Lessons: 1 Kings 19:11-21, 1 Peter 3:8-15, Luke 5:1-11
Hymns: LSB 966, 688, 505, 637, 750, 730
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Take a moment and think about how you would complete this sentence. In order for me to love life and see good days _______.
What comes to mind? To have your family together? To enjoy good health? To be on vacation? To be relaxing in front of the television? To be wealthy? To be eating fancy meals? To have lots of fun? To be constantly entertained?
With a room full of people, we will no doubt have a variety of responses. But few, if any, will fill in the blank the same way we heard in our Epistle. Not many would think of the spiritual dimension to life. We’re too busy focused on our physical lives.
There’s been a huge shift in society over the past century. And I’m not talking about technology or industrialization. Up until a few generations ago, living life was simply about survival. Almost everything a person did for himself or his family was so that he and his family could survive—that is, to have shelter and enough food.
Today, we no longer look at life as surviving. All that we need for survival is pretty much taken care of for us. We have plenty of food. We have shelter. We have clothing. So we have shifted from survival to making ourselves feel good. We now look to constantly entertain ourselves. We’re looking for that emotion known as happiness.
Our motto is no longer, “Whatever it takes to survive” but “Whatever it takes to be happy.” And being happy is now understood as some blissful emotional state. It is totally centered on feelings and not anything objective. We’ve become enamored with foods and prescribed drugs that make us feel good. We even teach our children to only work jobs that make them happy.
We often think that we have a right to this type of happiness. After all, today we are celebrating our nation’s independence. And does not the Declaration of Independence guarantee happiness? I’m sure you’re familiar with the words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Our right is to constantly seek and work toward this state of emotional bliss, right? Well, the Declaration of Independence is not the Bill of Rights. And that’s not quite what authors of the Declaration had in mind anyway. Now you may be thinking, “But that’s the clear meaning of these words.” But, the reality is some words change in meaning over time. Let me give you an example. The King James Bible has been around for 510 years. In Psalm 47, it is written in the King James, “O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph. For the Lord most high is terrible; he is a great King over all the earth.” Now, how do you understand the world “terrible” today? Synonyms are awful or horrendous. But how was the word “terrible” understood back in 1611? Does the original Hebrew imply that God is not good? Is that what the translators of the King James want us to believe? Of course not. Back then, “terrible” was more synonymous to awesome or filled with awe.
The phrase “pursuit of happiness” has changed in meaning, too. In 1776 “pursuit” meant occupation or practice, just like it does today when we say “pursuit of medicine.” “Happiness” was not some sort of subjective emotional state, but “happiness” was understood as meeting physical, moral, and religious needs. Today we think of the pursuit of happiness as “the unfettered pursuit of self-interest and the guarantee of law to indulge those self-interests” (Larry Peters 7/4/12). The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, however, affirms that “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality, and… these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality.” The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 taught that “religion, morality, and knowledge” are “essential to the happiness of mankind.” “So ‘the pursuit of happiness’ means something like occupying one’s life with the activities that provide for overall well-being. This certainly includes a right to material things, but it goes beyond that to include humanity’s spiritual and moral condition” (First Things 6/19/12).
How often today do you see happiness connected to piety, morals, or religion? More often than not, people disconnect happiness from them. Many think they cannot be happy if they have morals. Many think they cannot be happy with religion. They think it is more fun—and therefore happier—to have neither morals nor religion. Many find them to be stifling and downers.
It is interesting that some of our Founding Fathers understood what Peter taught rather well, certainly better than many today. Many of our Founders saw the importance of both religion and morals. They rightly understood that to be truly free, we must maintain piety, morals, and religion. To borrow words of our Epistle, “He who would love life and see good days, let him be pious and let him hear Christ, follow Him, and receive His gifts.”
Peter is teaching these things when he writes, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days” (1 Peter 3:8-15), which is a quote from Psalm 34. The Holy Spirit, through King David and St. Peter, teaches morals when He instructs us to refrain our lips from speaking deceit and when he teaches us from turn away from evil and do good.
Without piety and morals, society falls apart. Families break down. People do not get along. People take advantage of and defraud one another. Lawlessness takes over.
And such a life is not a life to love, nor is it good.
A life without true religion is not good either. Without Christ, we would not have peace with God. We would all be on the path to Hell. We would not have access to God. God would not hear our prayers.
But with Christ, we have an Advocate who works on our behalf. We have a Savior to save us from our sins. We have the Righteous One to give us His very righteousness. We are granted God’s blessings and given the gift of life.
St. Peter teaches religion when he instructs us to be of one mind, to bless, to seek peace, to keep our lips from speaking deceit, and to follow the Righteous One. And, of course throughout his Epistle, Peter teaches true religion. He writes that Christ died for our sins and that He now saves us through Baptism.
Do you want to love life and see good days? God grants you a life in Christ to truly love and He grants you good days. That life to love is not necessarily that “happiest” life. But since He has joined you to Himself—since He has added you to His flock and calls you His dearly beloved children—since He has taken your sins away and gives you the hope of everlasting life, surely He gives you a life to love.
We can love this new life in Christ Jesus even when everything around us is going awry. If the world seems to be crumbling and everyone seems to be against us, we still have a life to love and we still have good days. How? Jesus is for us. We are baptized and members of His family. He will take care of us. He is for us in every way.
Even amid suffering, Jesus is for us. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus also said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Paul wrote that all who desire to be godly in Christ will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). And Peter declares in our Epistle if we suffer for righteousness’ sake, we are blessed (1 Peter 3:14).
Just as the pursuit of happiness is not all about reaching some sort of emotional, blissful state, so also loving life and seeing good days is not just some sort of carefree life filled with ease that has the feeling of happiness.
Feelings of happiness come and go. But God’s grace, love, and peace do not. These blessings of God are constants in this constantly changing world.
While feelings of happiness are good, they do not save us. Many people who say they’re happy live outside of God’s grace. And many who are downtrodden or depressed still live within God’s grace because they believe in Christ and have received His peace.
St. Peter teaches us to seek peace and pursue it. Peace comes from Christ. Jesus made peace with the God the Father on our behalf by shedding His blood on the cross as the payment for our sin. That peace is granted to us by God’s grace. We receive this peace from the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. As receptors of God’s peace, we are now called to live peacefully with each other—to be of one mind, to have compassion for one another, to love, to be tenderhearted, to be courteous and to bless each other. When these things are done, do we not have a life to love, and do we not see good days?’
And plus, if Christ is for you, how can you not but love the life He has given you? Do you not have good days when God’s mercies are new to you every morning? God has sanctified every day for you to be a holy day. Holy days are good days. Holy days are days to love.
We thank God that He has been so merciful to us to take away our sins, grant us good days, and blesses us with a new life to love! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen