Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of 2 Peter, and we’re going to start in chapter three, v.1.
As you find the passage, you may notice: we are coming up on the end of this book, these two letter’s we’ve been studying for almost the entire year—that’s because we are coming near to the end of common time in the liturgical calendar, entering a time called advent. So next week will conclude our time through the letters of Peter as we turn our full attention to the advent season, and the dawning of Jesus Christ in our world.
Seasons like advent, and liturgical time in general, are such potent reminders in our lives of our proper relationship as Christians to time, and what we’re meant to do with our time in this life. Anne-Elise has been trying to get AJ excited about Thanksgiving, and she went to the store this past week to get some decorations to let him place around the house. And of course, she arrives at this large retail store, and walks into a sea of red and green. Christmas is everywhere, assaulting you when you enter the store, and she looks for half an hour to try to find anything having to do with the actual season and holiday we’re in, and in the end she found a shelf in the clearance aisle with some fall-colored things on it.
We, as Americans, hate to wait, and we say it’s because our time is so valuable, but really I think we hate to wait because we’ve devalued time to the point that we despise time. In the scriptures, over and over again, and in the church calendar, we find a God who loves waiting, who cherishes time, who fashions entire seasons of his year around the practice of waiting just to enjoy time, and he calls his people to wait alongside him. Because for our God, waiting is not wasted time. Our God calls us into a waiting that grows, like a tree bearing fruit in season. We worship a God who cherishes time spent in reflection, in remembering, and in looking forward to everything we know will come in the end. So I would encourage you to begin preparing your hearts and minds for this season of advent where we reflect on the coming of Christ to our world and learn the joyful discipline of awaiting his kingdom come.
We’ve been in a series through Peter’s letters now for the majority of the year, because Peter is writing to a church that’s scattered and suffering, and this year has been a year of being displaced, out of normal rhythms, and in many ways, suffering. Peter’s message has been, over and again, no matter what’s happening around you, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you, there is hope in Christ. Hope for life on the other side of pain. Suffering in this broken world is inevitable, but in Christ restoration is just as sure.
In this second letter Peter is writing having been condemned to crucifixion in Rome, so this book, 2 Peter, is what he wants to leave with his church when he’s gone. He tells them, you have to kill the sin in your life, or your sin will kill you. And he turns his attention to false teachings, religious teachings and ways of life that will lead you away from truth and joy in Christ. The truth is this: that God created a perfect world, and in our sin we’ve broken it. We’re not able to make things right again, and we need Jesus to forgive us our sins and save us, to restore the world back to rights and bring peace. He died in your place, so you could be raised and take part in the restored heaven and earth he is bringing in the end.
And this week, as Peter brings his last letter to a close, just as he did at the very beginning of his first letter, he reminds his people of the end. Not the end he’s facing of death in this life, but the true end of all of those who put their faith in Christ. Resurrection, to a restored earth, an end to sin and corruption, with Christ reigning and dwelling in the midst of it.
Read with me, 2 Peter 3, starting in v.1. [2 Peter 3:1-13] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly, Lord, God, please show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen.
My first point from the text today is this, the same point I made when we started this series near the beginning of the year, but which bears repeating as many times as I’m able: always remember the end. Always, in this Christian life, no matter what else you do or think, always remember the end.
Peter writes, “remember the predictions of the prophets and the commandments of the Lord…according to his promise, we are waiting for the new heavens and new earth.”
Remember the end, and live as though your life has a destination. I talked last week about backpacking, one of my favorite activities, and I want to return to thinking about our lives as Christians as a trek through the wilderness. One skill you need in the wilderness is orienteering, which is finding your way using a map and compass when the phones stop working and the trail disappears. The thing about a compass, the entire usefulness of it, is that compasses always point in the same direction. They point, basically, north. And once you know which direction is north, you can know from that one direction all of the others.
One of the difficult things about finding your way through the wilderness, though, especially if you’re off the beaten path, literally, is that you are never going straight, you have to zig and zag around mountains and rivers, stands of trees and cliff faces, until if you’re not careful your path gets so interrupted and twisted by all of these things that come between you and your destination, that you can lose your heading, and you have to stop, reorient yourself, and start again.
