Back to series

Good morning, church. Go with me to 1 Peter, chapter 4, starting in v.7. This week was, again, a difficult week, preparing for the hurricane that was supposed to hit us—which, to be clear, is not the hurricane hitting us right now, this one was supposed to hit Texas. This year’s rough, y’all. I see you. I know you’re not ok. I feel you. I’m grateful that you’re here, in small group, and online, really, even if showing up is all you can do. If you were to ask me what I need in all of this craziness, I would tell you that your presence in my life has been one of the biggest encouragements to me in this difficult first year of pastoring. Every time I tell someone I started as lead pastor in late January, they literally just start laughing at me.

I remember in March, when things were really bad in New Orleans particularly, there was a guy in our neighborhood holding up a sign saying the world was ending, people are walking down Bourbon in sackcloth, and in March, I was having Katrina flashbacks, like: New Orleans is getting blamed for the pandemic now, too? But now, after the third hurricane, when I see those guys, I’m like John in Revelation: Amen, come Lord Jesus. But in all seriousness, I hope you’ll join me in praying for, and figuring out ways to help, our neighbors in the Western part of our state, and elsewhere as we deal with the aftermath of Sally and Laura. Two of the pastors I work with are fighting through the virus right now. So much suffering in our world right now, and we’ve been in a series on 1 Peter for the past several weeks, hearing from Peter that God is faithful to come alongside us in suffering and bear with us through it.

I’ll tell you—our passage for today is one of the passages of scripture which has shaped and formed my life as a worshipper of God. The Lord used these verses to bring me through one of the darkest parts of my life and point me toward ministry. I hope and pray it will be as meaningful for you today. In college, through a series of my own mistakes, I wound up alone, without any friends, isolated by my own mistakes, and I came across this passage, declaring one of the most foundational truths of Christianity—one that we can feel is true in our bones—that in Christ we can be forgiven and reconciled to God and each other. We don’t have to live life alone. The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone. In times of suffering, in hard times, we need people around us who love us, who love Jesus and want good things for us, and are willing to walk beside us for a little while.

Sin, in our lives and in the world, divides us. It divides us from God, divides us from one another. If you’re here this morning, and you’re divided from family, from friends, alone in a crowded room, I would invite you into Christ, into the family of the church, messy as it is. A huge part of the redemption of Christ in our lives when we are saved, when we begin to follow him, is the redemption of our relationships. AA calls it making amends, but it’s also bigger than that. Christ reconciles us to God, and his reconciliation is so abundant that it overflows into our relationships with those closest to us, to the people around us, to our families and communities.

Go with me: 1 Peter 4:7-11. […] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly: Lord God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.

One positive note about the weather, I don’t know if you noticed—it was actually cool this week. As the weather starts to change and the year comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting. There’s a lot about this year that I will remember for the rest of my life, for better or for worse. This year has been my first year as a lead pastor, and I’ll always remember the way you welcomed our family into this church. And of course I’ll always remember posting a sign on the door of the church about a month later, announcing that all services were cancelled indefinitely. I have the document saved on my computer. I’ll remember Jess spending half of every day with AJ just to give us time to work and let Annie graduate, and how other friends helped us pull through. I’ll remember mine and Anne-Elise’s tenth anniversary, which was supposed to be a cruise through Italy, was instead eating takeout after a zoom meeting.

But with all of that, probably the most memorable thing about this year for me was performing my friends’ wedding in late March—they’d had it scheduled months out, and then when everything shut down, they decided that they would get married regardless. Forget the flowers and the fanfare, the party, the church. Only one thing mattered. I remember, it rained all day the day of the wedding. Pouring, but it didn’t matter. They weren’t there for the reception or the photos, or the flowers, or the venue. They were there for each other, for better, for worse. And I preached from this passage, because it reminds us of this important truth, the first point for today: Love covers a multitude of sins. Love covers a multitude of sins.

Everything that was wrong with their wedding, everything that got cancelled, the rain, the five-name guest list. Their love for each other was able to cover all of those lacks, and it was one of the most beautiful weddings of which I’ve been a part.

I’ll always remember that wedding, because it was such a clear reminder of what’s important, and such a clear picture of how Christ redeems our lives. He redeems us in the rain, as the world spins out of control without any fanfare or any audience, because none of that matters. What matters is his covenant with us, what matters is love for God and for one another, because, as our passage reminds us, love covers a multitude of sins.

The phrase bears with it a double-meaning: love covers a multitude of sins between us, so we can be reconciled to each other, but of course, the love we have for each other is not enough to address everything that’s gone wrong in this world. It’s inadequate. A wedding in the midst of a pandemic reminds us that our love for each other, strong as it is, isn’t able to set the world back to rights. Only God’s love for us is able to do that. His love for the world, which covers our whole multitude of sins and makes us clean.

