Are You a Clear Spiritual Bottle?

Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div. - May 21, 2017

1 Peter 3:13-22close1 Peter 3:13-22 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (ESV)

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THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
www.firstpresbyterianwaverly.com

 

 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Are You a Clear Spiritual Bottle?

1 Peter 3:13-22close1 Peter 3:13-22 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (ESV) ; Acts 17:15-31closeActs 17:15-31 15 Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed. 16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign spaninities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the spanine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (ESV) ; Psalm 66:8-20closePsalm 66:8-20 Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
10 For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
11 You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
12 you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance. 13 I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will perform my vows to you,
14 that which my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
15 I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah 16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
17 I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
19 But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer. 20 Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me! (ESV)
; John 14:15-21closeJohn 14:15-21 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (ESV)

 

Listen to the Sermon

 

Who of us hasn’t used ketchup? There’s hardly a restaurant of modest presentation that doesn’t already have ketchup on the table or offers it with the meal. We use it on eggs and fries, burgers and wieners. My mother had a friend who put it on watermelon. The thicker the ketchup the better. As one ketchup jingle years ago sang, “Anticipation.”

 

Ketchup has a history, the early part of which is not nice. Some coal tar was added to make it redder. Sanitary conditions around its preparation and preservation often made it all the more toxic. As late at the turn of the 20th century 90 percent of commercial ketchup was found to have ingredients which were injurious to health. That’s makes today’s Big Macs positively healthy.

 

Almost a century and a half ago Henry J. Heinz was committed to bottling pure unsullied ketchup. He pioneered sanitary conditions for making ketchup and led the way for training his employees in health and wellness. His efforts resulted in a perfect environment for making a ketchup that would not kill you. It was so good that it became a staple on American dinner tables.

 

Heinz was so focused on purity and transparency that he refused to bottle his ketchup in the opaque brown bottles that were common at the time. He used clear glass bottles as a way of demonstrating the product’s purity to the public. Heinz even opened his factory to 30,000 visitors a year so they could see that the company had nothing to hide. “It’s always safe to buy the products of an establishment that keeps its doors open,” he once wrote. By 1906, Heinz was selling five million bottles of preservative-free ketchup every year.

 

Henry Heinz built a lasting legacy based on transparency, earning the trust of consumers because he focused on purity and quality and hid nothing from them. That clear, quality bottle of ketchup, whether it’s the traditional glass design or the squeeze bottle, is still something that people trust well enough to take for granted, even in the red plastic bottles now sold. The transparent character of H. J. Heinz is still reflected in every one of his products since after his death in 1919.

 

Heinz made better ketchup and he wanted to make the world a better place. Are we as “zealous for good,” as Peter puts it in this week’s reading? Are we living lives that are equally transparent, “because of righteousness,” no matter what it might cost us? Are we clear spiritual bottles which allow everyone who sees us to know exactly what’s inside us?

 

Distress and persecution for their faith were the order of the day for the people who received the Peter letters. They lived in a world where greed and fear and lust for power produced all manner of hidden and open agendas and schemes to beat down social and political threats. The righteousness and good works of Christians were perceived as a threat to the extractive system of the economy and rule which enriched the already rich and empowered at the expense of the already poor and disenfranchised.

 

Rather than retaliate or go into hiding, Peter encouraged the believers to live lives of purity in the midst of suffering, “maintaining a good conscience … so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you.” Peter urged, “Happy are you even if you suffer because of righteousness.” For Peter, the real test of the Christian life was the ability to stay pure and transparent, even when others were trying to demean your spirit and pollute your witness. Suffering is inevitable in the Christian life. Peter might go so far as to say that if we aren’t suffering because of our faith in Christ, we have given into or been absorbed by the culture around us. We are opaque bottles of toxic lives. What matters is how we react to the suffering that the world around us creates.

 

When the world pounds us, what comes out? Paul wrote the Roman believers (5:3), that “trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Jesus said that we should rejoice when we suffer, because it means that we are representing him and we are coming closer to the kingdom (Matthew 5:10-11closeMatthew 5:10-11 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (ESV) ). Somehow, in a counterintuitive way, suffering can wind up producing the best in us.

