Inheritance

1 Peter 1. 3-12

What a beautiful passage centered in the relationship we have with God through Christ, OUR Lord, has given US a new birth, an inheritance imperishable, undefiled and unfading for YOU. It is about relationship with God. The word “faith” is found 3 times in these 7 verses and “salvation” twice. These 7 verses are packed with important words like: new birth, living hope, resurrection, heaven, joy and souls.  These verses are packed full of gospel language and gospel truth.

1 Peter was written to congregations in communities located in what is now Turkey. The people in these congregations did not know Jesus, but like us, followed Him. All the congregations in that area were made up of primarily Gentile Christians which means that they did not have the foundation of the Jewish faith before following Christ. The author of 1 Peter was most likely an elder within the community who named his letter in honor of Simon Peter. The writing style of this letter is too sophisticated to be that of a simple fisherman like Peter and there are clear references to historical conditions from the late first-century, well after Peter’s death in 64 CE. So, while not written by Peter, the letter aims to honor his spirit and name.

These congregations were composed at least partly of slaves and women whose masters and husbands were NOT Christian. The societal norms dictated that slaves worshipped the gods of their masters and women worshipped the gods of their husband’s family. Slaves and women were already at the bottom of the power structure. These Christian women and slaves defied the rules by worshipping differently than their households AND to top it off they were Christians, the most oppressed and persecuted religious group of that time.

As typical of Christian letters, this one begins with praise to God. This praise was in spite of the fact that many Christians endured physical beatings, torture and executions during this era. Christians were oppressed and excluded, enslaved and poor and yet the letter begins with praise!  Praise for new birth, and living hope, praise for salvation and an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading. —

Inheritance is something a person receives from family or close friends when they pass on. People inherit land, homes, cars, jewelry, money and more. Since the earliest times, people have talked and argued about inheritance. The Bible makes more than 250 references to inheritance.  But most of the first hearers of this letter would not be receiving inheritances – their families did not have wealth, they did not have land and the women and slaves were not entitled to receive inheritances anyway. But they would receive an inheritance from God – they were already receiving an inheritance from God, “for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Inheritances can make us feel much happiness and joy and inheritances can tear a family apart. Probably all of us have someone in our family who was hurt by an inheritance given to someone else or not divided fairly or somehow received unfairly. When Leona Helmsley died in 2007, two of her four grandchildren received an inheritance of $10 million dollars each while the other two did not receive one penny “for reasons that are known to them” her will stated. Her beloved white Maltese dog, named Trouble, was left more than the grandchildren, an inheritance of a $12 million for her care. Most of us feel that that the $100,000 a year was spent for Trouble to be groomed and fed was not a good use of the inheritance. But at least when she died in 2011, the rest of her money went to charity.

If we are blessed to receive an inheritance, what we do with it is very important. John-Mark received a small amount of money when his grandmother passed. He used it to purchase a camera and with it took many, many photographs of our travels and celebrations, of our children and extended family. It was a good use of the money and it honored John-Mark’s grandmother.

When my grandmother passed, I received some money and with it I traveled to Turkey and Greece and paid for a family vacation to the beach. My grandparents loved to travel so using the money in that way honored them both.

When Providence receives inheritance as, whether it is $10,000 or $100, the money left to the church is used as designated by the deceased member of their family or for the mortgage fund. It does not go to pay the electric bill or to buy office supplies. Inheritances should be used carefully in order to honor the memory of the deceased and in order to bless the living. What we do with our inheritance matters.

The Old Testament has stories of inheritances given by God. Abraham,the great patriarch, set out with his wife Sarah in faith and hope toward an inheritance which had been promised to them by God. God did not promise money or even land. God promised that the descendants of Abraham and Sarah would be too numerous to count  – their family line would be great in number and long in years – which was an amazing promise since Abraham and Sarah were in their old age and childless when the inheritance promise was given.

The Hebrew people sojourned in the desert on their way to their inheritance, the Promised Land. God directed Moses to save the Hebrew people and to lead them to the land flowing with milk and honey. It took awhile to get there, but after 40 years of wandering, Israel enjoyed their inheritance of prosperous land until hundreds of years later it was taken by the Babylonians.

But 1 Peter promises an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Money, jewelry, homes do not last forever. Descendants eventually die and land can, like the Hebrew people found out, be taken away.

