It was the AP Times Square Poll that said it most straightforwardly – that about 80% of people felt this year was worse for the United States and its people than last year. As well that the things on people’s minds this year were mass-shootings across the US and in Paris and the march of the Islamic State through the Middle East. Add in the financial things like Wall Street’s forecast for 2016 – worse than 2015 – and savvy business people waiting for the rise of interest rates and for everything to pop like an overfull balloon – the outlook doesn’t seem too hot for the coming year. And you might dial it down to a personal level too. We might be able to escape the market fluctuations, the tragedies might happen the next city over or on the other side of the globe, and even if we lose our job we’ll probably find another… But we know how hard it is just to conduct ourselves as God’s people in even the best of times. We know how difficult it is to live and share love with one another in the midst of all the stresses and turmoil. Should we really be hopeful as we look to another year – one in which all the same kinds of stresses will complicate our holiness?
St. Peter clarifies it for us that we should and we can be hopeful, as long as our hope is in the right place. In the verse just before our section, he said, “[Y]our faith and hope are in God.” Tonight we say then, Put Your Hope in God for 2016 because God gives us something that is very different from this frustrating world around us. Peter says it something like this: that God’s living and enduring Word gives new birth.
The life we know seems more secure when our finances are good or when good people lead the nations of our world. Life seems stronger when we have clothes and jobs. Who doesn’t like it when life is glorious? When its true love and weddings or big anniversary celebrations and economic successes, when the markets rise and we make money, when our families are in good order and love each other? That feels great! And, of course, you know how it feels when they’re gone – when relationships are poor or they change or people die, when money is spare or all the fulfillment it promised turns thin, when jobs are depressing or taxing… That’s the worry, isn’t it? When we look at another year, we wonder what will be there, what will we experience, will it be good? Should we worry about life?
Peter’s rather straightforward that we have hope because our very lives do not come from the dead things around us. He calls them “perishable seed”, says that “all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall”. We can know that just by observation – things change, they fail, they die. So, if our fear is often that we won’t have enough and, beyond that, that we won’t be able to live enough for God – then Jesus’ and Peter’s encouragements are particularly helpful. Jesus reminded in the gospel of our hope, “Do not worry…” about clothes or money or people “your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” And Peter tells you why you have a Father and a kingdom, “You have been born again of imperishable [seed], through the living and enduring Word of God.” Peter wants us to recheck reality before we enter a new year. You and I have been reborn by faith planted in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. His Word tells us over and again about Jesus who wins the kingdom of God for us – makes us a part of it – because we could not belong on our own. On our own we are very perishable – subject to death. But you saw from Luke what Jesus did with the death of sin in his mighty, miraculous work. And his work endures enough that Peter would say this earlier in chapter 1: that we were not purchased from this dead world of sin with dead, sinful stuff like money or jewels, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” God’s Word to us is a Savior who is not born of sin, who doesn’t buy a kingdom with currency, whose work is divine from before time and will outlast it – enduring. Indeed, that’s the promise for us. We have “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and…an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
Our hope is in God for this coming year because we know what he’s said to us in Christ, through his Word. For every sin, for every doubt, for every fear and inability – he’s said, “Forgiven!” In place of failing item we own, every relationship that falls apart, every financial prospect that gives way – he’s said, “Heaven!” and “Love forever!” And these things all and only he’s said to us in his Word: the one about Christ Jesus.
And on that basis, chapter 1 of Peter’s letter is more beautiful than just that confidence-making message. Read it sometime – maybe tonight or tomorrow morning. Peter is talking about the beauty of the imperishable salvation God has planted in us, which grows and flowers in an imperishable, heavenly way. People who have an undying, ever-living Savior and an eternal inheritance have praise for God and joy and holiness and genuine faith even in trials. And near the end he wraps it up: God’s enduring Word creates people who share deep, sincere love. That’s Peter’s command for you in the new year: Not to look to yourselves in worry, but to “love one another deeply from the heart.”
That sounds sort of difficult – after all, some of these people are the perishable things that have sometimes made 2015 difficult or at least they’re made of the same perishable stuff. “Deeply” and “from the heart” is serious business – professional work. There is no deeper love than the one Christ gave – you might call him the love professional – it was his job and he got it done. And you might (maybe this is even part of our fear) think of us as the love amateurs – we’re going to take up this “love deeply” thing and give it a go, I guess. When I think of an “amateur”, it turns out I’m usually thinking of the third level definition: a person inexperienced or unskilled in a particular activity. But do you know the first definition of “amateur”? The first definition is: a person who engages in an activity for pleasure. The word comes from the French and Latin word for “lover” – someone who loves something so much that they just do it – not for money or a prize or to earn – they love this thing so much that they make time for it in their lives – they practice it and do it and become good at it along with everything else. “Amateur” describes an avocation or a hobby – something you do for the love of the thing.
By Jesus loving work so perfect and surpassing, you have been purified from all sins. And, as believers, you “purify yourselves” by “obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for one another.” That’s really just you, in your inner being, newly created by faith, saying “yes” to everything God loves – the truth. It’s not that you’re not good at it – “amateur” – it’s more that this loving God’s truth is the stuff you love to do – in 2016, you’ll be love amateurs.
Lives purified from guilt and sin grow in purity. They show love in pure desires, pure actions – ones that aren’t selfish but in the best interests of those around us – things that help and encourage. But, who wouldn’t love to give that a try, knowing it was entirely in our interest and not in his own that Christ loved, and with what Christ’s given what more do we need, what must we have, what wouldn’t we give?
Lives obedient to the truth produce thoughts and desires that are really and truly love for those around us – not hypocritical fakery – but sincerity and honesty. And who could resist trying their hand at that simple, straightforward kind, just as Christ loved us despite who we were so that just as we are we might have his love each day – sincerely and without doubt.
Lives obedient to the truth share a love fervent and deep that intends on persevering to receive those around us and overcome with forgiveness and peace the difficulties that divide us; and could it really be any other way? After all, Jesus took his love to the finish, did not stop until it was complete, so that absolutely nothing would stand between us and him. Who wouldn’t want to open the same kind of love with others too?
In a very real and natural way those born into this new kind of life, are able to take an amateur’s wonder at what God has done and to use their talents and gifts on producing their own brand of the same. The love we’ve received, we also love to live.
And I pray that is how you hope in this new year.Don’t operate in the old way and in the hope of dead things, but on the basis of the new birth Christ has given to you, hope in God and his love.God bless you to love what he has done for you, what he has made you, so much that you love to see what we can do with one another and for one another in love. Amen.