• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

Bring It Home

Easter Season, The New Normal, week 1 of 5 Preached April 19, 2020 at the 9:30am Virtual Worship


Scripture 1 Peter 1:1-16

1 I, Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Diaspora in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By God’s great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you all 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the end times.

6 In this you all rejoice, even if now for a little while you all have had to suffer various trials 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is refined by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is (fully) revealed.

8 Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (preservation of lives).

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, 11 inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look!

13 Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. 14 Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. 15 Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 just as it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”


Sermon Bring It Home

You remember Peter, right? He was the fisherman, who for some reason dropped his net one day and followed Jesus. He’s the one who said Jesus was the Messiah. He’s the one who tried to stop Jesus, and was told by Jesus, “Get behind me Satan!” He’s the one upon which Jesus promised to build the ecclesia, what we call the church. He’s the one who denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Peter hid in an upper room after Jesus was crucified and buried. Peter ran to the empty tomb when the women told him they had seen Jesus, that he is risen. Peter is the one who went back to normal, fishing, even after seeing the empty tomb. Peter is the one who jumped out of the fishing boat and swam to shore to have breakfast with Jesus on the beach, and was asked three times by Jesus, “Do you love me? Then feed my sheep,” once for every time he had denied Jesus. After that breakfast, this Peter was never normal again.

This letter, 1st Peter, is often attributed to that new Peter. In these opening paragraphs of this letter, the former back and forth, wishy-washy, often unwise, unobservant Peter is gone, and we find a committed disciple, a bold teacher reminding and encouraging other disciples in their walk of faith.

This new Peter writes to some of his new people. They aren’t Jews, but gentiles, and for the new Peter, that’s the point. Peter wasn’t the student anymore, but the teacher. He had told them about God, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures. He told them about Exodus, and the diaspora of the Israelites out of slavery under Egypt and toward the hope of a promised land. Peter calls the people in the letter the dispersed, the Diaspora, to help them remember, even if they are scattered, remember the story of God’s people also scattered but on the way toward Promised Land.

Peter taught them about the prophets, and in this letter helps them remember how this God brings hope out of the worst of times for God’s children. Peter dares to imagine the prophets were not just speaking to people long ago, but were speaking to the ones listening today, reborn into a new life so beautiful even the angels are jealous.

Peter taught them about Jesus too, Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection. Peter had felt abandoned by Jesus, and sure things would go back how they were before Jesus. But then, Jesus rose again from death, and Peter began telling everyone about the truth behind Jesus’ promises, to be with them all the way to the end, and to bring with him a new community of love and peace for all.

The old Peter would have denied him or hid in fear. This new Peter is telling old stories to remind all who hear, this God, from the beginning through Christ to today into however many tomorrows there would be, this God is a God we can worship and trust and follow. Believing in this God and this God’s coming kingdom has not and does not solve all their problems, though. Peter has learned that too. In his own new normal, there are still hardships, struggles, and resistance. The old Peter would have quit. The new Peter writes a letter encouraging his people to keep going anyway. Yes, following this God changes the way we spend our time. It changes the way we earn or spend monies. It changes the way we think about powers and authorities. Following this God means we try to change the world to look more like God’s coming kingdom, and when we do that, we will be resisted.

Still, this new Peter tells them despite the suffering and resistance that may come, keep going. Believe Jesus cares whether or not our lives speak the goodness of God, and tell others clearly and plainly we are followers of God’s way toward the new normal of justice and love, peace and forgiveness. Jesus wants the words we say and actions we take to exhibit self-sacrifice and service to others, love for all even our enemies, so let’s do so with calm confidence, even honest joy, as we walk God’s new way together.

In the old normal, Peter would have just gone along and get along. Peter would have kept his head down, and his mouth shut. But, on the other side of Easter, the tomb empty and Jesus on the loose, Peter is standing up and speaking out, and encouraging the church to do so as well. When we see injustice done, feel compelled to speak and do so. When we see suffering, feel compelled to offer aid and compassion and do so. When we see wastefulness and greed and desperate need, hunger, poverty, speak to the wealthiest to keep less and share more.

These things will not always sit well with folks who prefer the power or privilege they enjoyed under the old normal. The old normal was easier for some. Even for those where the old normal didn’t work very well, it had a rhythm and pattern to it we all knew well. This new life, the new normal, following a risen Lord to help Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, it changes everything, and some people don’t like change, especially if it changes their power and privilege.

The new Peter writes a letter to remind them they have been chosen and set apart by God the Father to follow Christ. The old life is gone, and God gave them rebirth into new lives of boundless hope, and these new lives last forever. It will be hard, but the trials of the new life are proof the hope of the new normal is worthy, and each step taken into the new normal reveals the fullness and joy of real abundant everlasting life. The heavens and the angels themselves are getting excited to see things rolling in this new direction. So this new Peter encourages them, stay true, stay on path, trust, don’t go back, don’t give in, don’t get distracted by pressures or judgments of others, like I used to, like you used to. Instead, let’s walk toward the new normal, the new way we have been shown. Let’s embody forgiveness and love. Let’s give that forgiveness and love away to everyone, because doing so reveals God.

Perhaps this is the reminder we need as well. Brothers and sisters, you have been chosen and set apart by God to follow Christ forward toward the new normal of God’s coming kingdom. We can help it come on earth as it is in heaven with our words, thoughts, deeds, and dollars. When our time of isolation and social distancing is over, we will be reborn again out of lives of habit or worry about having enough, enough time, enough control. Our former habits that were not like kingdom are dying, and we are being reborn for new habits, toward a new normal but a very old hope in God’s great garden, God’s beloved community coming true here for all God’s children.

In the new normal, we love ourselves, each other, and even our enemies with more tenacity than ever before. In the new normal, we worry less about having more and embrace ways to make a bigger difference in our country and community. In the new normal, we happily give a bit more of our time and treasure and attention to those in need or trouble. We stand up and speak on behalf of the weakest, the littlest, the lost and the alone, and if others disagree or resist, we keep speaking and working for them because the forgotten or neglected are not forgotten or neglected in the new normal.

Some days in the new normal will be hard, but we will remember how even when the old normal did it's very best to stop him, to bury him, he rose again, and lives, and is guiding us toward the new normal, and is bringing the new normal of Kingdom home for everyone. To God be all the glory and honor, now and forevermore. Amen.

Benediction

Are we ready? Are we ready to embrace the new normal of God’s coming kingdom on earth as it is in the heavens, to Believe, to Trust, to Hope, to Love, to Forgive, to Share, and to Give in ways we didn’t before? I hope so, because his Kingdom is coming, and we are being reborn into this New Normal to help it come for all God’s children.

Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore. Rev. Joel L. Tolbert Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown

About Me
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In 2002, I left my corporate career, and went to seminary. Since 2005, I've been serving churches, and trying to follow Jesus, and lead others in doing the same...

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