Sermon for Order of Garrett Service
1 Peter 4:7-117The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
In the Name of God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The end of all things is near.Bishop Stanton once told us the story of the day he was taking his daughter, Jennifer, to law school. They stopped at a diner along the way and saw a church bus with a sign that read, “Jesus will return on …. Date.”
Bishop Stanton went to get food and when he came back, Jennifer had talked to a few of those Christians. She told her dad, “Dad, they say Jesus will return on ….”Bishop Stanton said, “Good, then I won’t have to pay for your law school.”There is comfort in knowing that the end is near … or is there?
From chapter 1, the first letter of Peter, grounds us in the sovereignty of God and the glorious hope we have through Christ. Peter is quite clear about who is in charge: God is in charge and fully in control.
The verses for today are book-ended by verses about two different kinds of sufferings we experience; one is our internal struggle against sin that is within us. And the second is the fiery trials that come from outside to test us. The letter ends in chapter 5 with hope and trust in God’s grace to restore all things.
This short letter packs a heavy theological punch, but it is not complicated. It is very practical. The end of all things is near. But, before life as we know it will completely be transformed at the return of Christ, we live in between times, in a kingdom that has already begun, but is not yet complete. It is in this uncomfortable space that we are to overcome sin and have victory through our trails. How are we supposed to do that and bring praise and glory to Jesus?
It seems like Peter says we can do all these things because of the means of grace. The means of grace are visible things that God uses to bring salvation into our lives and to empower and sustain us. In this case, Peter refers to the Church, through various gifts and graces, our love for one another overcomes a multitude of sin, from prayer to hospitality to speaking words of encouragement and service. The Church, God’s family, is a wonderful gift that we sometimes take for granted. The Church can, at times, be a dysfunctional family. But we are nonetheless a family. We love each other and hurt each other, we build each other up and bring each other down, we comfort and get angry at each other. Through all of this - we belong together.
God uses all of us to bring about his purposes. Look around this sanctuary. You see people who are or have been your mentors and younger people who will serve after we are gone. You see people who have loved you at times and at other times, angered you and hurt your feelings. Can you also see the silhouettes of the multitude of family members who are not physically present with us, but we benefit from their services and prayers, the Communion of Saints across time and space? These are not flowery words that do not do anything for us. The Church is an effective or efficacious means of God’s grace.
I want to share a story that has made me appreciate our true unity in Christ. You know I am from Iran. The population of Iran is about 84 million. It’s estimated that there are fewer than one hundred Iranian Anglicans in the world.
When I was in high school, my school shared a wall with St. Simon the Zealot Anglican church in Shiraz, one of the four very small congregations that are left there. I would stand by the window and look into the courtyard of the church to see if I could catch a glimpse of a Christian. I had never met a Christian. Being an Episcopalian now and knowing how we pray, I am certain that church prayed for us. About the same time, God gave me a dream in which I was thirsty and could hear water dripping and came across a font. A few years later, we became refugees and ended up in Dallas. I was baptized at a Baptist church that I loved, yet God moved me into the Episcopal church during my second year in seminary.
I was invited to Church of the Incarnation by a priest who was the director of spiritual formation at Perkins. When I entered Incarnation, the first thing I saw was the font I had seen in my dream. Years went by and through the ministry of Gateway of Grace, a worshipping community of persecuted Christians and Muslims was formed called Grace Community.
A while ago, I received an email from a lady in Canada whose husband had been invited by Bishop Sumner to come to Dallas for the ordination process. She was very eager to connect with me because she was from Shiraz, a refugee, and an Anglican. She is now here. About two months ago, a Grace Community member told me that about twenty-two years ago, when she was in Shiraz, and God told her to go to St. Simon the Zealot Anglican church.
The church wouldn’t let her in because it was illegal. But finally, she told the priest that God had told her to go there. She went and continued going until it became very dangerous. This lady started attending house churches, became a refugee, and ended up in Dallas. She attended a few other churches and finally came to Grace Community.
Apparently, God is growing new shoots out of the stump of the seemingly dying St. Simon church in Shiraz, Iran. I could not believe it. That is the power of Holy Spirit working through the prayers of the saints across time and space. By the way, St. Simon was the apostle who evangelized Persia.
Back to the letter - in verse 7, it is the preposition before prayer and can be translated in different ways. I like to translate it ‘unto.’ So, the verse will read “The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.” I like the sense of intentional movement.
As you pray, be alert to what you pray for because you might be the saint that is bringing about something amazing on the other side of the world. Be sober because God is in control. Pray with boldness, pray Kingdom-of-God-size prayers. Be alert as to how it is that God is calling your life to become part of answering prayers. Surrender your thoughts which form your actions, and as a result shape how you pray.
The Lord’s prayer is one of the prayers that we pray often, but are we always alert to what we are praying ourselves unto? When we are alert and pray big, Kingdom prayers, our family arguments and divisions become smaller. It becomes easier to love one another and help each other overcome sin. When we, with sober minds, enter unto prayer, God puts things into perspective. We realize that we cannot fit God’s universal Kingdom work into our own understanding, comfort or political persuasions. God reveals to us that we are the ones who need to fit into his worldview, his plans and his purposes SO THAT healing, transformation and salvation are available.
The truth is that barring the return of Christ this this evening, we all are coming near the end of our earthly years. The end is indeed near and God’s plans will be fulfilled regardless. The fact that God has chosen us and allows us to participate in his work is a privilege and pure grace. How are we planning to spend our remaining years - in division, anger, fear, and selfishness or in praying, serving and bringing hope and healing? How will our lives impact the universal Kingdom of God? What will your family, your neighborhood, and your city look like because of your presence?
Will we allow God to change us ‘unto’ the instruments that can be used to minister to those who are different from us, to our enemies, and to the ends of the earth? Will our lives, in a real sense bring praise and glory to the name of Jesus? Looking around this sanctuary, I am very optimistic. May in all things God be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.