(A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter based on 1 Peter 2:1-10 & John 14:1-14)
The story is told of a man who was walking across a cemetery at night. Unbeknownst to him, a grave had been dug for a funeral on the following day. He fell into the open grave. After several attempts to scale the sides and after exhausting himself yelling for help, the man settled into a corner of the grave to await the morning. A while later, he was startled awake by another man falling into the grave. After watching the second accident victim go through the same process of attempted climbing and much yelling, the first man said, “You can’t get out of here.”
But he did.
He was motivated to get moving. His motivation was fear.
Fear is an inadequate motivation for the people of God. If our motivation to minister is our fear of the future or our fear of our circumstances or our fear of failure or our fear of anything else, we will not minister and serve well. If fear is our motivation, we will minister in fearful, overly cautious, and narrow-minded ways, and those are not Christian ways.
But motivation does matter.
The story is told of a large anthill on a golf course on which a golf ball landed. The golfer approached the anthill. He swung his club and missed the ball; dirt and ants went flying everywhere. He swung a second time and missed again; the ant carnage was considerable. After this happened a third time, one ant dusted himself off and said to the other ant, “You know, if we don’t get on the ball, we’ve had it!”
The ants were motivated to get on the ball. Their motivation was self-preservation.
Self-preservation is an inadequate motivation for the people of God. If our motivation to minister is our desire to save ourselves or to preserve what we have or to keep what we have, we will not minister well. If self-preservation is our motivation, we will minister in self-centered ways, and that is not the Christian way.
What, then, is the proper motivation for Christian ministry?
Simply put, we are motivated to do what we are called to do by what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ his Son. Put differently, we minister because we are Easter people; we minister because we know and serve the risen Christ.
Based on what today’s texts tell us, let’s be more specific.
We minister because we have an identity under God. I read recently about a young man who found out at age 19 that he had been adopted. When he went on a quest for his heritage and background, he discovered that he had no birth certificate; there was no record of his birth. This caused something of a crisis for him. He wasn’t sure who he was. Now, such a thing would not cause such a crisis for everybody in that situation. But the point is that everyone needs an identity.
We know who we are. Who are we? We are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been chosen by him, we have been blessed by him, we have been set apart by him, and we have been claimed by him. We are for the most part middle-class American residents of Richmond or Columbia County. There are other ways that we could identify ourselves. But our primary identity is that we are the people of God.
We know whose we are. Citing the prophet Hosea, 1 Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (2:10). Once we were not saved people but now we are saved people. We have been saved by grace. By whose grace have we been saved? We have been saved by the grace of God. And so we now belong to God. We live in the world but we don’t belong to the world. We belong to God.
We minister because we have a calling from God. It is a great privilege to be God’s people. But one aspect of that privilege is the opportunity to fulfill a great responsibility that we have under God. Peter says that we are to be a “holy priesthood” and that we are “to offer spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). One role of priests is to bring other people to God. So our calling is move other people toward God. We do that by offering “spiritual sacrifices” which means to offer our entire lives in service to God. We die to self, we give of self, and we love God and love others more than we love ourselves.
Peter also tells us what it means functionally for us to be God’s people. After saying that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, (and) God’s own people,” he says that it is “in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (v. 9). Because we have been called to salvation we are called to proclaim to our community and to the world what Christ has done for others and for us and what he will do for them.
We minister because we have access to God. We have a personal relationship with the risen Lord. As Paul put it in Colossians, “In (the Son) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (1:19). Jesus said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also” (John 14:7). His follower Philip then said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (14:8). Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9). Later in the Gospel Jesus prayed for us, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (17:21). Christ is in us. Christ and the Father are one. We have direct access to God.
Thus, we have the privilege and responsibility of carrying forward and fulfilling the ministry of Jesus Christ.
We minister because we have the help of God. We are not on our own. We have the help of Almighty God as we carry out our ministry. Notice that Peter said that we are “to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). We worship and then we serve “through Jesus Christ.”
Jesus said, “The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:12-14). In the following verses Jesus promised that the Father would send the Holy Spirit on his followers.
So we have the help of God through the presence of Jesus Christ.
We have the help of God through the Holy Spirit.
We have the help of God through prayer. Notice that we are to ask for whatever we need in ministry but we are to ask in Jesus’ name and that the goal is for the Father to be glorified in the Son through us. Our prayers are in Jesus’ name when they ask for God to show us how to be loving, giving, caring, redemptive, and sacrificial in our ministry to others.
Prayers in Jesus’ name will not be fearful prayers. Prayers in Jesus’ name will not be selfish prayers. Prayers in Jesus’ name will be prayers that lead us to obedience, to trust, to love, to sacrifice—and to ministry.
We are Easter people. We believe in the resurrected Lord. Because we are Easter people, we minister. But we minister for the right reasons, with the right motivations, and with the right help.