3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A - Lutheran Service Book readings)
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Therefore, prepare your minds for action. Therefore, be self-controlled. Therefore, set your hope fully on the grace that’s been revealed in Christ Jesus. Therefore, live your lives as strangers here. Therefore, love one another deeply.
When we hear today’s passage from 1 Peter, it’s like we’re starting in the middle of the story, the part of the story where something has already happened. It makes us want to know what already happened, why is Peter saying “therefore.” In fact, that’s how great stories often start, they start somewhere already in the action, so that you’re curious about what already happened to get you to this place.
Therefore, I left the party early.
Therefore, he walked proudly across the stage to get his diploma.
Therefore, Mom cried when they gave her the flowers on Mother’s Day.
The story starts in the middle, and we’re hoping that the novel is going to tell us what already happened, that the novel will explain why the character left the party early or why he was able to be proud about graduation or why the mom cried.
Starting our Epistle reading for today from 1 Peter chapter 1, starting at verse 13, well, we’re starting in the middle of the story. We’re starting at the “Therefore” which looks back at something that’s already taken place, looks back at something that’s already been said.
Therefore, prepare your minds for action. . .why can we prepare our minds for actions?
Therefore, be self-controlled. . .why can we be self-controlled?
Therefore, set your hope fully on grace. . .why can we set our hope on grace?
Therefore, live your lives as strangers. . .why can we live this way?
Therefore, love one another deeply. . .why can we love deeply?
Why can we prepare, be self-controlled, set our hope on grace, live as strangers, love deeply? Why? Well, we have to look back. “Therefore” is a word that first sends us looking backward.
And what do we find when we look back into what Peter already said? We find indicatives. We find statements that indicate who we are. We find that Peter lays out truths from God about who we are in Christ.
“Therefore” sends us back to verses 3-4: In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you.
Indicative: You have been given new birth in Christ. That’s who you are.
Indicative: You have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus. That’s what you have.
Indicative: You have an eternal, lasting inheritance. That’s what you’ve been given.
That’s who you are. That’s what you have. That’s what you’ve been given. Therefore. . .therefore. . .now go and be God’s people. Therefore, imperative. Imperative as in command. Therefore, go and be God’s people.
Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.
The Christian imperatives come after the indicatives. The commands to live as Christians come after declaring you to be God’s children. Don’t get the order reversed.
We’re not God’s children BECAUSE we prepared our minds for actions or BECAUSE we love others deeply. We didn’t make ourselves into God’s children BECAUSE we acted and followed the commands of Christ. We’re God’s children because of what He did, because of what He did in Jesus, because He made us to be His children, because He has given us new birth in Jesus Christ. That’s indicative. That indicates who you are. That declares you to be His child. That’s the fact. That’s what we look back at. That’s what we base our actions on, but it’s already sure and steady, it’s already true.
Think of it like Mother’s Day. You’re not your mother’s child because you did something to make it happen. You are your mother’s child. That’s an indicative statement. That’s a statement that indicates who you are. God gave you the gift of a mother, made you to be her child. That’s an indicative. That’s God’s action. That’s all gift to you.
Therefore, love your mother. Therefore, do things for your mother. Therefore, celebrate your mother, grandmother today, celebrate the mother figures in your life.
Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.
Why is this important? Why is it important to keep this order straight? Because I don’t ever want you to lose hope, I don’t want you to start to feel like you’re not a child of God. Yes, God calls on us to live our lives for Him. Yes, we are to prepare our minds for acting for Christ, yes, we are to be self-controlled in our actions, yes, we are to set our hope fully on grace, yes, we are to live as strangers here, yes, we are to love one another deeply, but those are all responses, those are all imperatives after the indicatives, those are actions that grow out of our faith in Jesus, grow out of the fact that we have been made to be God’s children.
If we get the order wrong, and there are Christian churches and preachers and teachers and books and music that get this order wrong, if we get the order wrong, we end up coming to catastrophic conclusions when we read a passage like this one from 1 Peter.
For instance, we hear Peter say that we should live as strangers here, live differently than the world around us, live in such a way that’s different than the people we see around us, we hear this passage, and we start to realize that a lot of times we just go with the flow. A lot of times our lives look a lot like the Joneses. We’re trying to keep up with the neighbors, and we’re not doing life much differently than they are.
And if the order is wrong, if imperative comes before indicative, if action comes before being made God’s child, well, then I’ve just realized that my actions aren’t making me a child of God. My actions aren’t getting me there. If my actions make me a child of God, I’m not going to be there, and maybe I’m not a Christian after all. That’s catastrophic thinking. That’s thinking of the worst possibility. That’s coming to a conclusion that I’ve been closed out of God’s family.
