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Fifth Sunday of Easter

April 20, 2008

Fifth Sunday of Easter               Trinity Lutheran Church
20 April 2008                               Murdock, NE

+ Jesu Juva +

1 Peter 2:2-10

“You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

Well, there you have it.  You didn’t ask for it.  You didn’t expect it.  What a pleasant surprise!  But that’s who you are in Christ Jesus who died and rose for you. 

You’re not what you used to be.  Apart from Jesus you were no people and you had no mercy from God.  But now that Jesus has done His Good Friday and Easter Sunday for you, “you are the people of God” and God has mercied you! 

You are not what you used to be:  abandoned in the deep dark loneliness of sin and death.  For Jesus has died!  Jesus has risen!  He has brought life and immortality to light especially for you! 

Joined to Christ’s High Priestly Good Friday death and Easter Sunday resurrection in your Baptism you are now members of God’s Holy and Royal Priesthood.  Cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb and having His Name put on you in Holy Baptism, you have the freedom of access to stand before God in holiness and honor.  You are a:  “chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special or peculiar people.”   

I’ll focus on one of these titles today:  “a royal priesthood.”   You are a members of a royal priesthood because of Jesus’ dying for you.  As neighbors live in a neighbor-HOOD, so priests live in a priest-HOOD!  We all live in a HOOD!  The holy and royal priesthood!  We’re not free wheeling priests who do our own thing.  We are a company of priests who are hooked by faith to the Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, Himself. 

So what do priests in the royal priesthood do?  Peter says that they “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

What sacrifices?  Let me list a quick five.

First, there is the priestly sacrifice of repentance.  In Psalm 51, King David confesses that “the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these O God, you will not despise.”  This is repentance.  Repentance is a heart broken by sin.  A broken heart that then clings to Jesus who alone can heal it with forgiveness.  Repentance is the death of the old Adam who wants to be god, not Jesus.  Repentance is the new life of faith that trusts the lordship of Jesus in whom there is no condemnation.  Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Repentance is a daily thing.  Daily dying to sin.  Daily being raised from the dead in the forgiveness of sins won for you by Jesus.  If you want to make progress in the Christian life, then you never move beyond:  REPENTANCE!  To lay you sin-broken heart before the cross for forgiveness is a sacrifice God loves.  He does not despise it. 

Second, there is the priestly sacrifice of your life in the body.  In other words, you live not for yourself but for others in need.  St. Paul puts it this way in Romans 12:  “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”   As you do your work in the places in life that God has put you, you use your body sacrificially.  You live for others.  For others’ needs.  Are you a father or mother?  Then you live for your children.  Are you married?  Then you use your body to live for your spouse.  Where do you work?  Then you use your body for the benefit of the person or company for whom you work.  Everything you do in your body, your work, your play, your loving, your suffering, your eating, your sleeping – all that you do is for the sake of your neighbor in need.  And this is “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.”

Third, there is the priestly confession of Christ in what you say and do.  The book of Hebrews describes it like this:  “There by Him [Christ Jesus] let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.  But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased,” (Heb. 13:15-16).

There’s the sacrifice of “praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His Name.”  We do that here in the liturgy and in our daily living in the world.  Peter says that God has made us a royal priesthood that we “may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  St. Paul uses that same word “proclaim” as he writes of our eating and drinking at the Lord’s Supper:  “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes,” (1 Cor. 11:26). 

In the Old Testament the priests would stand before the tabernacle and proclaim the praises of God.  Our highest act of praise is to let the Lord Jesus give us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in the Lord’s Supper.  Every time you receive the Lord’s Body and Blood with your mouth and believe what He says He gives, you are giving thanks to His Name.  And then we sing the song “Thank the Lord and Sing His Praise” and offer the post-communion prayer that gives thanks for this most salutary gift.  After the Benediction the Lord sends us out into the world in which we live.  Why?  To be His hands and mouths to help those in need.  “To do good and to share.”  After all, God doesn’t need your good works.  But you neighbor does!

Fourth, there is the priestly act of offering gifts to the Lord.  Paul speaks of this in Philippians 4:18.  The collection that the Philippian congregation gathered to support St. Paul work of proclaiming the Gospel is called a “sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”   We don’t need gimmicks to get people to give.  That’s what most stewardship programs are these days.  And if any big wig comes knocking wanting to do a stewardship program, politely show him the door.

And yet Scripture does speak about money.  Money is not evil.  Oh yes, money can be abused.  It can be used badly by rich and poor alike.  Jesus warns us that we cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24).  St. Paul reminds us that it is “the love of money [that] is the root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs,” (1 Tim. 6:10).

Now members of the royal priesthood handle the things of God.  Do you know what one of those things of God is?  It’s money!  Money is a gift from God.  God has n
ot entrusted all of us with the same amount of money.  Some of us have more.  Some have less.  The point is this:  how are you as priests in the royal priesthood going to use the money that God has given you?  Will you hoard it in greed like a Scrooge?  Will you hold on to it in the deep and high anxiety that God cannot be trusted to care for you?  Or will you offer your offering to Him from a glad and generous heart anchored in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus?  Such offerings are a “sweet-smelling aroma” to God’s nostrils.  It is an acceptable sacrifice that pleases Him.  Not because of the size of the check.  But because it is money given in faith and love.

Fifth, there is the priestly sacrifice of intercession for others.  Psalm 141 says, “Let my prayer rise before you as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”   Priests speak a word from God to people.   Priests speak words of people to God.  This is called intercession.  As a priest in God’s royal priesthood, you are divinely called to pray for others.

We do this in the Prayer of the Church every Sunday when we pray for pastors and congregations, for missionaries and those who don’t believe in Jesus, for the president, our governor and others in authority.  We pray for the sick and the dying.  We call is the Prayer of the Church because we as God’s priests, His church, come before Him in boldness and confidence to pray for those in need. 

God commands such prayer and promises to hear it.  This is part of our priestly work and responsibility.  And it continues every day as you pray for your family, friends, your pastor, your congregation, your country in your family and personal prayers.

All this is the duty of the holy and royal priesthood.  But it is also a delight.  Because God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  He has built us into a spiritual house founded on the Rock, Jesus Christ.  And now “to Him who has freed us from our sins by His blood, and has made us a kingdom, priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever,” (Rev. 1:6).

In the Name of Jesus.         

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