Sunday, July 03, 2022

The Challenge of the Christian Faith

 1 Peter 5:6-11

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.  To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Sermon for 3 SAT                                                          7/03/22

The Challenge of the Christian Faith

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Our lives appear to us to be something that they are not.  We live in a world of physical objects and sensory data – and in a world of spiritual realities which are not open to our senses.  In fact, the only way we know about these spiritual realities is that God has opened the door for us and revealed them.  Most of what people commonly think they know about those realities is wrong.  It is a fiction designed by the imagination of man and by the schemes of the one whose name means "Adversary".  People imagine all sorts of things about the spiritual realm and the spiritual truth and no one can directly contradict them because no one can directly sense or open the spiritual realm for immediate observation.  We either trust what God has revealed, or we trust someone else's creative imaginings.  Common beliefs about this spiritual realm are generally inaccurate, and they serve to deny or to distract us from the realities which God has chosen to reveal.

Both truths - the connection of our senses to the physical world and the imperceptibility of the realm of the spirit - naturally work against our knowing the truth about our lives.  The truth is that we Christians are caught up in a cosmic struggle.  It isn't a war, really, for the victory has already been won, but, as we see in almost every war, the enemy continues to struggle, much like a terrorist, until he is finally utterly destroyed or disarmed.  The nature of our predicament is addressed briefly in our epistle lesson this morning.  Our theme is what our text tells us about - The Challenge of the Christian Faith.

The true challenge of the Christian faith is to live in a reality we cannot fully perceive and confront those realities without the comforting reinforcement of being able to sense the truth and the depth of those realities.  The first thing that comes to mind are the realities of sin, and of Satan, and of eternal life and eternal death and hell and all of those things which we cannot directly perceive.  We know they are there, but this world seems so much more real and urgent and significant, and the reality of demons around us - and angels - of the relative value of holiness and faithfulness is muted in the face of the present and oh-so-sense-able stuff of this world which is so much more persuasive.

Look at TV and the movies these days.   There are stories of people with mystical powers, like Harry Potter and his friends, some of which seem like they would be handy to have to handle daily chores.  There are vampires and werewolves – and angels and demons that do not behave anything like the Bible suggests that they should.  Either there is no reality beyond what we can sense, according to the message of this world, or it is entirely different than the Bible presents.  If we did not have the teachings of Scripture on these things, with the world trying to deceive us in these matters, we would have no hope of sorting our own way through this maze of competing visions of the other side of reality- the spiritual side.

Even among Christians, so-called, there is a great deal of fiction proclaimed about angels and miracles, and how prayer is supposed to work, and what we can do and expect from the spiritual realm.  Part of the challenge of the Christian faith is to stand firm and hold fast to what God has revealed, without being distracted or deceived by the imaginings of the mind of man.

But the greatest part of that challenge is that the experience of being a Christian is so contrary to our expectations.  There is no apparent advantage.  There is no spring of wonderful feelings and victorious living, and no fountain of power to be tapped to show the world that we are the ones who stand in the truth.  Instead there is pain, suffering, ridicule, disadvantage, and even, sometimes, persecution and true misery.  It comes coupled with those phony Christians around us who proclaim the power, the victorious living, the advantages so physically evident to them of being one of God's people.  And we have to fight our own flesh, which likes the idea of having that special edge, being favored, and expects that as God's favorite people, life is just going to work out better for us somehow.

We need to listen to the Word of God and not allow the world to deceive us or seduce us into ‘misbelief, despair, or other great shame and vice.'  Listen to our text:  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.  It goes on to speak to us about suffering.  It warns us of the devil prowling about, seeking to devour us as prey.  This isn't describing "victorious living".  It is describing what Jesus talks about, bearing the cross.

Living the Christian faith requires things of us that are simply not natural to us or comfortable for us.  The first thing it requires is humility.  "Humble yourselves".  We don't want to be humble.  Our nature tells us that we should be first.  It is natural to feel that we should be special and privileged.  We should be comfortable.  After all, pain hurts!  The cross is fine as a piece of jewelry, but not as a burden!  I speak from experience here.  I want things easy, comfortable, and favoring me!  I don't like enduring contrary experiences.  I don't like people ignoring me, let alone saying bad things about me or my faith, or my church!  When I preach the truth and stand firm in the faith and do what is faithful, people should love me and our congregation should grow.  But we are still small.  And even the leaders of our church body tell me I should get with the times, update the message, do things the new way, and then we would grow!

