Sunday, April 30, 2017

Imperishable

Imperishable
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
April 30 2017
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
1 Peter 1: (17-23)

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives   
For your eyes show the way
    Your mind knows the truth
    Your being is the life.
Amen.

I was thinking in the next few weeks ahead we would look to the Epistles, and the various theological statements found therein, specifically looking at what they have to say to the first generations of Christians and to us about what we are to make of Easter, of the Resurrection, and of Jesus running free in our world. This morning I thought we would take a look at the first chapter of the first Epistle of Peter, specifically verses 17-23, but for all intents and purposes, the whole chapter because the context of the chapter adds much to the meaning of the part. Also, I thought the text from Luke that made up the other reading with its emphasis on Repentance and Forgiveness was also important to hear to give us a frame for our entry.
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah[a] is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. . .

Repentance and forgiveness of sins, proclaimed to all nations. . . one thing Luke claims the Resurrection to be about. So now let’s dive into 1 Peter 1, we can start with our official reading, here is 17-23
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
22 Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth[d] so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply[e] from the heart.[f] 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.[

The word that jumped out at me in my first reading of this, and that has stirred my mind to investigate further was the word, actually I’ll call it a word concept because it has multiple forms here, but the word concept is, “perish”, specifically in verse 18, and then again in 23. What do you think about, what enters your mind in Biblical study, when you hear the word perish? Anything? For me it was John 3:16. . . For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not (and here it is) “perish” but have everlasting life. . . Did that enter into your head when you heard this passage read, that most famous of all verses in the Bible? I tried to plant it there just in case it didn’t by singing it in the anthem. . . maybe that was cheating, maybe it worked, or maybe you would have thought it anyway. . . but that is the context in which we most hear this word perish? Can you think of any other times, in any other situations that the word perish is used? I could think of food banks asking for “non perishable food items. . .” but that’s really it, other than in my context as a teacher having my students write it in their papers because they have been taught in someone else’s class, not mine, never mine, to diversify their language and use words like this. . . perish, instead of, you know, simply die. . .. . and it’s not that I think using vocabulary is bad, but using complicated words, just for the sake of using big words, I am completely against, using words to impress the reader, or teacher, about the size of your vocabulary is hardly the correct use of words. There should always be a reason that you would use a word like “perish” instead of the most simple word possible. . . if you are trying to communicate an idea, using simple words is often more effective. . . so why would you ever want to use “perish” rather than the more simple “die.”?
Here is a good example of why you might. I thought about the old Madonna song “Cherish” do you know that, I know I’m showing the marks of my generation. . . but she sings. . .
Cherish the thought
Of always having you here by my side (Oh baby I)
Cherish the joy
You keep bringing it into my life (I'm always singing it)
Cherish your strength
You got the power to make me feel good (And baby I)
Perish the thought
Of ever leaving, I never would

She uses perish simply because it rhymes with cherish, now that is a reason, but she also brings out another use of perish that I hadn’t thought of which is, the old phrase “perish the thought” or strike it completely from your mind. . . interesting use of perish, but you see there should be a reason to choose every word.
So this got me thinking, why does Peter in this letter choose the word perish. . . is he trying to evoke John 3:16, in the same way that we see it, but another thought that that brings to mind is that most likely this letter was written long before the Gospel of John, especially if it is as advertised written by the chief disciple Peter. . . and we should know as well that Peter would not have written this in English anyway, so he didn’t choose perish. . . at all. He chose the wor. . . . phthartes, perishable, or aphthartes, imperishable. . . . which doesn’t mean much to us for sure, but it just might if we look for other times the word was used. . . for instance if we go to John 3:16. . . is that the same word. . . and we find. . . no. . . it isn’t. Instead there for “perish” John uses “apolatai” lit. should be perishing, but with the word “me” in front of it, it becomes negated. .  . should be, but not perishing. . . so although it evokes a connection between these two texts in English, it does not in its original language. So that is interesting, we have this translation choice in the NRSV to use perishing, and it connects us in our minds to John 3:16 in English, but the original text does use the same word. . . other English Bibles must use the same I would guess. If we go to the original, the King James version, I’d imagine they would evoke the tradition, and the connection between this and John 3:16, surely they would. . . but wow they do not, instead of perishing they use corruptible. . . hmmm. . . what about NIV, oh, no they do use perishable. . . it is interesting to look at because when I looked up the definition of the Greek word here it suggested that incorruptible would be more of a literal translation. . . interesting that the KJV would be incorruptible, but the more modern translations chose perishable. . . but I don’t want to quibble over the meanings of words unless there is something to be gained by the difference, or some kind of insight we can glean from the choice about either this Bible passage or something we can learn about translation choices.
First off let’s look at the difference between corruptible and perishable. . . what difference comes to mind. . . corruption gives the connotation of diverting from original purpose, broken, led astray, false, we can’t help but think of political corruption, so corruption is tied to sin. . . and perishing seems to evoke death. . . I looked up perishing in the dictionary and found that it usually means “a sudden or violent immediate death”. . . interesting. . . or it can mean to grow old and wither and die. . . but then it also has this, what the dictionary calls an ‘archaic’ definition linked to corruption. . .so there was a time they were synonymous. . . but long ago. . . interesting that the KJV the older translation of the Bible would use incorruptible, you’d think it the other way around based on these definitions. . . so there is some truth to our divisions, thinking incorruptible makes us imagine the to be free of the brokenness of sin, whereas imperishable makes us imagine eternal life. . . hmmm let’s look again at the text.
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.

