Redeemed – Imperishable!

“Redeemed – Imperishable!”

1 Peter 1:17-23 – April 23, 2023

            Have you ever heard children or young people bicker? Argue back and forth? I can remember listening to my own children argue, getting mad at each other, and slamming the door or stomping out of the room. And, even sometimes being really mean to each other in front of their friends or other family members!

            In our Bible reading from 1 Peter today, the apostle tells us to “love each other from the heart.” This loving attitude from Peter is not what siblings or friends often show to each other. What a shocking or sad difference it makes when siblings, or friends – or when you or I – say mean things or act badly towards each other. I thought 1 Peter chapter 1 tells us to “love each other from the heart!” ALL the time! Except, it just doesn’t happen in the real world.

            I would like to remind us all about this epistle written to scattered believers throughout modern-day Turkey. This little letter at the end of the New Testament came several decades after the events of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. Many of the people who were actual witnesses of the resurrected Lord Jesus had themselves died. These were actual eye-witnesses. They knew beyond a reasonable doubt, they understood with all of their hearts that they were indeed redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, as the apostle affirms here in our reading today.

As I said last week, the local governments and authorities were cracking down on anything that looked like rebellion or conflict against the accepted status quo. The situation throughout the whole region was, frankly, dangerous for these new believers! Yet, they kept on spreading the witness of the Resurrection, telling others that the Lord Jesus had redeemed them! And that you can be redeemed, too!

 But, what do you and I need to be redeemed from?

You, and I, and the rest of the world, all have a big problem – the sin problem.

We are not perfect, and we all make mistakes. We fall flat on our faces, sometimes, and we can say mean things to each other, act badly towards each other, and even hurt each other. Lots of people try really hard to make themselves pure, to strive as hard as they can to live right, to keep to the straight and narrow, to run as hard as they can or as fast as possible to get right with God. But, they trip up or fall behind, or miss the mark – again and again.

Can you relate? Do you know what I am talking about? Do you see people running on these endless, hopeless hamster wheels, spinning their wheels of striving? Trying to build a ladder to heaven to get to God? It just doesn’t work. We – on our own – cannot do it.        

What does 1 Peter 1 say about this huge problem? How can we solve it?  

Quick answer? We fallible, faulty humans never can make it to heaven on our own.

The apostle tells his readers they must be born again, just like the conversation with Jesus in John chapter 3. Like Nicodemus thought in John 3, we could talk about being born again, or think about being born from above. Except, I want to focus on verses 18 and 19 where the apostle says we “were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors” “with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

The apostle Peter was brought up in a Jewish home, and he – like the other disciples understood the system of sacrifice in the Temple. Everyone sinned, and everyone needed to make sacrifices in the Temple so that God would forgive their sins. Especially at Passover time, a lamb without blemish was slain as a sacrifice for the sins of each person or family. I don’t know if we all understand all this today, but the apostle tells us right here that our sins – yours and mine – are taken care of, once for all. Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, the one without sin, died on the cross for our sins. All of our sins.

And, it is finished. Our debt of imperfection and sinfulness before God is cleared away.

 Some people understand redemption and salvation in different ways. Yes, Jesus Christ is the perfect Lamb of God who died on the cross for you and me. Yes, Jesus Christ rose from the dead, so that we believers in Him can rise, too! Yes, the blood of Jesus Christ redeems us, and “has redemptive power to liberate Christians from their pasts, making it possible for them to live a radically transformed existence. This transformation had already been inaugurated when they were born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” [1]

We do not need to sacrifice endless animals over and over simply to be good enough, clean enough, able to approach God. No! Easter is so much more than just a single day at the end of Passion Week. Because of what Jesus Christ has done, “weeks [and months] after Easter Sunday, we are still talking about Jesus. We should still be talking about those events. It’s that important to our faith. This passage tells us that our faith and hope are in God.” [2]

             Which brings us back full circle to the command we started with: the apostle tells us to “love each other from the heart.”When we come to believe in Jesus, believe in salvation and redemption, we don’t believe with just our heads, or with just our intellect. We also believe in our hearts. 1 Peter chapter 1 says to “love each other from the heart.” Can you see how our minds, feelings and actions are all rolled into one? That’s all of what Jesus redeemed!

            So – we are to love one another with our hearts, minds and actions. That is what we are commanded to do here, by the apostle. This is truly a way to make the Resurrection part of your life and mine, today.

We can ask God to bring us opportunities this week to show God’s love – in all ways – to others we encounter. This is how we can have a true, Godly love for one another, loving each other with all our hearts, minds and actions. Are we ready?

Alleluia, amen.


(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!



Justice, Healing, Wholeness

“Justice, Healing, Wholeness”

Eph 2-14 word cloud

Ephesians 2:14-17 – August 21, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro have been going on for two weeks. The Olympics has been a marvelous time of both competition and camaraderie, crossing international borders. I have not spent as much time as in years past watching the different competitions, but there have been some exciting and nail-biting times in these past weeks. Swimming and diving, gymnastics, track and field: the United States has won medals in these and many more. And yes, there have also been some scandalous things that happened, both on and off the field of play.

Scandals, quarreling, fighting, bombing. Attacks, sniping, terrorism, and even warfare. So often those are common events in the world today. Sadly, common, and sadly, robbing countries of their best and brightest young people.

From the time that I was little, I was drawn to the Olympic competitions not only for the sake of sport, but also for the sake of the Olympic values and traditions. The Olympic values strive to counteract those negative traits and actions I just mentioned. Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympic Games, wanted the Olympics to lift up the ideals of respect, fair balance, pursuit of excellence, joy in effort, and balance between mind, body and will. He held up these as the essential Olympic values. What wonderful ideals to reach for!

However, as faulty, error-filled people in this mixed-up world, we have a big problem. Sin gets in the way of these lofty ideals. Negative feelings like hatred, xenophobia, classism, separation of all kinds get in the way. Sin also includes the haves versus the have-nots, all over again, in a myriad of ways.

I would like us to switch gears and look at the Scripture passage for this morning from Ephesians 2. The Apostle Paul is in the middle of a very long paragraph about Jesus Christ and why He came to earth: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who … has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility; His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross..”

As is typical with the Apostle Paul, he makes a complex argument and brings a whole bunch of ideas into play. But I want to highlight this central fact from Ephesians chapter 2. Humanity was once far away from God, made far away by our separation and sin. There was—and is still—a dividing wall of hostility. Hostility between us and God, and hostility between human beings. Hostility between individuals, neighborhoods, groups, nations, races, classes, and a whole host of other separations.

The Olympic ideals, values and tradition help in counteracting this hostility and separation between humanity. The United Church of Christ’s Statement of Mission helps to counteract this, too. I have been preaching through the Statement of Mission this summer. The sentence for this week states: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called: to work for justice, healing, and wholeness of life.” Wonderful things to strive for! And, worthy ideals to shoot for, from the point of view of the Olympic ideals, or from a Christian framework.

Jesus Christ came to earth to reconcile us to God, to destroy that dividing wall of hostility, so that each of us could have healing and wholeness of life. Praise God! Alleluia! That involves our relationship with God. Our vertical relationship, which is so important. Jesus has done that for us. No longer separated and far away, we now have a relationship with God.

But, that is not the end of the story. No! God wants us to take the next step. God calls us to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life, not only for us individually, but for others as well. That is our mission, from the UCC Statement of Mission.

I spoke about this several weeks ago, when several moms from Morton Grove went to the south side of Chicago, into the Englewood neighborhood. Two of us went again this past Wednesday, to help serve at a dinner outreach to that community. We took this opportunity to reconnect with the good people in the Englewood neighborhood and show them that friends outside of their community care, and are concerned. Friends want to help them strengthen relationships, and bring peace into their streets. Their neighborhood. Their community.

By several of us going to the Englewood neighborhood, this was a concrete way of showing our love and caring for others. As a follower of Christ, it was and is my responsibility to work for justice, healing and wholeness of life. Not because I am a pastor, not because I am a leader of this congregation, but because I follow Christ and strive to do the things He did and to say the words He said. And most especially, I strive to love the way Jesus loves.

All of us are called to do that same thing. To follow Christ to the best of our ability.

Let me switch gears and talk about the Olympics again. I did have the opportunity to watch a bunch of races last week. My son and daughter got really excited about the men’s and women’s swimming. We were awestruck to watch Michael Phelps add to his haul of Olympic medals, plus all of the other American swimmers doing an outstanding job in the pool.

I also made note of Simone Manuel, who won two gold medals, one for the 100 meter freestyle and the other as a member of the 4 by 400 relay team. Ms. Manuel is one of the fastest swimmers on the planet today. She also happens to be African-American, the first black woman to medal for the United States in swimming. Ever.

Articles and news stories immediately proliferated on the Internet, television, newspaper and other forms of media. Yes, they all praised Ms. Manuel for her grand achievement. Yet, some of the longer articles told a different story. About how the history of swimming pools and racism are closely tied together in this country. About how “according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, in the United States, a black 11-year-old is 10 times as likely to drown in a swimming pool as a white 11-year-old. And as of 2010, around 70 percent of African-Americans said they couldn’t swim, compared with some 40 percent of white folks.” [1]

I quote from an article in Rolling Stone, “the fraught dynamics of segregation were fought within swimming pools as well. Often whites would shut down or avoid pools rather than have to intermingle with black people. There were legal battles fought throughout the 1950s over the access black people had to swimming pools and beaches that continued even after Brown v. the Board of Education and the idea that “separate but equal” facilities were deemed unconstitutional.” [2] A large percentage of American children having a likelihood of drowning. It doesn’t matter who, or what, or where. They are our country’s children. All of our children. And, this is a matter of justice—or, injustice.

This racist attitude is changing. Praise God! Plus, I am so happy for Simone Manuel and her two gold medals in swimming! This aspect of justice is something we all can do something about. And healing, and wholeness. Can you hear God calling? Calling to each of us? As the book of Isaiah says, “God will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in God’s paths.”

We can all look forward to God’s shalom, healing, peace, and wholeness, and verdant life. God wants us to try to communicate this Good News, work for justice, and do our best to spread healing and wholeness. To our friends, our neighbors, those we work with. Let us strive to live healing-filled lives, with God’s help. Alleluia, amen!




(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)