the Fifth Sunday of Easter

1st Peter 2. 2-10
Love is the sacrifice the lover makes for the loved!

For four weeks, now – today included – we’ve been working our way through the first letter of Peter. Chapter one, verses three-to-seven, verses seventeen-to-twenty-three. Chapter two, verses nineteen-to-twenty-five, and, this morning, verses two-through-ten. Two more Sundays and we’ll have read almost half the letter. And then, we’ll put it away and won’t look at it, again, until this time, 2023. So, this week, instead of diving into the handful of verses set aside for this particular week, I stepped back and took another look at the landscape. And I was struck by how much “Peter” talks about suffering …

… even if now for a little while you have had to suffer …
… you endure pain while suffering …”

And of course, from last week …

… Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example …

So much of what’s written here is an echo, a reflection, of the gospels. Losing your life and finding it … Picking up your cross and following … Denying yourselves …

It’s no wonder we look for something else to believe in. Something else to talk about. Second comings and raptures. Pearly gates and streets of gold. Otherwise, it gets too hard. Too exhausting. But that’s not the reason “Peter” writes this letter. He’s not interested in pretending suffering doesn’t exist. Ignoring the hurt, wanting it to go away. You see, “Peter’s” church was hurting. It was suffering. And he wanted to give it encouragement and hope. So, his message was to look at Jesus! Remember his story! He – like them – suffered! Crucified! Died! Buried! Descended!

That was why “Peter” wrote what he did, last Sunday. About Christ leaving an example. So that they could follow. So that we could walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Of course, I talked about how we, first, had to understand Jesus as gift before we could ever understand him as example. Faith is rooted not in the shoulds and oughts and musts, but in the cross. But this week, I realized something else … for the first time … again …

When “Peter” writes about suffering, he’s not concerned with the generic type. A suffering everybody endures. A suffering we share just because we’re people. Fragile people. Frail people. He’s writing about the suffering only Jesus has experienced. The suffering of loving. Not the blood, sweat, and tears, every human being has experienced since the beginning of time. The suffering that comes from getting sick or from growing old. The suffering, the kind of suffering, that’s conjured up by broken promises and shattered dreams. Like when the price of oil plummets. When the stock market crashes. When a virus spreads around the world. That’s not the suffering that makes us Christians. That’s not the suffering that makes us church. The suffering “Peter” is concerned with is the thorn on the stem of a rose … the arrow piercing a heart … It’s the suffering that comes only from loving someone else. Loving with all your heart. Loving with all your being.

You see, love – here, in this place – is more than feeling, more than emotion. Love – here in the church, here among god’s people – is sacrifice and it’s the suffering that sacrifice brings, the suffering that sacrifice creates. That’s why, instead of making a heart with our hands, we trace cross. That’s what love looks like … to us. That’s what love feels like. What love sounds like. It’s not candlelight and soft music. It’s not goosebumps or butterflies. It’s turning the other! And going the extra! And doing unto! It’s loving. Just. Like. Jesus.

Jesus loves us! Loves us to the cross, to hell, and back! Not just so we can be loved! But so that we can, finally, go and do the same! Christ sacrificing so we, too, can sacrifice! Suffering so we can suffer, as well! Not for our sake alone! But for the sake of the world! For the sake of neighbor! We – like Jesus – don’t love from surplus. We – like Christ – don’t love till we’re uncomfortable … loving till it chafes, till it chaps … We love until we break! We love until we bleed! We bleed until we die!

“My song is love unknown,/ my Savior’s love to me …” That’s one of my favorites! “My song is love unknown,/ my Savior’s love to me,/ love to the loveless shown,/ that they might lovely be.” But the song doesn’t go far enough. The goal of love isn’t, simply, merely, to make the loveless lovely. It’s to make the loveless love! It’s to enable us, to inspire us, to sacrifice and to suffer, just like Jesus! We’re not here to tell people about Jesus. We’re not here to get them into heaven. We’re here to love them! To love them so that they, too, might love! Like Jesus! Like Jesus’ people!

That’s how the world, how creation, knows who we are! That’s how the world, how creation, knows what we are! It’s not by our songs! It’s not by our prayers! It’s not by our steeples or our colored glass! It’s by our suffering! By our sacrifice! By our love! Like I’ve said, before, it’s all about the love! Always about the love! The sacrifice – and suffering – of Jesus; and the sacrifice and suffering of the church! Jesus is the first gift; the church is the second!

When the good doctor stood before the emperor at Wörms, he was ordered to recant. To take back his gospel. Retract his teaching, his preaching. As we know, he said, “No!” His gospel had been that unknown love! That love for the loveless! God loves us! Jesus is the gift! And we become that gift, as well! Free! Unearned! Unmerited! Undeserved! Forever! It wasn’t, simply, a philosophy Dr. Luther was teaching. It wasn’t just an academic exercise he was practicing. It was love! It was charity! It was grace! It was sacrifice and it was the suffering! Without whom … without which … there was nothing to believe in! Nothing to stake our life on!

So, “Peter” writes a lot about suffering. But it’s not suffering for suffering’s sake. A kind of spiritual no-pain-no-gain. It’s the kind of suffering that changes the world, that transforms lives, that makes all things new! Once you had nothing. Once you were no one. But now … now … you have everything! And you are god’s! Now go and do the same! Not simply believing in the love! Not simply proclaiming the love! But now, my friends, now, we become that love, as well! Just. Like. Jesus.

Posted by Midland Lutheran Church on Sunday, May 10, 2020