Pastor Sherry’s message for May 7, 2023
Scriptures: Acts 7:54-8:1; Ps 31:1-5, 15-16; 1 Pet 2:2-10; Jn 14:1-14
Remember when your kids or grandkids played “the Why Question Game” with you? We’ve all experienced it. Perhaps we were driving somewhere in the car, or trying to put them to bed, and they would pipe up with a Why question. Example One: We announce, “Kids, We’re going to stop at McDonalds for lunch.” The chorus from the backseat sings out, “Why?” “Because we all like McDonalds!” “Why?” “Well,” we say, “it’s quick and everyone can get what they want.” “Why?” By this time we are beginning to get irritated. But we’re on to them. We know how this goes, so we put a stop to the game. We say, “No more why’s!” From the back seat, accompanied by giggles, we hear, “Why?”
Example Two: The child has been bathed, teeth are brushed, a bedtime story has been read, and prayers are said. We say, “Good night. It’s time to go to sleep.” Just as we go to turn out the light, and close the door, we hear, “Why?” “Because you’ve had a busy day. You need your rest. ” “Why?” “Because your bones grow mainly when you are asleep.” “Why?” And on it can go, ad nauseum, and ad aggravation.
Actually, it’s a very good thing to ask why! Kids can ask why to manipulate or to irritate, but they can also be genuinely interested in cause and effect, and in finding out how their world works. Someone, somewhere once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In other words, that person meant that we are not to live without questioning our routine and habitual ways of living out our lives. From this perspective, asking Why is among the most important things we ever do.
We must all answer for ourselves the Great Existential (things related to life and living) Questions:
1.) Who am I? (This deals with our identity.)
2.) Who (or what) made me?
3.)Why am I here? (What’s my purpose?)
4.) How do I know I have lived a good life?
5.) Where do I go when I die?
They are not all why questions but they do try to get at the Why? of our existence and of our purpose.
Peter offers, in today’s Epistle reading (1 Peter 2:2-10) some pretty effective answers to the Why Questions of life. As Christians, we know we are children of God, created by our Lord to know, love, and serve Him. That belief answers the Who made me Question. The answer, of course, is God. It also addresses the Why am I here Question: (1) To come to know God; (2) To develop a relationship with and learn to love God; and (3) to serve God and his people.
Peter also offers us answers to the identity and purposeful life questions: In verse 5, Peter refers to us each as …living stones [who are] being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Remember, Jesus is the Rock. He changed Peter’s name from Simon to Peter, which means little rock, or chip off the Rock. As Christ-followers, we too are to live our lives as though we are chips off of Jesus–not just those who follow Christ’s teachings intellectually, but those who imitate Him, in what we do and in what we say.
The Lord wants to use us, as we serve Him, as a holy priesthood. In following Jesus denying Jesus then being lovingly forgiven and received back by Jesus, Peter knows the most important thing for us in life is to be closely connected to Jesus. What is the job/the role of a priest? It is to explain God to people—Who He is and what He wants from us. It is also to help people relate to Him—here’s what helps you draw nearer to Him and here’s what distances you from Him. Finally, a priest assists us to offer sacrifices to God–no longer animals, thank God, because Jesus is the once and for all perfect Sacrifice. But we offer God sacrifices of praise (consider our “Halleluiah Sing” this past Sunday. We each took an hour out of our day to sing hymns to the Lord). We also offer Him our time and talents (to cook, to decorate or maintain the church, to practice and perform music, to operate the Thrift Store, etc.). And we offer to Him money or tithes to help build up His Kingdom here on earth.
Peter goes on to exclaim (v.9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Peter asserts that we each were chosen. Here’s a great Why? Question. Why was Israel chosen to be God’s special people? Why were each of us chosen to be Christ-followers? Why did God pick us? While each of us is unique and special, none of us has earned special recognition from God—none of us deserves to be among God’s chosen. So why did God choose us? He chose each one of us because of His love and His grace. It all starts with Him. He initiates relationship and we respond to Him. The “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” say it so well: Why were we chosen, royal, holy [set apart]? Because of the pure, unbridled, unadulterated, unmitigated, unreasoned love of God. Why? …Not why as in, ”Why has God loved us, chosen us, made us royal and holy?” But Why as I, “Why has God called us together, what are we chosen for, what is our purpose, our reason for being?” Peter tells us that God has chosen us so that [we] may proclaim the mighty acts of (the One) who has called (us) out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. (Fairless and Chilton, The Lectionary Lab, Year A, 2013, pp.126-127).
There it is! Our purpose is to know, love and serve God by telling others about Him. Our purpose—as they say in Cursillo–is to “be a friend, make a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” Our greatest purpose in life is to help make Jesus known to others. We can do this by talking, blogging, or writing, recounting from our hearts how knowing Jesus has changed our lives. We can do this by assisting people in need, then giving Jesus the credit if they try to thank us. We can do this by the way we live our lives.
Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:1) witnessed to Jesus as he was being stoned to death. Saul observed Stephen’s death and scholars believe the way Stephen died subsequently prepared Saul to accept Jesus (in Acts 9) on the road to Damascus. We can fulfill our divine purpose in life by praying that people who don’t yet know Jesus to come to know Him.
Our Psalm (31:1-5, 15-16) and our Gospel (14:1-14) further illuminate our reasons to love and serve God:
Psalm 31 is a prayer for deliverance from trouble. Certainly being dragged out by an angry mob to be stoned to death, like Stephen–or crucified, like Jesus–qualifies as “big trouble.” Both Stephen and Jesus quote this psalm as they are being murdered: Verse 5 Into Your hands I commit my spirit. Both Jesus and Stephen exhibit the kind of faith in God demonstrated in verses 15-16 My times are in Your hands; deliver me from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love. They knew that whether they lived or died was up to the Father. Both also forgave their murderers as they were being executed.
In John 14:6, Jesus declares that He is…the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. We love and follow Jesus because He is our only route to the Father. People who espouse other beliefs are offended by what they consider to be the “exclusive claims of Christianity.” Jesus is clearly saying no other set of religious beliefs will get us to heaven–neither worshipping the Buddha, Confucius, any Hindu gods, Allah, Baal, Satan, nor even a political party or “the state,” as communists do, will earn someone salvation. The Gospels and the Epistles proclaim that only Jesus can ultimately rescue us.
Jesus goes on to say in verses 9-10 Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father?” Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? In other words, Jesus is the Face of the Father. The Father is spirit and does not take on human form. Jesus fully represented God the Father on earth.
He gave us a human face to look upon; then, He only said what the Father told Him to say; and He did only what the Father told Him to do. He is what people might call “God with skin on.” So, we know we have lived a good life if we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and if we have tried to live a life pleasing to Him, obeying Him and His Father.
One final thought: Our Gospel passage today also answers for us the final existential question—Where do we go when we die? John 14:1-3 is often read at funerals because of the hope and comfort it offers. Jesus promises (per Peterson’s The Message, NavPress, 2002, p.1948) Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust Me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on My way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. Where do we go when we die? If we love Jesus, we go to live with Him forever in Paradise, in a room or a home He has prepared for us.
It’s good to ask “the Why Questions.” But it’s even better to know the answers. All of the great existential questions are answered, for those of us who love Jesus, though our faith in our Him.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams