Stable & Steadfast: A Confirmation Sermon - 1 Peter 3:13-22 / Pastor Ted Giese
Stable & Steadfast - A Confirmation Sermon / 1 Peter 3:13-22 / Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / May 25th 2014
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which He went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Someone was going to have to collect the body: His lifeless body, crushed and beaten, bloody and dead. They had taken him outside the city and killed him, he'd been put on trial, they'd falsely accused him of "blasphemous words against Moses and God.” Yet, "gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel." And what does the face of an angel look like? When the angle Gabriel came to Mary to tell her that she would bear the Christ Child the angel said: "Do not be afraid." Such a face, a face like an angel is steadfast, full of conviction, immovable, and even (can we say) frightening. The holy angels are servants of God, the do as God commands them, they do not waver, they are Spirit - we are flesh and bone and spirit. Scripture says "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And even though this man's face was like the face of an angel, his flesh was weak enough to be crushed and broken and killed by those who hated his confession of faith.
The one dead in the dust outside the walls of Jerusalem was a man named Steven we heard about him last week in the first Scripture reading. "Stephen full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people," Luke in Acts 6 says that Stephen was "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit," he was appointed by St. Peter and the rest of the twelve Apostles to care for the widows in the church. Steven's life was dedicated to mercy and love and yet when the Pharisees and Sadducees of the council looked into Stephen's face they found something alarming: The determined steadfastness of a confession of faith, a faith confirmed. A fearless faith that stood up and said to his accusers, his persecutors “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”
In Holy Communion today day we will sing "Let us gladly die with Jesus Since by death He conquered death, He will free us from destruction, Give to us immortal breath." Stephen gladly died with Jesus: As the stones flew and he was being killed Stephen called out words like the very words Jesus spoke from the cross! Stephen said “'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' (Jesus in Hs crucifixion said: “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!”) And falling to his knees [Stephen] cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Jesus in Hs crucifixion said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”) And when [Stephen] had said this, he fell asleep.'" Someone was going to have to collect the body: His lifeless body, crushed and beaten, bloody and dead.
Our Epistle Lesson today, that second lesson you heard is from St. Peter who like I said was one of the men that handpicked Stephen to care for the widows. Peter wrote these words sometime in the 30 or so years after Stephen died. St Peter's words today are true for Stephen and they are true for you, just as they are true for your brothers and sisters in Nigeria and the Sudan and North Korea and Palestine and Syria and Egypt and all around the world. St Peter says to you and to them: "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil."
In just a little while you will be asked a deep and mysterious question, one that will - by the grace of God - both haunt you and comfort you in years to come: "Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" You will say the words "I do so intend - with the help of God."
'I am not Stephen' you say. You may have to be - and in many ways you suffer the stones of persecution even now. In all trouble remember Jesus said “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you."
Who then throws stones at you? Words like stones, demands like stones, humiliations like stones, abuses like stones, ignorance of your faith like stones, double-standards like stone, temptations like stones: Who then throws stones at you? A university prophesier? A football coach, you're girlfriend, your boyfriend, husbands, wives, the computer screen, your bed on Sunday morning, your boss at work, laziness, anger and sins of every kind? Who then throws stones at you? The world wants your faith to lay crushed and dead in the dust outside the city - it will look at your face and fear the idea that you could have steadfast convictions, that your faith may be genuine in nature full of grace and power. That dauntless yet meek face, like the face of an angel, scares a world full of trouble. St John Chrysostom, one of the early church fathers in a sermon on the Gospel of John, says "Let us then return from that table (from Holy Communion) like lions breathing fire, having become terrible to the devil," and let me add to that, terrible to the World and to Sin and everything and everyone who stands in opposition to Jesus. St Peter says to you "Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy."
'But I am afraid, my faith lays dead in the dust, I'm not a lion breathing fire, I have no face like the face of an angle, there is nothing in me like that!' - oh really? You are a baptised child of God. You are Baptised into Jesus' death and resurrection. Your baptism is a costly gift, bought not with silver or gold but with the blood of Jesus; this baptism which you are having confirmed today, while expensive, is given to you as a gift free of charge. It is more important than the contents of your bank account, more important than sexuality or citizenship in a country, more important and more costly than your dearest friends - it's the most valuable thing you have because in it you have Jesus. If you value sex, money or politics, philosophy sports or picnics more than this gift of Jesus in your baptism you are in sin.
But take heart 1 Peter 3 says: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God." There is forgiveness for the times you timidly get smoked by a stone and fail to be steadfast in your faith, forgiveness for the times when you are tempted to stay down for the count and play dead in the dust outside the city when the world throws stones. Even forgiveness for the times you are struck so hard that you feel dead on the inside and you are sure your faith is actually dead. When the immortal breath is knocked right out of us and no amount of walking it off will help. There is forgiveness. This brings us back to those words: Someone was going to have to collect the body. His lifeless body, crushed and beaten, bloody and dead. Did St. Peter collect the body of Stephen and bury it? Or was it the widows who Stephen helped care for? Who cleaned his broken body for burial, who anointed him, did the council who approved his death even let them collect Stephen up? Was his body left orphaned in the street untouched by the hands of mercy? Ultimately the one who collects Stephen's body is the one who will collect your body - Jesus, the same Jesus who says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live." On the Last Day Stephen's body will be collected up out of the grave and Stephen will live body and soul reunited for all eternity. Jesus says "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you."
Until that day you have Jesus in your baptism and you have Jesus in the meal He has given you to eat this day, in the bread and in the wine, in His body and in His blood, He picks you up, and picks you up, and picks you up - when the stones knock you down into the dust. You do not pick yourself up. He picks you up. To do this Jesus will use me and Pastor Terry and people right here in this congregation and Christians all over the place. Don't live a life of resistance, be picked up.
I leave you with these words of encouragement given to us last Thursday night by Carson Sereda: "After we are confirmed God wants us to continue with the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the Gospel. If we wander away from the faith Jesus the [Good] Shepherd wants to bring the lambs that wander away back to the safety of the church. Jesus is my Saviour." - Jesus is my Saviour! Dear ones stay in the safety of the church and do not resist Christ Jesus as He keeps you in it, as He leads you back always to it, and picks you up out of the dust of the world - stand firm in Christ Alone, He is your Hope, your Light, your Strength, your Song, your Solid Ground. Nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Acts 6:11
 Acts 6:15
 Mark 14:38
 Acts 6:8
 Acts 6:5
 Acts 7:51-53
 "Let Us Ever Walk With Jesus" Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2007, Hymn # 685.
 Luke 23:36
 Luke 23:34
 Acts 7:59-60
 1 Peter 3:13-17
 John 15:18
 St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46 on John 6, par. 3
 1 Peter 1:18-19 " you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."
 John 14:18-20
 Romans 8:39 (Words written by St. Paul formerly Saul who held the coats while Stephen was being stoned to death [Acts 7:58] and who personally approved of Stephen's stoning at the time [Acts 8:1] but who in the mercy of God was picked up and made a Christian by the calling of Jesus and was made into an Apostle by the Lord [Acts 9:1-31].)