Sunday Sermon: The Goal of Our Faith

 |  Sunday Sermon  |  Dr. Doug Dortch

1 Peter 1:3-9

“The Goal of Our Faith”

Post-Easter Series: “Feed My Sheep”

Every journey in life presumes a destination. In other words, when we set out on a particular course, most of the time we are aiming to get somewhere specifically. Granted, we may have adjusted our aim a bit in these recent days because of our current situation. For example, some of us feel the need at times to get out of the house and just go “somewhere.” We don’t have a specific destination in mind; we just know that if we don’t get out we may go “bat crazy,” which by the way is a figure of speech that has lost its charm in light of our present pandemic. But you get the point. A mobile society can’t tolerate a quarantine situation forever, and so we look for ways to get out, which in itself is enough of a destination for most of us.

And yet as we do, there is one overriding thought we always are taking with us: We’d like some idea of where life is heading, not so much a detailed blueprint of what the future holds as a general outline of what we might expect in the near-term. We’d like that kind of information so that we might in turn order our little lives accordingly. 

But if we’ve learned anything in these recent weeks, it’s that not even a vague and imprecise reading will really be of much help, not when the story keeps changing from day to day and what we hear one moment will most likely be totally different the next.   

So, how do we make it in the meantime? We do as people who trust in the Risen Jesus do. As we go through this life, we learn how better to walk in faith and to give up on the notion that we ever were really able to walk by sight. 

I’m reminded of a familiar story in the Gospel of John, the fourteenth chapter, where Jesus is preparing his disciples for the time he will no longer be with them. It’s a part of a section in the Fourth Gospel known as the “Farewell Discourse.” Jesus has spoken with them the importance of trusting their future to him, even though he will no longer be physically present with them.  And when he tells them, “And where I am going, you know; and the way, you know,” it’s “Doubting Thomas” who pipes up and dares to ask the question that is on everyone’s mind. Actually, it’s more of a statement couched in the form of a question. “Lord, we know not where you are going. And how can we know the way?” I’m sure the rest of the disciples were thinking to themselves, “Thank you, Thomas; that’s exactly what we want to know.  How can we know the way?” 

Simon Peter, of course, was in that group; and quite frankly, I’m sort of surprised that he wasn’t the one who raised that question to Jesus. After all, of all the disciples, Simon Peter was the brashest and most impulsive. Maybe it was because Peter felt he had stuck his foot in his mouth too many times already and it was better to let someone else take Jesus’ bait.  But whatever was in Peter’s mind, he clearly locked on to Jesus’ answer. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” because of how the rest of the New Testament tells us he was at the forefront of the Jesus movement, from the day of Pentecost to the day, according to Christian tradition, he himself was crucified, though he insisted on being crucified upside down because he didn’t think himself worthy to die in the same way as did his Risen Savior (Thomas Agni of Leontino, Martyrdom of Peter, 8:3-4). 

Between Pentecost and Peter’s passing, he left behind two epistles, which are contained in our New Testament. Students of the New Testament see the first of the two as a sort of orientation manual for new Christians, helping them to understand better the power that God has made available to them through their belief in Jesus as Risen Lord so that they might be in a position to withstand the trials and tribulations that life will send their way. Regardless of how unsettled or uncertain their days may become, the power of the Risen Jesus is available not just to see them through those unsettled and uncertain days but to shape them and form them for a glorious future and an eternal destination God has for them to know. 

So, for these next seven Sundays we’re going to be working our way through this first epistle of Peter so that we too might find the heavenly power that will give our mortal life more purpose and a hope that will be our all-sufficient help, as we find ourselves walking, one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time, by faith and not by sight. 

In this passage I’ve read for you today, Peter is addressing these new converts, most of whom have come to faith in Christ from a Gentile background, assuring them that they have been reborn into a new family, the family of God. And because these converts have come to faith in Christ out of pagan society, they have experienced criticism and ridicule and social distancing in light of how they have rejected the false gods of their prevailing culture. So, Peter faces the challenge of helping them to make sense of their less than happy present with the living hope they have in light of Christ’s resurrection from the dead. 

Come to think of it, that’s a delicate balancing act that Christians have been working on for two thousand years; and one that we ourselves have been faced with figuring out while we navigate these perilous days at the same time we place our hopes in the victory Jesus won when he walked out of that borrowed tomb at dawn on Easter morn. So, how do we manage such a balancing act? According to Peter, we see our living hope in the Risen Jesus as a bridge that spans the gap between this present moment, filled as it is with headaches and heartaches, trials and tribulations, and the time to come when there will no more sorrow or pain or sickness or death. In other words, while living hope doesn’t spare us from life’s difficulties, it most definitely provides us with the power that is necessary for those difficulties to form us for the more glorious future God has for us to know.   

Over the last week, as I’ve checked in with a number of my preacher friends, we’ve all been commiserating with one another over how these last month to six weeks has created a set of circumstances and challenges that we never would have imagined having to deal with in a million years. I’m sure many of you have been having that conversation with family and friends over these past weeks as well. But if we only talk about what we’ve had to miss out on and all we’ve had to give up – if we only talk about our trials and tribulations – we will remain mired in misery and stuck in self-pity, which as we all know is not a joyful place to be. 

However, if we can instead let our thoughts turn to what we are learning in this time of quarantine and the growth that is taking place in us during these days when we have been asked to shelter in place, then what will happen instead is that inevitably our thoughts will begin to move toward a hopeful future, one in which won’t take as much for granted as we may have done pre-Covid-19, one in which can even now begin anticipating what it will be like when we will once again be able to get out of the house and go to our favorite restaurant, or relax at our favorite beach, or tailgate with our friends at our favorite team’s game, or sit with our family of faith in our favorite pew. That notion of having something to look forward to and something to live forward to can make even the most challenging of situations not only manageable but actually empowering, because God’s Easter power is doing in us something we could never have done by ourselves. 

Can you draw upon that power this morning? Can you lift your focus above this current crisis to the cloudless day that is to come? Can you act like a Christian and walk through your life by faith and not by sight? 

As I think about my own life and all the room I have for growth in this regard, I have been reminded of late what a lousy traveler I am, and really always have been. When I was younger, I was the proverbial pain in the neck always whining from the back seat, “How much longer until we get there?” And as I aged and eventually got my driver’s license, I just took matters into my own hand every chance I got and made it a contest to see how quickly I could get from Point A to Point B, to how little time it took me to get from where I started out to my final destination. 

But you know what I’m learning now? I’m learning how to celebrate the journey. I’m learning how to smell the roses instead of the skunk cabbage, taste the sweet in even the bitter, and relish the peace in the midst of all of the noise. I’m learning more and more how to “be still and know that He is God.” 

That’s what Thomas did on the Sunday night one week after Jesus had risen from the dead.  You remember how Thomas had missed seeing Jesus the first time he had appeared to the disciples and how because of it Thomas had refused to believe their story. “Until I see the nail marks and feel the nail prints, I will not believe.” But on the next Sunday night, when Jesus appeared again, and this time Thomas was with the group, Jesus extended his hands and side to Thomas, who no longer needed to walk by sight; he was now willing to walk by faith, as he said to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” 

May you be willing to do the same as you carry on with this life so that, in the words of Simon Peter, “even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and because of your walking in faith you are filled with an expressible and glorious joy.” Every day is getting you closer to your destination, the end result of your faith, which is to be where Jesus is, in his Father’s house, where there are many mansions, and room enough for all who would trust in him, including you.