Text: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last Sunday people all over the world gathered together just like we did to celebrate the joyous good news that Jesus is risen from the dead. For most of us it was an Easter pretty much the same as any other. For some people though it must have been different. Christians in Egypt gathered together to celebrate Easter just 6 days after bombs went off in 2 churches on Palm Sunday killing upwards of 47 people.
After I heard about what happened in Egypt on Palm Sunday I was curious to see what these people and their churches would do about Easter and the celebrations around the resurrection of Jesus. I read in a news article this week that some of the celebrations were toned down a bit, the receptions and parties that are normally held on Easter Sunday were cancelled this year, but the main service, the Easter Vigil mass on Saturday went ahead as scheduled. The people came, the Word of God was read, the body and blood of Jesus was distributed in Holy Communion, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus was celebrated. The article that I read was quick to note that the events on Sunday (the parties and lunches…) were canceled because they did not seem appropriate during a time of morning. They were not cancelled for safety reasons or in an attempt to avoid another attack. Instead, in defiance of what would seem to be common sense, Christians all over Egypt gathered on the Saturday night before Easter just like they had done 6 days earlier on Palm Sunday. That is amazing. The courage of these people is incredible. One article I read tried to put it in our perspective, it would be like going to church on Easter not knowing if you would make it home for Easter dinner or not.
Why bother, though? Why bother putting yourself in harm’s way like that just for one Sunday service even if it is Easter Sunday? Would we, North American, western, Christians like you and me do that? Would we go to church if the possibility of physical harm or even death loomed as a potential reality? I’m not so sure we would. All kinds of things much less serious than terrorism and death keep us from going to church. You and I can’t even begin to relate to what those people were faced with. We are not and never have been threatened with anything like that. Why did they bother?
The best person to ask that question would be one of those people who left home and headed over to church Easter Saturday and stood shoulder to shoulder with fellow Christians celebrating the resurrection of Jesus. But since they are not here for us to ask them we have to be satisfied with whatever we can come up with for ourselves. I would suggest that these Christians were so bold to go to church even if it meant they might lose their lives for it because they understood something that Peter says in our epistle reading today much better than we do. Peter says this: “In this (God’s salvation for you in Jesus) you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Why bother going to church if it might cost you your life? Because your faith, your Christian faith, is the most precious possession that you have in all the earth. It is more precious than gold as Peter tells us here, it is more precious than your own life. And Church, what is happening right here and right now, is the place where that precious faith is fed and nourished and given to us so that it can survive in a hostile and dangerous world that is filled with much greater threats that terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. Faith is so precious and valuable that it is worth facing those kinds of risks just to have it strengthened.
What makes faith so precious though? What makes faith worth so much more than gold or even our lives themselves? Faith itself is not precious. There is nothing precious about faith or believing in something. Faith is not precious because it is some kind of virtue that makes God happy. Faith is not an attitude or an outlook on life that you choose for yourself. Faith is not something that you do.
In our Gospel reading today we heard Jesus say this to Thomas, the disciple who doubted that He was risen from the dead, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29) For you and me those words kind of feel like a pat on the back. We haven’t seen Jesus and yet we believe in Him, Jesus is talking about us here. He is saying that we are blessed, we did a good job. But what if we take that word “blessed” in a different direction. What if, instead of patting us on the back and saying “Good job, thanks for believing in me!” Jesus was really saying, “Look at the blessing that God has given to you! You believe in me even though you have not seen Me! What a wonderful thing that God has done for you! Blessed are you!” Blessed are you because God has done this for you, He has given you the priceless treasure of faith.
This faith is a priceless treasure because it clings to Jesus. Jesus told His disciples that if they only had faith like a grain of mustard seed then they would be able to move mountains into the sea (Matthew 17:20). Jesus does not mean here that faith itself is so powerful. He is not saying that if they just believed enough or believed in themselves they could do it. He is saying that if they even had such a tiny amount of faith IN HIM it would change everything. Faith in Jesus is a precious thing because Jesus is precious. Jesus is risen from the dead. He died on the cross carrying my sins, your sins, the sins of the entire world, and He rose from the dead after three days. Because He is risen your sins are forgiven and God’s wrath against sin is taken away.
The faith that God has given to us and blessed us with is precious and valuable because it takes hold of Jesus. Just like Thomas who touched the hands and side of Jesus and felt the nail marks and spear marks or like the women who ran away from the tomb that Easter morning after they had heard the good news from the angel and met Jesus on the way, fell down at His feet, grabbed His feet, and worshiped Him. Our faith, the faith that God has blessed us with, grabs on to Jesus. When we come to communion Jesus lays His body into our mouths and hands. He pours His blood shed for us into our mouths. When this happens our faith takes hold of Jesus again. We grab on to Him and don’t let go.
The faith that God has given to you is precious because of what it brings to you. Because your faith takes hold of Jesus and clings to Him it brings eternal life to you. At the end of our epistle reading today Peter calls this the “outcome” of our faith, “the salvation of our souls.” Your faith is the most precious and valuable thing in the world for you because it brings you salvation for your soul. Peter says here in this epistle reading that faith is more precious than gold because gold, even though it is refined and purified with fire, still perishes eventually. The brilliance of gold wears away, its shine fades, dents and scratches appear. Eventually it does not look as bright and beautiful as it once did.
This faith is much more valuable than gold. Your faith is tested, refined, and purified just like gold by the trials and struggles of this life. The imperfections are removed by the struggle of life as God purifies your faith in Him. That faith, unlike gold that has been purified but still perishes and wears out, will last forever, it will never perish. God who has made that faith, purified that faith, and sustained that faith will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will be faithful to that faith He has given you and He will raise your soul and body to new life. Unlike gold that perishes, faith that clings to Jesus “will never perish, but have eternal life.”
Your faith is precious. This is a precious gift that you have been given: you know Jesus and what means that He died and rose again for you. That is the most precious thing you own. It is more precious than gold or silver, more precious than your home or possession, more precious that your family or memories, more precious than your life itself. It is a precious thing that you have been given. This gift is so precious that it brought Christians in Egypt to church just a week after such a violent attack and it is so precious that it will bring you up out of this wicked, violent, and evil world into life everlasting. In Jesus name, Amen.