June 17, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. Instead, grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forevermore. AMEN. (2 Peter 3.17-18)
I have accepted the following question to guide my reflections on the scripture above this week:
“What might Peter have meant when he directed Christ followers to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ?’”
I have suggested three options, thus far: forgiveness, repentance and the pursuit of the truth. I do not, for one minute, think they these three options can actually exist independently in the secular world or the non-secular world. In fact, you will hear these three options in some form in counselling, leadership development, team-building, interpersonal communications and business. So, not only are they constructs of community living but they are building blocks when set together create a firm foundation and framework for successful living. Or they would depending on what is the cornerstone against which they are aligned. That makes all the difference in the world for us as mighty ones of God and followers of Christ. He is the chief cornerstone. He pointed out the Old Testament vision of such “building” of the faith community which alluded to the Messiah as that cornerstone or perhaps the capstone. But, in the Old Testament manifestation of leadership which was bearing ill fruit in the days of Jesus in the first century, He was “the stone which the builders rejected.” They sought to build up the nation of Israel and the community of Jewish faith based on the Law in its strictest and most literal form. Of course, many of those who were in leadership in that day and leading up to that day believed that the “sins of omission” were far more preferable than the “sins of comission.” They apparently lived by the maxim of “Do as I say and not as I do.”
The story of the rich young ruler who desired the key to unlock the vault of eternal life quickly professed “All these I have done since my youth.” What had he done? Apparently, in response to Jesus’ checklist of six of the ten commandments, he had never dishonored his parents, lied, cheated, coveted, murdered or committed adultery. This was a worthy life, right? There were others who would have been able to say the same except Jesus told them, “Ah, yes! But, to harbor or conceive sin in your heart and mind is tantamount to actually committing the act.” Boom, “all have sinned and fallen short.” To the rich young ruler who felt justified then that he had check off the boxes to unlock the vault of eternal life, Jesus said “There is then only one more thing left to do.” We would, of course, first have thought (as the listening audience) “What about the first four commandments of ‘worship only the One God by never having made graven images or using His name in vain or dishonoring the Sabbath day which He made holy?” Some might have heard Jesus in a discussion about “the greatest of commandments” and were waiting for Jesus to say “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself which sums up all the Law and the Prophets.” Boom and boom. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!”
But, that is not what Jesus said next. Instead, He offered the defining question of the rich young ruler’s self-identified cornerstone: money. Financial security was his investment cornerstone set in place as He built for the future. It was the ground floor establishment of who he was and what he desired to do for and with his life. In truth, his very first question of Jesus was directed to the “purchase” of eternal life. He asked “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?” He saw it in terms of earning the future or deserving as if it were some entitlement. As he considered his answer all he thought to do was to walk away. When Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom saying “Sell all that you have, come and follow me” all he could do was to divest his interest in the Kingdom of God.
His whole house of cards came tumbling down because what he had aligned himself with as a spiritual truth…wasn’t. It was what the Scribes and Pharisees modelled. They were rich themselves with the gains made at the expense of the people. Oh sure, they hated the tax collectors as the chief sinners. They spoke with vehemence against them and how they cheapened the faith of Israel they proclaimed. Yet, their hatred was actually more directed at their benefactors- Rome. Honestly, what do you think was happening in Temple courts where all the “moneychangers” were conducting “spiritual business”? They were Jewish tax collectors like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They were “lily white and spotless” by appearance. They were tainted and dirty by practice. Why do you think Jesus became so upset at the sight of them? They had the idea that their “spiritual future” could be bought and banked, too, just like the rich young ruler. I have a sneaking suspicion that the accusation against Jesus of heresy was less about dishonoring God than it was more about concerns of freezing their bank account, shutting down their accounting firm and highlighting their lack of accountability before God. It was a fiscal move on their part to eliminate Jesus and, post-resurrection, HIs followers. After all, it was Peter’s first sermon out of the Pentecost box that started setting things on ear. As he preached about the chief cornerstone which the builders not only rejected but sought to turn to dust (consider that image, if you will), the Chief High Priest was again back to offering sacrifices which God said He hated. God had declared to the prophets they praised “I do not desire your sacrifices. I desire Your heart turned to me.” No wonder those who were in attendance that day listening to Peter and watching the High Priest clammered for the freedom of the gospel and the grace given without worldly strings attached in the fine print of “salvation contract” which the Temple leadership offered.
So, when I hear Peter directing the community of faith as followers of Jesus Christ to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” there is the truth of forgiveness, repentance and the seeking the truth which promotes life in this world and in the next. But, they cannot do so on their own unless grounded to and aligned with the Chief Cornerstone (Jesus) instead of the Chief High Priest (Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, Republican or Democrat.) We are called to be rooted in the grounding of authentic faith professing by word and deed that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, acknowledged as Lord and Savior and embraced as brother and friend.” To “grow in Christ” means to be rooted in the holy ground on which we stand by faith and not by sight. We can no more be rooted in that ground as can a seed that is never planted or feet that remain shod. When Moses was drawn to the movement of God leading him to the Burning Bush, he was immediately told to take off his shoes. The ground on which he stood was holy. It started there! He became rooted in the hope of God for His people. Only when he decided to “uproot” himself from the will of God and plant himself on different soil did the fullness of God’s blessing fade away outside and apart from the Promised Land. He would not live out his days “growing in the grace and knowledge of the Messiah.” He would long for it. He would live in repentance, God’s forgiveness and the continued pursuit of the truth with prayer and praise. But, without being rooted in the holy ground of God’s choosing, he would fall short of accomplishing what he was intended to do.
Enough for now, but on Sunday, let’s reflect on how this became true for Peter and thus for us.
OUR CALL TO PRAYER: Father God, maker of Heaven and earth, we bow before You and give thanks. You are seeking to make us wise in the ways of Your Kingdom through the knowledge and grace of Your Son, Jesus who is the Christ. We are seeking to be wise by embracing Your word and Your revelation in Him to us. Thank You for honoring His request to share His Spirit with us. We come before You repenting of our sins and embracing Your forgiveness. It is the very forgiveness we are called to share with one another, in pursuit of the truth of the gospel. Thank You for challenging us to seek the truth and to live fully in it. Thank You for cultivating the environment of grace around us so that we can be better disciples and share the Good News with the world. Come with us, Lord, we pray. AMEN.