4th Sunday of Easter Proper A4
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Peter 2:19-25 Sermon
April 15, 2011
(Graduation Day from Seward High School)
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
426 "The Lord My Shepherd Is"
436 "The Lord's My Shepherd, I'll Not Want"
394 "My Faith Looks Up To Thee"
FOLLOWING IN YOUR SAVIOUR'S FOOTSTEPS
TEXT (vs. 19, 21, 24-25): “19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
The night was March 6, 1987. A car and passenger ferry, named the Herald of Free Enterprise was ready get underway. It was a British vessel, one of three actually, that went between Dover and Calais across the English Channel.
Back then, the Channel Tunnel wasn't open, so the ferry business was a highly competitive one. The speed of loading and unloading, and the speed of travel were of the utmost importance.
This night, the boat was taking a new route, travelling between Dover and the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. It was the duty of Assistant Boatswain Mark Stanley to close the doors where the cars were loaded. However after cleaning the deck, Mr. Stanley went to his cabin for a quick nap. And that's where he was when the vessel launched.
First Officer Leslie Sabel, whose job it was to see that the doors were closed, said he thought he saw Mr. Stanley approaching, so he left. Captain David Lewry could only assume that the doors were closed, since he couldn't see them from the wheelhouse, and there wasn't any indicator light to tell him otherwise. And Boatswain Terence Ayling's story was the worst of all. He had seen that the doors were still open, but he didn't close them because, and I quote, "It wasn't my job."
The Herald of Free Enterprise left the port at Zeebrugge at five minutes past six that evening, carrying a crew of 80, plus 459 passengers, 81 cars, 3 buses, and 47 trucks. At 6:24 the ship passed the outer mole, and at 6:44 the ship had capsized in less than a hundred feet of water. When all was said and done, 193 people were tragically killed, making this the worst peacetime marine disaster since the Titanic.
A subsequent court inquiry placed varying degrees of blame upon the crewmembers directly involved, along with various design flaws of the vessel itself.
The media was all over this disaster. Various people, especially those who lost family members were angry with God for this disaster. How could he have let something like this happen? What had their family done to deserve this? And so, the various reporters worked this "angry with God" angle as much as they could.
After awhile, they came upon one very distraught young gentleman, whose wife and young children had perished. The reporter asked him the same question. "Are you angry with God that this happened to your family?"
With red eyes, he said through his tears, "Why should I be angry with God? He didn't build the vessel, the Germans did. He wasn't the one responsible for leaving the door open either. So why should I blame God for something that was the responsibility of humans?"
This young man made an excellent point. When things go wrong, it seems to be almost human nature to blame God for everything. People forget that human beings are the ones that cause most of the misery in the world.
In our Epistle lesson for today, the Apostle Peter makes the point very clear that life isn't going to be an easy time, even for Christians. Because we live in a sinful world, the effects of sin will adversely affect everything upon this earth. And when it comes to the actions of other people, we will often shake our head and wonder why such things happen.
So today, on the basis of the words God the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded by the Apostle Peter, we will see why it is so important to live our lives following in our Saviour's footsteps.
Life is not an easy thing to endure. We frequently feel like we're treated unfairly. Something happens to us that we reckon we just don't deserve. We experience emotional upsets, heartaches, and sadness. We experience various physical ailments and maladies. It almost seems like everything is working against us at times. Everywhere we turn, there seems to be another roadblock. What are you trying to do to me, God? Why did you have to make life so tough for me?
And if that wasn't enough, it seems like the non-Christians and heathens have it so much better. There's that heathen Sam down the street; he's driving a brand new SUV, and here I am driving this soda can with almost 200K miles on it. Or there's Charlie, who's never been in a church in his life, and he's got this half-million dollar home with all the luxuries, and here I am stuck with this shack, wondering how I'm going to pay for termite treatment. Why God would you give these people a break, and not me?
What we've done, is establish our own set of standards, and we expect God to fit into our mould. And when he doesn't, then we blame him for everything from the money we don't have, to the cavity in our tooth we need to have filled. It's easy to do, isn't it?
And if we're not blaming God for things not going our way, then we are blaming others for causing us problems in our lives. Peter makes it a point that Christians will suffer unjustly, and that is true. However, we need to look at the biggest culprit of all, and that is ourselves. So often we have failed ourselves and brought on our own problems. It's like the saying goes, we certainly can be our own worst enemy.
Have you ever heard people complain about taxes, and government, and laws, and politicians? I know I have, and I've even done my share of criticism. But here's what my dad always used to do. Whenever he'd hear somebody complain about government or political issues, he'd listen patiently for a while. Then he'd ask the question, "so who did you vote for in the last election?"
Not always, but often enough the person would answer something to the effect of, "oh, I didn't bother to vote; it doesn't do any good anyway; it's just a waste of my time."
If that happened, then my dad would look the person square in the eye and say, "If you didn't vote, then you have lost your right to complain. People have fought and died to give you that right to vote. You had the opportunity to make a difference, and you chose not to. Instead you have chosen to accept what other people have decided for you."
And then he'd turn and just walk away from them, usually with their mouth hanging open. I know a few people got very upset with him for saying that, but what could they do? The truth definitely hurt.
Following in the footsteps of our Saviour is a walk of responsibility that goes with us in the outside world. Our walk with Jesus governs the way we live our lives as citizens, as family members, and as part of society in general. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.
Following in the footsteps of our Saviour is also a walk of honesty. We have to look at ourselves according to God's law, and admit that we haven't been perfect. We have to see the problems that our sinfulness has created. In so many areas, we've made mistakes, we've stumbled, and we've fallen flat on our faces.