One way you can keep from getting lost in the first place, though, is by choosing what’s called a keystone. So if, when you orient yourself the first time, there is some large object, far off and always visible, like a mountain peak in the distance, no matter how you twist and turn to get around all of the things which interrupt your path, you can always know you’re headed in the right direction by keeping the keystone ahead of you.
I’ve probably told you this before, too, but the word for orienteering is actually derived from a church practice in the middle ages. It’s from the Latin for rising, meaning the rising of the sun, toward the return of Christ at the end of this age on the wings of the dawn. Medieval Christians would design all of their churches so that when people were sitting in church, facing the front as you are now, they were facing east, toward the rising sun. And the graveyards of the churches were intentionally designed facing the same direction, and people were buried with their feet toward the east; it was a physical reminder of a spiritual truth, that our Christian lives, even our deaths, are meant to be lived with our face, our attention, our minds toward the return of Christ in the end. So in that sense, as much as we hate waiting in America, and as much as we’ve tried to cut waiting out of our lives, the entirety of the Christian life is meant to be spent in waiting. A rich kind of waiting, the waiting into which God invites us in times like advent. We wait for Christ to return. We’re to live our whole lives pointed toward it.
In this life, many things come up as we go along our way that can distract us and turn us around disorient us and point us in a direction we never wanted and never intended to go. And for some of us, we don’t care about the direction so much as we care about movement. We want progress, individually and societally, to move forward, but if you’ve lost sight of your destination, what good is the movement? What good is moving forward if forward is not the direction you need to go?
As Christians, we need to keep the end of the world in mind at all times. It’s our keystone, and our destination is the coming kingdom of God. So long as the end is in our line of sight, we can at least know which direction we’re walking. Even if we have to walk for miles around some obstacle and it takes until we are exhausted and don’t think we can go on any longer, with that keystone in sight, we can know we are laboring in the right direction.
I wonder, this morning, if some of you have lost your direction. Maybe you’re still moving, but it’s long since you’ve known if your efforts matter at all. Or maybe some of you are stopped, stalled, maybe you fell into sin years ago and haven’t been able to stand since. I would invite you this morning, and as we move into this advent season, to pause, and look up; look to the east. Take the time you need to orient yourself to the coming of the Kingdom of God and see, with all of your movement, are you moving in the right direction? Or if you are stalled, without any real goals or plans, I would encourage you that there is healing in Christ. There is help in the community of the church. We can help you back on your feet if you let us. We all have somewhere to be. Don’t lose sight of the destination. Live as though you have a destination.
Which brings me to my second point, which is only to ask the same question Peter asks in v.11: what sort of people ought you to be? What sort of people ought you to be? If everything in this world is coming to a close, how ought we to live?
He keeps talking about the end, but what about the now? How does the end change our lives here in the middle? There is so much to say here, I’m just going to hit upon a few things and we can talk about more in small group.
One, what sort of people ought we to be in light of the end? We ought to be people who are ready when that end comes. Peter warns in this passage that everything done on the earth will be revealed, uncovered in the day the Lord returns. Are you ready for all of your actions to be brought into the light before the just judge? The Lord has given this world, this life, to us to steward, and when we stand before him and he asks what we have done with this world, with our communities, with our lives, what will you say?
I pray that you will be able to claim the righteousness of Christ as your own, that you will not in that day be dependent on your own actions to stand firm. And I pray that you will be able to show the Lord that you stewarded well everything that had been given to you. The children he placed in your home, the wife he gave you, the church community, the money, time, and energy.
Two, what sort of people ought we to be in light of the end? We ought to be people who invest in things that will last. Some of you know when AJ, our son, turned five this year, we started giving him an allowance, so now we are in a place where we are advising him on how he should spend his money, and It’s been a good reminder for me; some of the lessons we teach to children are so important. He sees something flashy in the grocery, and he uses his money to buy it, we take it home, and it can only hold his interest for a moment, or it breaks, and it’s done, and I keep telling him, son, you need to save and invest in things that will last.