It’s his love, covering our sins, that teaches us how to love each other and forgive, how to make amends and reconcile back to the people we love. When we try to love each other day by day, all of us are only ever repeating the word love, like children repeating after their father, when they only barely grasp the meaning. We are all learning what it is to love each other.

So if you were wondering what to do in the midst of your suffering right now, be it suffering from job loss, loss of a loved one, or just being weighed down by the weight of the world as it is. Peter’s call to you is to love one another earnestly, and he tells us how to love each other and why we should.

I’ll start with the how, and then we can talk about the why. How do we love each other earnestly in this crazy year, and if we’re honest, through lifetimes of ups and downs, of joy and mourning?

Peter writes, be self-controlled and sober-minded. How can you be of help to anyone else, to earnestly love them, if you’re not taking care of yourself, if you’re not yourself stable? If you don’t have a clear mind, and if you aren’t able to control your actions? We work with a lot of people here at our church who are working on gaining self-control and a sober mind, and I want you to hear—that work isn’t just for your own sake. It’s important for our whole community. For our families, for the other members of the church. We appreciate the work you’re doing. If you are here with those struggles this morning, you need to know that the love of God for you is able to cover a multitude of sins and reconcile you back to God, to your family, and to the community. Sin divides us, breaks our relationships, but the love of God is stronger than sin. Imagine a life with close friends, with family, with people you can trust and depend upon, where you are able to use the gifts God has given you to love and serve the people around you, to offer to them a hope and a future.

Peter writes, show hospitality without grumbling, welcome each other, not just into the building on Sunday, but into each other’s lives. Biblical hospitality goes deeper than smiling at someone on Sunday morning and trying to make them feel comfortable, you have to go further and show up on Sunday when you’re not smiling, when you’re weeping instead. Biblical hospitality is deeply connected with the biblical discipline of confession, because to welcome someone into your life, you have to drop the act of having your life together. You have to let people see your house when it’s a wreck, and then go further, to letting them see your life when it’s a wreck. To practice Biblical hospitality, you have to recognize the needs of the people around you, and then go further into admitting your own neediness, your own weakness, and reaching out, letting other people serve you when you need something, when you can’t figure it out, when you aren’t in control of it, when the sin isn’t in the past.

Peter writes, as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another. Because we need each other here. We need love from the people around us for our multitude of sins, like wounds, to be covered and begin to heal. You may think that you are of no value to our congregation, but you’re wrong. Even in all your sin and messiness, you are a part of us. If God brought you here, it was with purpose and a plan. Even if we don’t always see and know it, we need you here for as long as you’re here. In him you are forgiven, you are welcome, you are loved.

In what ways are you gifted? How are you able to use what God has given you to serve the people around you? Your skills, talents, passions, time, resource, spiritual gifting, your testimony, the story of everything you’ve been through, everything you struggle with, and everything in Christ you’ve overcome. What are the needs you see in our church? Does someone need encouragement? Can you be a friend? Can you turn someone away from sin in their lives causing suffering for them and the people around them?

Above all else, love one another, because love covers a multitude of sins—his love for us, our love for the people around us. Because God is love, and he is unfathomable; and because He is infinite, there will never be an end to what you are able to discover about how to love each other, how to forgive, and how to cover and turn back sin.

That’s the how, how we are able to keep loving one another earnestly, but Peter also gives us the why, and Louis is going to love this, this is my second point for today: the end is near. The end is near. I’m looking at v.7, where Peter starts off the passage by saying “the end of all things is at hand; therefore…” and then he tells us to love each other earnestly with a love that covers sins. That’s his explanation for why we should do all of these things we’ve talked about—because the end is near.

And no, I’m not going to go hold a sign, or depend upon fiction books and internet conspiracy theories to interpret the Bible for me. But this was always the message of Christianity. Jesus’ first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” And as he left, he said he was coming again soon. The end, for us, has always been near. One day, God will restore the world back to rights and make everything as it should be. Maybe tomorrow, maybe in another thousand years, but always near, always soon. That’s the why, the motivation, for a lot of what we do as a church. Christians are a people who wait upon the Lord.

And I’ll be honest with you, passages like this really used to bother me. I thought Peter had made a mistake, because he thought the end of all things was at hand in his day, and yet here we are almost 2000 years later, still awaiting the return of the Lord. Still living through years like this year, where we honestly plead for the Lord to return and end the suffering of the world. But what I’ve realized is that this is a deep truth every Christian needs to know. The end is now, and has always been, near. The kingdom of heaven isn’t as far away as we think it is. And there’s nothing that we’re waiting on, nothing else in the world that needs to happen before God restores his creation. The end is near, and we need to live as though we soon will meet the Lord.

