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Youíre Rich!
October 5, 1997

1 PETER 1:4-5

When the city of Rome burned in AD 64, rumors began to fly that the fire had been ordered by none other than Emperor Nero, who they said, "Fiddled while Rome burned." In an effort to stop the rumors and stifle the accusations, Nero blamed Christians. The church was young then. There werenít many Christians. There were only small groups scattered throughout the Roman Empire, but Christians were already viewed with suspicion. Their primary allegiance was to Jesus Christ and, secondly, to the Emperor. Christians welcomed slaves and women into their churches without getting permission from their masters or their husbands. Christians were odd, and probably subversive, so concluded the neighbors. Christians were seen as threats to the empire, threats to the commonly accepted way of life where slavery, immorality, and emperor worship were the norm.

Nero was smart to choose Christians as his scapegoats. He drew attention away from himself and focused it on Christians. Terrorism broke out. Christians were rounded up. Some were dressed in beasts skins and thrown to the dogs. Some were crucified. Some were tied to stakes in Neroís garden, and set on fire so Nero could walk through his garden at night by the light of burning Christians. It is to churches who were being persecuted that Peter wrote his letter. We are working our way through 1 Peter, slowly but surely!

The days of persecution are not over. Today is World Communion Sunday. We expand our horizons today and receive Communion at a table that extends around the globe. It is not easy for Christians today. Arab Christians are being persecuted in Muslim countries and in Jerusalem. Chinese Christians are being persecuted in China. According to the Readerís Digest in its August, 1997, issue, "Never before have so many Christians been persecuted for their beliefs. An estimated 200 million to 250 million Christians are at risk." The Christian Century magazine, in its current issue, accuses Readerís Digest of exaggeration, which is a trademark of the Readerís Digest. But, even so, Christian Century and U.S. News and World Report do agree that Christians are being persecuted today. In China, for example, Christians are threatening the power and control of the government. "In China," according to U.S. News and World Report, "Caesar is above Christ. Christ can never be head of the church. Itís the state thatís the head of the church." Churches register in China, those that donít run the risk of persecution.

In the United States, and right here in our own community, Christians are often placed in positions of compromise. Doing what is right, according to Christian values and what we believe Jesus would have us do, runs the risk of being censured or even fired.

To you who are being persecuted, to you who are struggling to know Godís will and do what is right, to you who are undergoing trials and temptations, to you who feel lost, to you who feel the future is uncertain and bleak, listen to Peter. You have been given a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, which we looked at last week. Not only do you have living hope; but, verse 4, you have an inheritance coming. An inheritance! Do you or did you ever find yourself fantasizing about receiving an inheritance? The phone rings, a lawyer tells you about a relative youíve never met, never heard of, who has left you an inheritance. One of my childhood fantasies, and I am a big dreamer, which you have discovered by now as I have big dreams for our church! My fantasy was that a long lost ancestor in England had left his estate to a Norris, and by circumstances I never bothered to define, I was the Norris to whom the manor in England was bequeathed! In my fantasy, I became lord of the manor, lived in the big house, cared for by servants, and I treated all my tenant farmers kindly and generously!

Sisters and brothers, fantasize no more. You will receive, verse 4, "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." What wonderful words! In verse 2, we heard the powerful words chosen, destined, and sanctified. Now, in verse 4, let these words roll around in your head: an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading! It will keep its glow, beauty, and freshness. While preparing this sermon, an old gospel song kept rolling around in my head. Let me sing it to you.

My Father is rich in houses and lands,

He holdeth the wealth of the world in His hands!

Of rubies and diamonds, of silver and gold,

His coffers are full-- He has riches untold.

Iím a child of the King, a child of the King!

With Jesus, my Savior, Iím a child of the King.

I once was an outcast stranger on earth,

A sinner by choice, and an alien by birth!

But Iíve been adopted, my nameís written down--

An heir to a mansion, a robe, and a crown.

Not only will you receive an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, verse 5, You "are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time." You are being protected, guarded. The word translated "protected" referred to the defense of a fortress. I think of Fort Snelling in St. Paul, Minnesota, standing high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, protected not only by the height of the bluff, but by stone walls.

Do you realize that you are surrounded by enemies trying to bring you down?

Low Self-esteem telling you that you are small and insignificant.

Lack of Self-Confidence telling you that you will never make it. Discouragement telling you there is no hope.

Cancer and disease attacking your body.

Drugs and Alcohol trying to destroy you!

Envy, Jealousy, Anger, Resentment, all trying to sap your energy, trying to wear you down.

We have enemies! Psalm 23 says the Lord prepares a table in the presence of the enemies. Peter says we are protected by the power of God. Picture yourself in the midst of enemies with a wall around you that the enemies cannot penetrate, nor can they scale. You are safe, secure, protected by the power of God.

Notice the next phrase, however. "Protected by the power of God through faith." You must believe in the power of God. God rarely overwhelms us. God waits for an invitation. You must believe. You must have the faith that the power of God will protect you, guard you for salvation, your inheritance.

What a day that will be when Jesus gathers us up, surrounds with the light, the glory of God, wipes away every tear, defeats the devil and all our enemies. What a day of rejoicing it will be when we all get to heaven. In the meantime, you have a living hope, and you are protected by the power of God. Believe it!

ã 1997 Douglas I. Norris