April 14, 2013

Sermon, Second Sunday after Easter

Psalm 23,  1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:11-16
Second Sunday after Easter
April 14, 2013

I love the ancient creeds of the Church, because they summarise the primary and essential doctrines of the faith once delivered unto the saints.  The Nicene Creed for example, summarises what the Bible teaches about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  It also ventures into such things as Church, forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.  These are the foundational doctrines of the Bible.  To deny them is to deny the faith, to deny Christ Himself.  To deny them is to declare yourself an unbeliever.

It is no accident that the Creed begins with the doctrine of God as He is revealed in Scripture, as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  The vast majority of the Creed focuses on these teachings, because without them we have no right understanding of God, and right understanding of God is the foundation of all right belief.  It is certainly the foundation of the Biblical, Christian faith.

Yet the knowledge of God profits us nothing unless we act on it in faith.  As James 2:19 tells us, even devils know about God, but are lost for eternity.  Devils "believe and tremble."  So the Bible does not just teach an intellectual assent to doctrine; it teaches right doctrine accompanied by the response of faith.  Today I want to look at the response of faith, and I want to address this vast, and many faceted subject under the heading of conversion, because it doesn't matter what you believe about God if your lifestyle and life orientation is still one of going astray from God.

For some, the word, "conversion" recalls images of tent meetings and evangelistic crusades, and going forward at an invitation to accept Christ.  Many even think the act act of going forward is conversion.  But it is possible to go forward at a thousand such meetings, yet not really be converted, for to convert is to change, not just go forward.  Of course, some have been truly converted in such meetings, in a dramatic and seemingly sudden event.  For others, conversion was a much slower process.  This is especially true of people raised in the Church and Godly homes.  Such people may kind of grow into Christ in such a way that they cannot  name a date and time and place in which they were converted, yet they are converted.  For conversion means to have a change of life based upon the revelation of God in Scripture.  The Apostle Peter, in the Epistle for today calls it being returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul, which is God.  Peter uses the familiar image of sheep going astray. We can imagine an ancient shepherd leading his flock; some sheep following him closely, but many are going their own way, and running away until they are finally lost and die in the wilderness. 

To be converted is to be returned to the Shepherd.  It means to change the direction of life, and it especially refers to a change in the direction of our relationships.  Take for example our human relationships. We are sinners who regularly rupture our human relationships, especially those that are most important, such as those with family and church members, and we need a conversion in these relationships so that we begin to to do the things that build them up, rather than tear them down.  Luke 1:17 is part of the angel's words about John the Baptist, and it says he will go before the Messiah and "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children."  In this verse Luke used the same Greek. word Peter used in 1 Peter 2:25, and we easily see the relational meaning of the word. 

Conversion especially refers to our relationship with God.  Returning to Luke 1 again, verse 16 says,  "many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God."  Again Luke and Peter use the same word, "turn," and, again, the word is relational. It is a conversion of relationships meaning to adopt a lifestyle of continually restructuring the relationship with with God.

It is important to stress here that those who are converted have, at some point in their lives, come to realise that they are trusting God to forgive their sins and receive them into Heaven because, and only because, Jesus Christ, "bare [their] sins in his own body of the tree," as Peter wrote in our Epistle.  That verse is 1 Peter 2:24, and I humbly ask you to look it up and ponder it this afternoon.  And then I ask you to humbly look at yourself and answer this question, "Am I trusting Jesus, and only Jesus to forgive my sin and receive me into Heaven?  And, if you are not, or are not sure, call me and I will explain this more fully.

There is something else that must be stressed today, and it goes back to that change in relationship I was talking about a few minutes ago.  Conversion means to have a changed relationship with God through Christ.  It means you stop going astray and return to the Great Shepherd. and Bishop of your soul, Jesus Christ.  It means you now intend to stop living the lifestyle of straying, and begin living the lifestyle of returning.  We could say, you decide to stop living apart from God as though you are divorced from Him, and start living in love and fidelity with Him as though you are part of the Church and the Bride of Christ.  Again I invite you to ask yourself if this describes your relationship with God, and if the answer is "no," or, "I'm not sure," talk to me, for your soul is in danger. 

All true Christians have made the decision to be a returner, not a strayer.  Peter portrays this change in very graphic terms.  He tells us "that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness."  This is what we prayed for in the Collect for the Second Sunday after Easter.  Asking that we might receive the inestimable benefit of the sacrifice of Christ, and that we might follow His example of a holy life, we prayed:

"Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an example of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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