We, like him, so often in our lives spend our money, time, and energy on things that won’t matter in the end. We spend all our time at work seeking wealth, and when the Lord comes back, what will we use it for? When we are in the ground, with our feet facing east, waiting—will we be glad we spent our lives at labor, never investing time in our family and friends, in our communities, or resting and enjoying life?
Or we spend all our money and time on things that we consume and are gone, and the pleasure of them only lasts for the night, and what if you invested yourself into something that will last beyond today, even last beyond the end of this age? Love of God and people, worship of the Lord, your own holiness and sanctification, the building of his kingdom—everything else is dross, a cheap toy, here today gone tomorrow. Invest in things that will last.
Three, what sort of people ought we to be in light of the end? We ought to be people who recognize that we need each other. I’ve talked about backpacking the past several days. I’ve never been on a trip alone, and in fact you almost always go with at least one other person when you go backpacking, because if something goes wrong, you fall and sprain your ankle, you need someone with you to go get help. We would usually go with a group, and we would all be carrying some thing that was used for the whole group—one would have the tent, someone else that pots and pans, someone else the stove—to distribute the weight, so no one person was having to carry it all. We would literally carry each other’s burdens.
And if we have a destination in this life, if we orient ourselves toward a right end, then we will need each other to get there. We need to carry each others burdens, because for any one person, it’s too much. We need to be there for each other when we sin and fall, to pick each other up and set us back on our way. Everyone needs friends in this life to walk beside you, because we have a destination. We can’t just wander.
Four, we can’t act like this world is our home. I got a little out of shape in grad school, but I still loved hiking, so when we were in Boston we went to Acadia national park one time with some friends of ours who were hiking up the mountain at the pace of a jog, really, and I got to the top of the mountain and basically collapsed. I didn’t feel like I was going to make it down the other side. I looked at Anne-Elise and just said, Annie, I live here now, and she laughed,
But some of us in life are trying to live on the trail. We’ve forgotten we have anywhere to go at all. We’ve become very comfortable in this world with the comforts of this world, and we forget that we’re here for a purpose, on a journey toward holiness, toward a destination of his kingdom come. Anne-Elise laughed at me when I acted like I was going to live on the mountain that day, because it was a ridiculous thought. I was halfway through grad school, knew God was calling me to pastor—I couldn’t just stay on the mountain. But so many of us stop in the middle of pursuing the things God has called us to do and try to live on the path because we’re tired of the trail, and we convince ourselves that we’re happy enough here.
It’s good to wait, to take a break, but you can’t live as though this world is your home. In summary, when we ask ourselves what sort of people ought we to be when we are oriented toward his kingdom, we ought to be people who pray and work, who labor and wait, who work for the kingdom to come and pray asking for him to bring it.
And I want to close, very briefly, with this: as we labor and wait, we need to know that the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises. In Peter’s day, he already had to assure people that God would not wait forever. So here, now, almost 2000 years later, we need to be reminded that the Lord is not slow; his timing is perfect.
So many times this year, I’ve found reason to pray, as the apostle John does in Revelation, I know when you return you’ll bring peace and justice, so “come, Lord Jesus,” and I pray along with the psalmist, “How long, O Lord? Will you wait forever?” And this year, as in the year Peter wrote this letter, the Lord is not slow; he’s patient. He’s waiting for the right time. And when the Lord waits, he isn’t just wasting time. He’s waiting in the same way a farmer waits for the seasons to plant and to harvest. He’s waiting the same way a mother waits to give birth. He’s waiting for the fullness of time, and he won’t wait forever.
One day soon the earth and kosmos as we know it will end, and the Lord will return. My invitation to you today is toward orientation. If you’ve gotten lost, don’t just keep moving. Stop, wait, pray with me, engage in the church community, orient yourself, and when you move, move with your keystone, your destination ahead of you. And if you’ve stopped and made a makeshift home on the path, get up, keep going. You have somewhere to go. The kingdom is coming. Indeed, it’s already here. Pray with me.