Sermons, Uncategorized

THE New Normal

“Christ on the Road to Emmaus” (fragment) by Duccio

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Last week I posted this thought exercise on my Facebook timeline: “There’s no doubt been many inconveniences, much anxiety, and (at least for some) acute suffering during this time. But I’m the type who looks expectantly for a pony in the manure pile. So, I invite all of you to complete this sentence: An unanticipated blessing brought about because of the pandemic has been…”

There were a wide variety of answers, including:

  • Lots of good homemade cooking.
  • A greater appreciation for the church, particularly for the Lord’s Supper.
  • I have been able to spend family time with my husband and sons without us all going in a hundred directions.
  • [Time] to refresh my soul through study and song.
  • Finding out how strong my team [at work] is!
  • The house is cleaner and more organized, nothing better to do!
  • [I’ve learned not to] take anyone or anything for granted. Watched more church services and devotions [and] wrote lots of letters.
  • Home officing saves 80 miles per day on my vehicle and gas money.
  • Reading my Bible more.
  • More time to call friends & family and for keeping life at a simpler pace!

One of my friends commented: “Time has slowed down so much for everyone. No plans, nowhere to go. Just [what] everyone wanted during our busy lives. Now choose to make the most of it!!!” This fell in line with much of what I’ve been thinking. I replied: “I’m hoping we can use it for a reset to our priorities to gain some balance in our lives.” He agreed, writing: “That’s what we have decided to do. We see this as a gift from God and we’re not going to waste it!”

It’s doubtful that things will return suddenly to the way they were before, but that’s probably not all bad. Many of our gods, such as wealth, power, entertainment, sports, science, and medicine, have been taken away or at least exposed for their impotence. Perhaps God has given us this time to repent and turn to Him. Perhaps we can redeem this time, use it to reset our lives more according to the values and priorities we have (re)discovered during this time of “social distancing” as we begin to find a new normal. A new normal that will probably be affected one way or another by the shadow of COVID-19. A new normal that prioritizes regular worship service attendance. A new normal that includes scheduled time for private and/or family devotions and prayer. A new normal that appreciates a reduced pace of life and quality time with family and friends.

But rather than speak of a new normal, St. Peter describes the new normal. The new normal that has come to us from our heavenly Father in the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ:

If you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that 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. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:17-21).

A new world has dawned. The world’s rightful King has taken His throne and He is ransoming humanity. A new king, new kingdom, new creation…all merging out of the old. The new normal, if you will.

Peter takes his cue from the implications of the atonement and resurrection: we have been “bought back” from something much worse than COVID-19—the old world and its old ways. We are no longer under the futile lordship of sin, Satan, and death. We are not captive to a decaying and dying world. We have been ransomed from that existence into a new one, an eternal one.

In the old world, Peter says, we were given to “futile ways” like greed, wealth, lust, fame, status, self-glorification … you name it. Jesus Christ has come into the world we made and paid the ultimate price to buy us back: The precious blood of God, poured onto Golgotha.

Peter is thinking here of the sacrificial lamb sacrificed at the Jewish festival of Passover, marking the moment when God “bought back” His people Israel from their abusive slavery in Egypt. Now, declares Peter, the sacrificial death of Jesus has “ransomed” us, too. That is why Jesus was sent in the first place. In fact, it has always been God’s intention.

Even before creation, God determined the plan of salvation and chose to send His Son to be our Redeemer. Even before creation, God knew that mankind would fall into sin, reject His ways, live only for themselves, and lead lives that result in death and alienation from Him. In His love, before the world was made, He determined to send His Son, the unblemished Lamb, to be our sacrifice.

In the Old Testament, a sacrifice had to be without blemish or spot. This foreshadowed Christ, the perfect sacrifice, free from all sin and worthy of saving all people. Luther comments: “Just one drop of this innocent blood would have been more than enough for the sin of the whole world. Yet the Father wanted to pour out His grace on us so abundantly and to spend so much that He let His Son Christ shed all His blood and gave us the entire treasure. Therefore He does not want us to make light of and think little of such great grace; but He wants us to be moved to conduct ourselves with fear, lest this treasure be taken away from us.”[i]

In Holy Baptism, Jesus applied His death to you that the body of sin may be drowned and die, and He applied His resurrection life to you that a new Adam may arise and walk in newness of life. May He make you ever mindful of His resurrection from the dead, applied to you in Holy Baptism, that you may walk as an exile here and anticipate joyfully the life to come in His eternal kingdom. Having been ransomed by Christ’s blood, and born again through water and the Word, you can now participate in the purpose of your creation—to live as God’s child, an heir of His kingdom.

