had yet been raise to life, no Gospel words had yet been spoken – and God said, “This is my Son. I love Him!”
And at the Transfiguration, with Peter and James and John, and then Moses and Elijah, God said the same thing: “This is my beloved Son. Y’all should listen to Him well.”
What we might take from those stories, and there are nearly countless more, is that like Moses and Gideon, we truly are unworthy of being called – but God sees in us the potential to be His servants and His children.
So Peter tells us how to live like we believe what we say we believe – how to live in these days between Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s return. He says to:
- “Be ALERT”, in order to PRAY. This means to be watchful, to keep our faith awake, to “seek ye first the Kingdom of God”, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. By doing this, our prayers will be heard and answered because our hearts will be right.
The Ten Commandments’ summary concludes with: “Love your neighbor as yourself”.
Peter says to:
- “LOVE each other”, in order to cover a multitude of SINS. How does that work? How does your love for me cover my sins? Within the bounds of true love is forgiveness. If I have sinned against you, your love will forgive my sins. And why would any of us participate in such a feat as that? Simply because God so loved the world, God so loved you, that He gave His one and only Son that whoever simply believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Since God forgave me, my only reasonable response is to forgive you.
- “OFFER hospitality”, Peter says, out of love for our neighbor, offer hospitality without grumbling.
- And “USE whatever gift you have received to serve others” Peter says, in order to share God’s LOVE.
In Luke’s Gospel Jesus calls four fishermen, Simon and Andrew, and James and John, and He sees something more; He tells them to use their gifts of fishing to be “fishers of men”. No one is “off the hook” here. If you are a nurse, or a teacher, or a barista, or a retired lineman – use your gifts to save people, to teach about God’s Word, to serve grace to your customers, to connect people to God’s terminal … to share God’s love!
- How do we be alert? How do we live in this in-between time? How do we live during this “already” and the “not yet” that we find ourselves in? The last piece Peter proposes is that we “SPEAK the Word of God”, and that we “SERVE with God’s strength”, in order to bring PRAISE to God through Jesus Christ!
Last Sunday morning we had just heard the news of the mass shooting in Orlando, FL, and we barely mentioned the victims and their families in our prayers here. It was all too fresh and new. On Tuesday night, however, after a couple days of reflection we opened our doors and invited all our neighbors to come in for prayer and quiet meditation. Our hearts break for victims of senseless violence. And our hearts break for the system that allows/encourages such violence. And our hearts break for even the offenders because their anger and hatred and fear represent some deep brokenness in their soul.
How do we speak God’s Word, God’s truth, God’s judgment and God’s grace? Not under our own strength, but by the strength that God provides. Why? Because even in tragedy we discover God’s presence and by our faithful actions God might be praised through His Son Jesus Christ.
Hear this “short story” by David Cronin, and see if you are inspired:
The other day I was reflecting on life’s journey. In my youth I had looked at life as a straight path. My goal was always clear in my mind as to my spiritual direction. Then, as the saying goes, “life happened”.
Now, in my forties, I sense that life is more like a maze than a straight path. Certain turns do lead to dead ends. At first I looked at these missteps as time lost. Today, however, I see them as valuable, even sacred, steps in what constitutes “my path”.
These days my path is quite challenging. In my personal life, events are transpiring that require all my available spiritual, emotional, and physical strength. To be honest, at certain moments, I have felt unequal to the challenge. So, to reflect on what was and perhaps even to regain the strength and fortitude of youth, it occurred to me to visit my childhood home and stomping grounds. This visit was to become an awakening lesson in perspectives.
First, I first drove by my childhood home. I had to stop along the side of the road and marvel at the sight of it. It looked so small, obviously having shrunk in thirty-five years. I saw the windows to my and my older brother’s rooms and reflected on all the good times we shared growing up. Playing Toss up and Tackle; sneaking into his room in the middle of the night to read juicy love letters from his girlfriends (Mission Impossible was a big TV hit at the time and I saw myself as a secret agent sneaking into enemy territory while they slept to read secret documents, which in fact they were); my brother almost burning down the kitchen trying to cook pizza for us when our parents were out.
Pulling away from my childhood home, I decided to make the long drive to the park where I used to play. Only it wasn’t a “long drive” but just a few blocks away–not even a quarter of a mile! I had to laugh as I parked my car, remembering how long the walk seemed to me when I was a child.
Of course, the park had drastically altered in my absence. Gone was the main attraction, THE SLIDE: That simple structure of metal that became the barometer of courage for generations of little boys and girls trying to become masters of their own confusing, ever-changing worlds.
Now, it’s hard to estimate how tall the slide actually was. No doubt it wasn’t the hundred-foot image I had of it as a child. Whatever its actual size, at that time, it was daunting to my friends and me. Access to this particular slide was gained by climbing up a ladder to a platform. This platform provided a path to two slides at right angles to each other. Conquering the slide was accomplished in stages that were well followed by your playground peers. It was a process that took many years and each stage was a rite of passage.
Stage one consisted of being able to climb the ladder without mommy or daddy being directly behind you. Stage two was accomplished by climbing back up to the platform by scampering up the slide instead of using the ladder. Stage three meant sitting on wax paper as you slid down the slide–a truly scary experience the first few times (Indeed, warp speed had yet to enter our vocabulary, but if it had we certainly would have used it).
Next came the courage to climb over the railing on the platform and slide down the center support pole like a fireman. The fifth and final test was reversing that process by climbing back up the pole and maneuvering yourself onto the platform. Not something for the faint of heart, as at one point you are dangling off the edge of the platform as you prepare to swing a leg up to secure a hold.
As I sat on the park bench I marveled at the intensity of my struggles to master THE SLIDE. It consumed me and I must admit a lot of my self-image at the time hinged on my success or failure at the various stages. I wished I could somehow go back in time and tell my ‘little boy self” that he is something greater than his perceived successes and failures. To not waste life by judging his worth by whether he is keeping up with his peers or not.
Then it occurred to me that perhaps in thirty-five years I would look back at my current struggles in the same light. My self-image is certainly being affected now by my current successes and failures. Perhaps, now too, I am something more.
I left the park much lighter in spirit and with a smile upon my face. Life is indeed a beautiful journey.
Dear friends, to quote Peter, “The end is ‘near’” (please note the air-quotes). Do we have the right perspective? Do we judge ourselves and each other based on what we see? Can we get just a glimpse of the Deliverer, the Person of Valor, the “Fishers of Men” that God sees in us?
This Easter Season, this Resurrection Season, this Pentecost Season, let’s always See Our Lives thru God’s Eyes! Not perfect – but perfectly loved. Not perfect – but called to perfection.
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 Father’s Day. You His beloved children! Happy Pentecost Season! Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!
Bettridge, Becce; Living Stones: The Making of an Eternal Fellowship; Presbyterians for Renewal; Louisville, KY; 2012; Pp. 73-80.
Cronin, David; The Park – a short story about self-image; http://www.selfgrowth.com.