The inheritance that comes through Christ is eternal and living.      As Easter people we live between the NOW and the NOT YET. We can rejoice now in our faith with an indescribable and glorious joy because we have salvation – here and now – and we look forward to our not yet salvation of our eternal life.

So, let’s talk about the “s” word for a minute. I had someone tell me just this week that she struggles with the language of the church’s profession of faith that she made when she joined her church. She said it made her uncomfortable to say that Jesus Christ is her Lord and Savior. It was the Savior part that made her uneasy. We throw around the word salvation in church but many of us do not understand what it really means – especially those of us who grew up in the church and never had a dramatic saving – were never really lost and then found.

“Salvus” from which save and salvation originates means healthy or whole. It is about restoration and can be applied to every act of healing. Salvation is about going from broken to whole, going from hurting to cured, going from hungry to fed, going from thirsty to hydrated. Salvation is physical AND spiritual, mental AND emotional. Being saved is not something that happens to us once and then it is all over, it is not a one-time event. For some salvation begins in one dramatic moment  – going from being blind to seeing, going from being sick to healed, going from being hungry to fed – going from being lost to found –  but true and full salvation happens over and over and gets deeper and deeper. Many of us did not have that dramatic moment but came forward and accepted Jesus as our Lord and  Savior at some point anyway, it was a decision – it was of the mind – it was well reasoned to be the right thing to do for our lives at that time. We may have come to the decision because we turned an age where most people get baptized and make a profession of faith. We may have come to the decision because we think that Jesus’ teachings are the best example for how we should live. We may have come to the decision because we wanted to be part of that particular community of faith. There are many reasons people make a profession of faith but over time that decision needs to move from our minds to our hearts, from our heads to our souls.

Jesus provided salvation in very real and concrete ways – he healed people of their illnesses. He provided salvation in very real ways when through his healing he brought people back into the community that had shunned them and had pushed them to the margins – like lepers and also like tax collectors and sinners. Jesus provided real, tangible salvation for many of the people he encountered and he provided a deeper salvation of the heart and spirit.

When we have salvation we are complete, we are whole, we have shalom. To live in salvation – to live in our “saved” state – takes work, takes thought, takes prayer.

Jesus fed the 5,000 followers gathered bread and fish because they were hungry. He gave his disciples bread and wine as for their physical sustenance AND for their spiritual nourishment. Jesus gave food to eat and water to drink and he also gave living water. —

From outer space, we can see clearly that God’s earth is blue – a water planet. In Genesis it says that creation began when God’s breath spirit swept over the face of the waters.  Scripture is full of water references, more than 500 times water is named and there are also references to rain, rivers, floods and storms. Water – real water that we need to survive, that we need for salvation.

God gifted us with a water planet, flowing down from high in the mountains, joining channels to become streams to become rivers and lakes and ocean. And underground there are vast streams and rivers in aquifers that are refilled from the ground and also replenish lakes and streams. And yet with all this water moving and flowing and covering the face of the planet, only 1% is drinkable. Only 1% will give us physical salvation.

But that 1% is enough, that 1% inheritance is enough for all the plants and animals – enough for all of God’s creation when used with reverence and not squandered. It is enough for the salvation of all life and yet 1 billion people do not have access to clean water. And yet women in parts of Asia and Africa have to walk an average of 3 miles to secure clean water for their families while American families use 300 gallons a day just by turning on a faucet or spigot. And yet the Environmental Protection Agency says that at least 36 states have water shortages, even in non-drought years.

It is enough and yet last summer the citizens of Magdelana, New Mexico, woke up one morning to no running water. Laundromats were closed, restaurants had only bottled water and the hospitals struggled to save lives without water. Water saves, water is holy, water is sacred.

It is enough and yet this year the people of Charleston, West Virginia did not have safe, clean water because of contamination to the river just up from their water intake. Water saves, water is holy, water is sacred.

We have inherited a planet flowing with holy water. We have inherited a planet with enough sacred water to meet the needs of all of life. But this saving water is not infinite and therefore must be cared for and used with reverence.

Salvation is now – God supplies all our physical and spiritual needs, God provides saving water, living water, holy water – and to live our salvation is a daily walk with many, many decisions as to how we use our inheritance.