The following three posts comprised my Easter sermon this past Sunday at Cliftondale Congregational Church in Saugus, MA. Part 2 will post tomorrow and part 3 on Wednesday. If audio becomes available I will link to that as well…
One of the shows that Mandi and I like to watch is Gotham. It is a very interesting show set in DC Comics’ fictional Gotham City. The show focuses on the adventures of Det. James Gordon, who in the future, will be the same Commissioner Gordon who becomes a main ally of the Batman. But that is a long way off. Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) is just a young boy.
However, Gotham is already in serious trouble, and the idealistic Det. Gordon finds himself the lone uncorrupt cop in the city. While all the cops are bad, they are bad to varying degrees, and Gordon eventually finds an ally (or someone he believes he can make an ally) in his partner, Det. Harvey Bullock.
In the episode, “Everybody Has a Cobblepot,” we discover that the Police Commissioner (who is in the pocket of Don Falcone, the head of the mob) is keeping files on all the bad things the cops have done, and uses them as leverage to keep them doing whatever he wants.
Near the end of the episode, Bullock explains to Gordon the rationale for why he did his “bad thing,” and the struggle he still has with it all these years later.
You know…you tell yourself, “I’ll just do this one bad thing. All the good things I do later will make up for it.” But they don’t. There is still that bad thing.
That gets to the heart of all of us doesn’t it? In thirty-two words, Bullock lays his finger on the problem we all find ourselves in as fallen and broken people. When we do something bad—be it intentional or unintentional—we tell ourselves the same thing. We rationalize that we needed to do it so that we can be in a position to do good things, or (more often) that we will be able to make up for it (or at least offset it) by doing good things in the future.
We want to do something to make things right; to make ourselves right.
But inevitably we fail again.
And then again.
And then again.
Now we are not just working to make up for one bad thing, but many bad things. And we find ourselves lost in a horrible downward spiral of trying to show that, in spite of our “bad things,” we are really “good.”
But it doesn’t work does it? No matter how hard we work to “do good things,” they don’t erase the bad things do they? We know that we cannot fix ourselves. We can’t make up for the bad we do by any amount of community service or pious penance. The bad things don’t go away. We may get good at rationalizing them, hiding them, denying them, justifying them, or burying them, but they never go away by our own efforts.
While Det. Bullock is left with no solution, God wants us to know there is a solution for us. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).
1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV), spells out what that grace is.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Peter starts his letter by praising God for what He had given in Jesus. It was not something they needed to pay for, or earn, or measure up to. It was simply given. It was a gift from the Father to them. That gift is a living hope of an inheritance in heaven. It is a living hope because it is a hope that is founded in Jesus. It lives because Christ lives. Because of the resurrection they could be confident that that hope was sure. It couldn’t be taken away. It couldn’t be lost. It couldn’t be broken. It couldn’t weaken or waste away.
Peter reminds them that that inheritance is not here; it is in heaven. There are lots of blessings and joys that it brings now, but the full enjoyment of it awaits in heaven. Peter assured his readers that it was being protected for them in heaven and that—even though it did not look like it right now—they were being protected and prepared for it here. They would come into that inheritance. It was a sure thing.
They were being prepared for that inheritance now. While there was cause for great rejoicing, the fact is that living by faith takes work. Hard work. Sometimes it felt like that inheritance was a pipedream. They were suffering. They were poor. They were being persecuted. It is easy to be faithful and obedient when everything is going your way. It is quite another to be faithful and obedient when things are going backwards no matter how hard you try.
Yet while they were going through all sorts of headaches, heartaches, problems, and challenges, these Christians, Peter noted, still had this joy about them, an inexpressible and glorious joy. As they were doing the hard work of living by faith, Jesus was working His grace deep into them. That grace could be seen, felt, and experienced in a love and joy for Jesus that changed them so much that the way Peter described it is a new birth. They are not what they were. They are something new.
Part 2 comes tomorrow.