Hence verse 17, where Peter admonishes every soul baptized into Christ Jesus to strive for the new life by the Spirit. That is the new normal. The old ways, its lords and longings, is the monstrosity. It is really this simple. Your spirit was resurrected in Baptism in a way akin to Christ’s bodily resurrection. You are a new creation. Think in a new way. Behave in accordance with your renewal. You have been redeemed, ransomed. The old lord, the old captivity has no claim on you. You have been cleaned up (sanctified) for a much finer use—to reflect and witness to the divine life: God’s rule in and through you.

Along with your new life, given in the Sacrament of Baptism, you also have a new responsibility, to live in obedience to God our King. That means holiness: being set apart for God in every part and at every level, living it out in the here and now. Practice living in the coming world now during your exile, even as you eagerly await your heavenly home.

Think! Remember to whom you’re praying—to your Father! You are connected to Him now, and everything you do reflects on His reputation. Remember that He judges each one’s work—God cares not only about how you talk but also about what you do with your life. Respectful, God-fearing children know that the word Father is not just a magic word to be invoked—it is a sacred relationship that calls us to a new way of thinking and living.

As you live your life, remember what it cost God to make you His own—the precious blood of Christ. The Father is that serious about claiming you! The Son is that serious about rescuing you! The blood of Jesus Christ has done what no other religion or philosophy could do—remove sinful guilt from human beings and put in its place God’s own righteousness, and all this as God’s gifts, received by faith. The Father showed that He accepted the Son’s sacrificial gift by raising Him from the dead and glorifying Him at His right hand. This is our faith; this is our hope.

The Christian who has been born of water and the Spirit lives as a child of God. Since the child shares in the character and name of the Father, the Christian life is to conform to God the Father’s moral standard. But the good news goes further. We do not have to do it on our own strength. We have been given the Holy Spirit, the power of love, obedience, truth, and holiness.

And there is more. When and where we fail along the way, the Lord has provided the grace of forgiveness, the reminder of the Gospel, the refreshment of Holy Communion, and the comfort of Confession and Absolution. In this intimate relationship, you are both informed by Scripture and empowered by the Spirit within the Church of Christ to live a new way of life that will not invoke God’s condemnation in the time of judgment.

Peter’s point is this: To continue to live in one’s former ways is implicitly to deny the value of Christ’s death, indeed, the power of His resurrection, and the reality to which you have been restored. Remember your Baptism because it comes with living in the power and light and truth of the Gospel. It gives you security, hope, meaning, endurance, and comfort. It says to you, “See, just as God said, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus.”

This is why we, as Christians, should fear no evil, fear not what death brings, because we know that the resurrection has already begun in us—first our spirits then our bodies. What matters now is keeping our eyes fixed on the One who has, “bought us back,” sanctified us, and already begun to put us to new use in accord with His will and purposes.

As we believe in the cleansing, blood-bought forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we really are cleansed before God. This purifying of our record before God also begins the process of purifying our attitudes as well. For example, our natural selfishness begins to change into selfless, real, genuine, unhypocritical love toward other people, especially our brothers and sisters in the faith. And as God begins these changes in us, we can, we must choose to continue them. Peter simply issues a command: “Love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

Jesus said on Maundy Thursday evening, “People will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” Christians in the early church became famous for sharing with one another, taking care of the sick, poor, and needy among them, for their hospitality and generosity, for treating with dignity and respect people who did not rank high in first-century society: slaves, widows, the elderly, and children. Nothing has changed in two millennia. Today congregations that not only talk about doctrines but demonstrate Christian love find respect and credibility for their message. Peter’s point is that true love is more a matter of the will and actions  than of feelings. Real love is a choice—choose to show it in your lives!

How? We can make sure that not only the well-to-do but also the poor and needy are welcome in our midst. Slander and backbiting not only destroy Christian fellowship, but they discourage seekers from ever wanting to come back. But when people who are hungry for God and for God’s love find people who love one another, genuinely, from the heart, that kind of fellowship is a powerful attraction. The world that many unchurched people live in is cold, cruel, impersonal, and uncaring. As they find love and acceptance from loving Christians, they will also find love and acceptance from a loving Father.

Christians are people who move through life not simply waiting around for the Lord to be revealed on the Last Day, but in light of the gifts of God’s grace, namely, salvation here and in eternity, faith, and new life in the resurrection. Christians deliberately live to God, even now as pilgrims and strangers in exile, until we enter our true, heavenly home.

The Gospel predominates our preaching, teaching, and indeed our whole life because the Gospel is the center of our identity in Christ. All that we do and why we do it is because we are Christ’s. He won us. He paid for us with His blood. He rose! He gave us faith. He places Himself in our midst with His gifts. He places us in community with one another through those same gifts. So love! Share that love with others. Because He so loved us.

The Gospel has changed us into people with Gospel identity. We no longer walk in conformity with the pattern of this world. We have been redeemed, ransomed, and renewed. Raised to new life, transformed, God renewing our minds, we walk in God’s will confident in nothing other than the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the new normal!

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy! You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 36). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House

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