Your lives have the same sorts of challenges.  Compromise seems to be successful for others.  There is only so much time, why spend it on prayer, or Bible Study, or worship?  If you just keep your head down and don't say much, no one will be bothered by your faith.  The temptations to anonymity and expedience are everywhere.  And temptations to expect that your life ought to be better, are everywhere.  This is where humility should lead you to honestly look at your life and realize that you don't deserve better.  Your flesh just expects it.  But when you look at yourself, you should see your sin, too, which should lead you to repentance.  And repentance should bring you to recall the forgiveness of sins which is yours in Christ.

The challenge of the Christian faith is to live in faith, holding fast to the truth, and not surrender to the false ideas and feelings which life will urge upon you.  To do that will not just require humility, but it will require holding your faith consciously in mind.  You are something special, and counted among God's favorite people, but that is so because of the grace of God, not on account of anything you personally have done or deserve.  Jesus died for you, that is why you are beloved of God.  Jesus Christ is why your sins are all forgiven.  It is by grace and through faith.

And God desires that you walk by that faith.  You are not to allow the conditions of your life to persuade you that God's Word is not true.  When the Word of God says that God is with you, you are to trust that Word of God and expect God to be with you.  Peter tells us, "Cast all your cares upon Him for He cares for you."  Rather than live life according to how it feels, God invites you to live life according to how He tells you it is.  When it hurts, and when the cares and troubles of life surround you, He invites you to cast them aside – to Him, and leave the worries and issue of life in His hands.

 That is what Easter is all about.  God was demonstrating victory over sin and death.  He showed us what He has in store for us and demonstrated His power to overcome even death.  And now He invites you to give Him all your troubles and worries, and trust Him, and believe the simple truth that He cares for you!

God has not left us without help, nor does He expect us to suffer in silence.  He wants us to cry out to Him when we are in danger, when we are in pain, and when we are in fear of anything.  "Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver you, and you will glorify me!"  God often permits us to endure difficulties so that we are humbled, and brought to seek His aid.  He wants us to talk to Him and trust in Him - not just with our heads but with our lives and wills and deeds.  He has invited you to pray, and commanded you to pray, and has promised to listen to every prayer and answer each one because of His great love for you.  Jesus said it in John 16, you know, "In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father."  So pray!

Then He wants you to be sober and on the watch for the temptations of the adversary.  Sober covers being aware of the truth of things, and expecting life to be just as God has warned us in His Word.  And you are to be on the alert precisely because the adversary is hunting you with temptations and troubles, seeking to make you his prey.   "If the householder had known the hour in which the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into!"  Peter reminds us that this suffering is the situation with every Christian.  It feels unique to us, because it is happening to us - and we feel our own stuff more than we feel the troubles of others - but what we are enduring is nothing worse or more difficult to endure than the troubles that others suffer in holding fast to Christ - and sometimes, we suffer less.

God says, resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.   The troubles of the present moment are not permanent, nor are they the last word.  And you are not alone!  Remember He has also promised, "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it."  When you are suffering, it may seem like forever, but it is not.  God will rescue, perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. That is about forever.  Forever is the word for eternal life in glory where is there is no sorrow, no sickness, no pain, and no more death.

The challenge of the Christian faith is to remember that.  The world around us considers that thought escapism.  God calls it reality. Finally, unless the Lord returns first, we will all die the death of this age and of the flesh.  They have nothing to offer except gritting your teeth and toughing it out.  The only peace they have to offer is the peace of the grave - and Scripture tells us that their grave is not going to be as peaceful as they imagine to be.  The only hope that the world holds out is - - - well, the world doesn't really offer any hope.  It just holds out cold, hard "reality" and then reminds you that not everybody suffers the way you are.  But, we know that everybody dies, eventually.

God holds out peace of mind, and the knowledge of His love, and the hope of the resurrection, and the forgiveness of sins.  He also comforts us and strengthens us with His holy Supper.  And when the door of the tomb closes behind us, the door of eternal life opens – the gift of God, not on account of works, so that we can confidently hope and fully trust in God.  The world won't see it, nor do they understand how the people of God can be at peace, and find hope and joy, but that is because they have already become the prey of that roaring lion who seeks someone to devour.

We stand firm in faith.  We call upon God for help and rescue.  We hope for all that He has promised.  And we face this world with our eyes wide open to both sides of reality, and we have our hearts fixed upon God.  And we pray, and give God thanks for His blessings, and meet the challenge of the Christian faith with the cross of Jesus Christ before our eyes.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

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