We have a poor conception of time in the West. We think it can be measured exactly, managed, controlled. But having a child has taught me something important about time. Time is not so constant as we think it is. Have you ever gone back to a place you used to visit as a kid and everything you thought was so large and full of wonder is now so small? People always tell you about kids, “they grow up so fast,” and when I was growing up, I would roll my eyes whenever an adult told me how much I’d grown. Now that I have a child, I can see it. To a child, five minutes is an eternity. And in my memory, the time I spent growing up, seems like an eternity. But now that I’m seeing AJ grow up, it’s moments. Every time I see him, or see my brother’s kids, they’re bigger, stronger, more able. It’s unbelievable how little time it takes to grow up. He made his own breakfast this week, and I’m thinking, wasn’t it yesterday that he couldn’t even walk without me?

I woke up one day—I think it was yesterday—and I was an adult, with a job and child. When was it that I lived my life? Soon I’ll be gone. Very soon, moments. I only have a little while left, so I need to make sure my life has some sort of meaning before I’m gone. Gator’s birthday is next week. How long did it take, Gator, to get old?

For each and every one of us, the end, and the kingdom of God is near. Our lives are brief, and to quote Annie Dillard, “How you spend your days is, of course, how you spend your life.” Peter’s right; I was wrong. The end of all things has always been at hand. It was true when he wrote it. It’s still true today. We’ve misunderstood time, where we think our generations, the ages of the earth are long. They’re moments, and then Christ will return to bring us into the real time which we call eternity.

Which means, today’s the day. As I preached last week, the time that is past suffices for living a meaningless life. Today is the day to choose to follow Christ. Today’s the day to forgive yourself for your mistakes and realize that God’s love has covered the multitude of your sins. Maybe you can’t forgive yourself, but God has always been able to do things you cannot. In him you are forgiven.

Today’s the day to admit that you’ve made mistakes, to confess, to let go, and really enter into the church community. All your excuses for why you haven’t committed yourself to the pursuit of God you know he’s calling you toward, lay them down, because you don’t have much time left.

Today’s the day to love someone as though Christ’s love has covered the multitude of their sins. To forgive, to serve, to submit yourself, to carry the weight of their life with them until they are able to cast their burdens upon Christ and be free.

Today’s the day to participate in the restoration Christ is bringing with his kingdom, to make amends and reconcile yourself to your family, to call your friend and apologize, to call your parents and tell them you love them, to call your children and apologize. Live your life as though the kingdom of God is near, as though the end is near, and we have but a little while left.

The other “why” Peter gives us, why we should love each other earnestly is this, and I’ll close with this, very briefly: your life isn’t about you. Your life isn’t about you.

Going back to the wedding in the rain, where everything went wrong, and it was beautiful: the reason everything went wrong, and it was still beautiful is because they knew the wedding wasn’t about them. We have a saying in our society, that the wedding is the bride’s day, and in some ways it is. But in more ways than not, it’s not about her. It’s not even about them, or the families, or the guests. Marriage was given to us as a picture, a participation, a hope, that one day sin won’t divide us. One day, we’ll be one with the people we love, even as God is one. Not separated living our lives in loneliness, not socially distanced, not divided, not at odds, not fighting, but together. It’s only death that does us part, but Christ has defeated death. In him, there’s nothing that can separate us from his love and our love for each other. He’s brought eternity to us, real time, and his love covers the multitude of our sins to make us right again, the people he always meant us to be. He’s restoring us even now, he’s able to save you.

Peter ends the passage with the simple but profound doxology: to him belong the glory and dominion forever and ever, amen. Forever and ever. Eternally, this time that we have, these lives that we have, are for God and his glory. So when we live in the community of the church, as we use our gifts to teach, or preach, or encourage, or sing, or serve, or comfort, we should do it as though we do it with the strength God supplies. Because it’s not about us.

When you look at us who are in the church, you only see sin and brokenness, because we are sinners in need of the grace of God. I hope you don’t look at us today. We only ever mess it up. I hope you look to the God who has saved us, who has given us meaning and purpose in life, who brings us together, and whose love covers our sins, restoration that is full enough to overflow to our relationships, in our families, to the people around us.

My invitation for today is this: I invite you into community, into family, into the church. To live and wait for Christ, to live your life for something and someone bigger than just you. Because the kingdom of heaven is near.