 

We only need to look at a ketchup bottle to be reminded of this. We like thick ketchup, but then we get frustrated having to wait for it to make up its mind to come out of the bottle. The classic glass Heinz bottle doesn’t make it easy to pour out the ketchup. The thick tomato mixture is strengthened with xanthan gum, which makes it a “non-Newtonian fluid,” that is, one which changes its viscosity or flow rate under stress. That’s why you have to whack a bottle of ketchup repeatedly to get it to come out. The trick is to do it the right way. Pounding on the bottom of the bottle only causes the viscosity of the ketchup at the mouth of the bottle to get thicker. Instead of releasing the pent-up ketchup, we block it in. Instead, as every Pittsburgher knows, the way you get the ketchup to transform into free flowing liquid is to tap on the top of the bottle or, even more ideally, to tap two fingers on the raised “57” numbers on the bottle’s neck. That’s the force that produces the good stuff.

 

The pounding of persecution and suffering can produce the same effect in us. It can either cause us to stiffen, or it can trigger a flow of the fruit of the Spirit in us that can season the world. Just as the spice and herb rack offer all kinds of possibilities, so do Spirit’s fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22closeGalatians 5:22 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. . . . (ESV) ).

 

Peter says that this is exactly what happened with Jesus, who suffered for our sins on the cross and yet produced the effect of bringing people to God. When we “regard Christ as holy” in our hearts and respond to the imposition of trouble in our lives by giving an account of this hope in Christ that is within us with “respectful humility,” we produce the kind of fruit that is transparently clear in conscience, and pure in heart, life and motive, the kind that will bring shame upon those who persecute us.

 

Jesus extended his own fruitfulness to the “spirits in prison,” those people who were disobedient in the days of Noah. Scholars debate what Peter actually meant here, but the main thrust of these verses is about baptism, which is the ultimate mark of purity, transparency and cleanliness for the Christian. As God saved Noah and his family “through water” during the days of the flood, so God saves us through baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ.

 

It’s a cleansing that goes much deeper than the removal of the dirt and crud that defiles the body and makes even things like ketchup to be lethal. Instead, it’s a cleansing that sterilizes and protects us from the long-term effects of death. Baptism reminds us that we are people who belong to Jesus and that we are to witness transparently to him in our conduct, our character, and even in our suffering.

 

Baptism is a sign and seal of salvation, But it is also a solemn oath made before God. The flood came as a judgment upon evil people, but for Noah it brought deliverance from their mockery and sin, ushering him into a new life. In baptism, believers identify with Jesus Christ, who separates us from the lost and gives us new life. Baptism is a sign of the new covenant, identifying the person baptized with the people of God and the community of Christ. Neither the ceremony, the water, or the removal of dirt from the body – the spiritual cleansing – saves us.

 

The water of baptism does not “wash away sin” literally. Baptism is the outward symbol of the inner transformation that happens in the hearts of those who believe. So the pouring of the water into the font as part of our words of confession and forgiveness is a visual reminder of what Christ has done for us.

 

What kind of suffering has been pounding at you these days? How can you allow Jesus to help you make it fruitful? In what ways are you living out your baptism, being a transparent witness for Christ in the world? As Jesus said, the true people of God will be known by their fruit, by what they produce. Are we presenting ourselves to the world as an opaque bottle of a vile and potentially lethal potion concocted of hatred, sin, and revenge?

 

Or, are we pure, inviting, and transparent? Does our living invite the world to see the vision of the one who loves us, cares for us and employs us?

 

The next time you pick up a bottle of Heinz ketchup and start to become impatient with the time it takes to receive its goodness, and prepare to pound the red delight out of it, remember where it came from. And remember where you came from, that Christ has made you a pure, transparent bottle of Spirit-filled joy to humbly strike fear and shame into the world that would declare you toxic.

 

General Resources:
“Consider the Ketchup Bottle,” Homiletics, May 25, 2014.
Life Application Bible Commentary, 1 Peter 3:13-22close1 Peter 3:13-22 13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God's patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (ESV) .
Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from The Common English Bible, © 2011 www.commonenglishbible.com.
Copyright © 2017 First Presbyterian Church of Waverly, Ohio. Reprinted by permission.