And why? Why did it come to such a catastrophic conclusion? Because the order was wrong. The order was imperative therefore indicative. The order was action therefore being a child of God. The order was backwards, and it leads to a dangerously wrong conclusion, leads to despair, leads to feeling as if you’re outside of God’s love.
Thank God that the order isn’t like that. Thank God that He’s given us a true hope, a true faith based on grace, based on gift, based on Him making us His children first. Indicative – Therefore – Imperative. That’s the order. That’s the order of grace. We are God’s children; therefore, go and live as His children.
But you’re gonna meet people who are trying to follow Christ, who believe in Jesus, but they’ve been taught the order backwards, they’ve been taught that they make themselves into Christians by their actions, and when you meet friends like this, at first, it’ll sound good. They’ll be focused on changing their lives for Christ, their lives may look very good. But when you hear them talk, when you listen to what they say about their faith, you realize that a lot of it is about what they need to do, what they have to do in order to be God’s people, and you realize that they’re without hope, without true hope, without confidence.
I had a friend in college who started coming to our Bible study. Everything seemed to be going along OK, but then he started making some different choices with his life, stopped coming to Bible study, started getting caught up in the party scene. When our Bible study leader finally got a chance to talk to him, this friend had convinced himself that he had never really been a Christian, that a Christian wouldn’t have made the choices he made, so he must not have ever really been a Christian.
How did he come to such a conclusion? Somewhere along the line he had been taught that the imperatives comes first, imperative – therefore – indicative, follow God’s ways therefore you are a child of God. With everything backward, this friend was left without hope, and unfortunately, my Bible study leader wasn’t able to convince him otherwise. This friend drifted away from the faith, because he had been taught that his actions made him a Christian, instead of seeing that it is God who makes us children of God.
So when we hear Peter today with the commands of Christ, the commands to live for God, to be self-controlled and love one another deeply, when we hear these commands, don’t forget the order of things here. Don’t forget the Therefore. Don’t forget that we’re starting in the middle of the novel, we’re starting in the middle of what God has come to teach us. We’ve got to go back to the beginning, got to go back to the indicatives, got to go back to remembering that God has made us His children by what Christ has done. Celebrate that you are a child of God, celebrate that you have been forgiven. Indicatives indicate who you are. Indicative – therefore – imperative. You are a child of God, therefore, respond as a child of God. All of these commands in Peter, they’re all responses to what God has done in us.
And actually, Peter throws in reminders of the indicatives in these verses that we have today. Get out your bulletins and open to the passage from Peter. Can you spot the indicatives in between all of the imperatives? Can you spot where Peter is reminding us of who we are, reminding us of what we look back at, reminding us of the basis for our confidence and hope? Where are the indicatives in verses 13-25?
Verses 18-21, that’s all about the indicatives. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
Then again in verse 23: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”
Those are places where Peter keeps reminding us of the indicatives, even as he is passing on the commands of Christ, the commands to live as God’s children, still he’s reminding us: God has done this, God has made you to be His children, God has redeemed you, chosen you, given you faith and hope, made you to be born again.
But what happens when we realize that we fail to keep those imperatives? For instance, there’s going to be those times when we realize we don’t live as strangers here, when we don’t live differently than the rest of the world, we don’t live out the Christian life. What then? Where do we go then? Do we go back to the imperative and try harder?
No, first we go back to the indicative. When we realize that we’ve failed, when we realize that we’ve sinned, we go back to the indicative that tells us that God has made us to be His children by the new birth in Jesus Christ. We go back to what God has done for us in Jesus. We go back to the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the resurrection. When we fail, it’s not that we start with trying harder. We start with remembering who God has made us to be, we remember what God has done for us. When we fail, we stick with the order: Indicative – Therefore – Imperative.
So when you fail, when you sin? Go back to the indicatives, go back to the passages that indicate who you are in Christ, go back to the places that tell you how Jesus has saved you.
When someone in your life sins, when they fail to live up to God’s way, send them back to the indicatives. When they’re aware of their sin, when they realize they need God’s forgiveness, don’t just send them out with more imperatives—go and do better. Send them first to the indicatives, send them to the passages that declare that we have been forgiven and redeemed and saved and given new birth and are God’s children.
Indicative – Therefore – Imperative
You are God’s child, therefore, go and be His child.