And when things don't go the way we want them to, we also have to see that we're often a part of the problem, and not part of the solution. That's probably the most bitter pill of all to swallow. We don't like to even consider that we may be wrong in the way we've acted. We'd rather blame God for our problems instead of seeing our part in it.
Even though our walk with our Saviour is one of both responsibility and honesty, the most important part of that walk is that it is a walk of faith. And that's the key ingredient for success on any level.
The overriding theme of our service today is Jesus being our Good Shepherd. We're compared to sheep; but we are sheep that Jesus loves and for whom he died.
Verse 24 of our text today says, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed."
If you notice, Peter does something very interesting with this verse. In the first sentence, he speaks in the third person, using the word "we." Christ bore the sins of the whole world on the cross, so that the whole world might die to sin and live to righteousness.
But now comes the shift to the second person, "you." By his wounds, YOU have been healed. Christ did this for YOU, especially for YOU so that YOU might be saved and YOU might be his own! He loved YOU so much that he gave his own life for YOU, one of his beloved sheep. So even though Jesus gave himself for the world's sin, he did it for YOU!
The walk of faith is the only way that Christ is our Good Shepherd and our Saviour. Faith alone in Christ alone is our only way to heaven. It is the only way we are saved. The walk of responsibility and the walk of honesty don't mean anything without the walk of faith.
In verse 25 of our text, Peter uses this sheep and shepherd relationship to explain this: "For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls."
Jesus knows how often we have strayed away from him in one way or another. He knows how often our hearts have turned away from him. He knows how often we have hurt ourselves. He knows how often others have hurt us. He knows how often we have wandered down the wrong path.
But he is also patient with us. He waits for us with open arms. The Holy Spirit continues to work with us and guide us right back into the flock of his sheep, so he can continue to be our Good Shepherd. He's the only one who will look after our souls and keep them safe.
Life isn't easy, that's for sure; and the life of a Christian doesn't guarantee us a perpetual bed of roses while we're upon this earth. But we know that the love of Jesus is always with us. He forgives us, he restores us, and he keeps us in his tender care, whatever life brings our way.
This morning, I'm going to close with the words of a legend somebody Emailed to me this week. It's called "The Tale of Three Trees."
Once upon a time, there were three trees on a hill in the woods. They were discussing their hopes and dreams when the first tree said, "Someday I hope to be a treasure chest. I could be filled with gold, silver and precious gems. I could be decorated with intricate carving and everyone would see the beauty."
Then the second tree said, "Someday I hope to be a mighty ship. I would take Kings and queens across the waters and sail to the corners of the world. Everyone would feel safe in me because of the strength of my hull."
Then the third tree said, "I want to grow to be the tallest and straightest tree in the forest. People would see me on top of the hill and look up to my branches, and think of me reaching up to God in heaven. I could then be the greatest tree of all time and people would always remember me."
Some years later, a group of woodsmen came upon the trees. When one came to the first tree he said, "This looks like a strong tree. I'm going to sell the wood to a carpenter," and he began cutting it down. The first tree was happy, because he thought that the carpenter would make him into a treasure chest.
At the second tree the woodsman said, "This looks like a strong tree. I'm going to sell it to the shipyard." The second tree was happy, because he thought he was on his way to becoming a mighty ship.
When the woodsmen came upon the third tree, the tree was frightened because he knew that if the woodsman cut him down, his dreams would not come true. The woodsman said, "I don't have anything special for my tree, so I'll take this one and store the lumber," and he cut it down.
When the first tree arrived at the carpenters, he was made into a feed box for animals. He was then placed in a barn and filled with hay. This was not at all what he had hoped for.
The second tree was made into a small fishing boat. His dreams of being a mighty ship and carrying kings had come to an abrupt end.
The third tree was cut into large pieces, and left alone in a dark shed.
As the years went by, the trees forgot about their dreams.
Then one day, a man and woman came to the barn. She gave birth, and they placed the baby in the hay in the feed box that was made from the first tree. The man wished that he could have had a crib for the baby, but this manger would have to do. The tree could feel the importance of this event, and knew that it had held the greatest treasure of all time, God's only begotten Son.
Years later, a group of men got into the fishing boat made from the second tree. One of them was tired and went to sleep. While they were out on the water, a great storm arose and the tree didn't think it was strong enough to keep the men safe. The men woke the sleeping man, and he stood up and said, "Peace, be still" and the storm stopped. At this time, the tree knew that it had carried the most important person of all, the King of kings in its boat.
Finally, someone came and got the third tree from the dark shed. It was carried through the streets as the people mocked the man who was carrying it. When they came to a stop, the man was nailed to the tree and raised in the air to die at the top of a hill. When Sunday came, the tree came to realize that it was strong enough to stand at the top of the hill and be as close to God as possible, because Jesus had been crucified on it. All people would forever recognize the third tree, for it would be a reminder of the price Jesus paid to redeem the world from sin.
The moral of this story is that when things don't seem to be going your way, always know that God loves you and will never leave nor forsake you. If you place your faith in Christ your Saviour, God will give you the greatest gift of all, the gift of eternal life. According to this legend, each of the trees got what they wanted, just not in the way they had imagined.
We don't always know what God's plans are for us. We just know that his ways are not our ways, but his ways are always best. Walking in the footsteps of our Saviour may not always be easy, but it will be worth it. Our faith in Christ will be eternally rewarded. And that's a guarantee you can take all the way to heaven.