So the first is perishable, and he uses a simile to make it clearer. . . not perishable, like silver or gold. . . . and it is talking about the ransom paid by the precious blood of Christ. . . now this is interesting because silver and gold are incorruptible metals, precious metals, but they are also non living things. . . and therefore don’t really, “perish”. . . that elemental matter like gold and silver, cannot be created or destroyed, we would think that the same silver and gold would be around today. . . so it is an interesting simile. . . perhaps the value of silver and gold could perish. . . but that isn’t what they’d have you believe on GoldLine commericials. . . wouldn’t you like an investment that has never been 0. . . so what is it talking about the ransom paid by Jesus. . . is it the incorruptibility of Jesus. . . or the imperishability. . . is the sinless nature of the ransom, the lamb as it said without blemish. . . or is it the immortality of the ransom. . . muddy enough for you?
Let’s look at the other part. . . verse 23

23 You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

See this is where I think the difference comes in. . . is the seed, of which we have been “born anew” from imperishable – ie. Undying. . . immortal. . . living forever. . . eternal. . . seed.  Or  is the seed of which we have been “born anew” of “incorruptible seed” . . . you may think to yourself, why does this matter. . . it seems that both would be fine. . . either would be good? To become blameless and incorruptible cleansed from our sins to eternal life. . . or to be made of the imperishable seed. . . which may in fact result in the same. . . we think that, what difference does it make because we are here, and we have already in many cases decided what we will find in the Bible before we go there, but what if you haven’t. . . what if you went to a passage like this with no preconceived notions, no theological stance. . . it would make a difference then, certainly.
Now let’s look at the greater context beginning in this chapter back at verse 3, after the addressing of the first few verses, to churches actually in Gentile areas of Asia minor, Galatia, Cappodocia, etc.:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,
Look here at this list. . . that the resurrection, through mercy makes us born anew to a living hope, imperishable, undefiled, unfading. . . again could be incorruptible, but paired in the list with the other three, both ideas are covered. . . . we continue
kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice,[a] though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
There is the gold again, and the word perishable. . . but tested by fire. . . would incorruptible make more sense here with our thoughts about gold. . . perhaps.
8 Without having seen[b] him you[c] love him; though you do not now see him you[d] believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. 9 As the outcome of your faith you obtain the salvation of your souls.
10 The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; 11 they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things which have now been announced to you by those who preached the good news to you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
That is interesting. . . that the prophets were prophesying not for their time but for you. . . that it all points at this very moment. . . quite interesting. . . claiming here that the entire Old Testament. . . all those prophets were pointing to Jesus, this promise, and this imperishable, incorruptible gift. . . but again which is it?
13 Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 
But what is this grace. . . is it incorruptibility or imperishability?
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17 
That is what immediately precedes our passage. .  .be holy,
And if you invoke as Father him who judges each one impartially according to his deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. 18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. 21 Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.[e]
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere love of the brethren, love one another earnestly from the heart. 23 You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord abides for ever.”
That word is the good news which was preached to you.
What this passage, what this word study comes down to is this, I think. . . are we to be “Sanctified” by the Resurrection. . . born anew by seeds that cannot be “corrupted”, or are we simply to be Saved by the Resurrection, given like the church sign down the street says, “a free trip to heaven, details inside.” Is there a responsibility to live holy lives, shown the way by Christ, following Christ as an example, born of his incorruptibility, or is there none, we are just born of seeds that will never die, "imperishability"? The distinguishing mark of Peter’s Theology in this letter pushes us in the direction of sanctification, incorruptibility, that we are made holy, and bear great responsibility, always from the redeeming work of Jesus, not ourselves, but redeemed for a recreation of life, here on Earth, the kingdom of God is near. . . all of the promises of the prophets point to this moment, and Christ’s sacrifice is the incorruptible seed that renews us to the image of God in which we are created. . . Perish can also mean that. . . and I think we need both definitions, which may be why Perish is used more, but perhaps we should make sure we hold onto the corruptible part of the definition, and of course the incorruptible piece, for there is much power in the responsibility to the world that God so loves. . . by the grace of God, may we. Amen