Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A man in Japan went into a junk-shop, in a little town not far from his home. He was looking for something specific, and after wandering around for a while he thought he saw just the thing. It was a bowl, about twenty centimetres across. Someone had obviously used it for flowers at some stage, and it was still dirty with soil and the remains of a few leaves. It looked, too, like it was broken into several pieces. The owner of the store had probably not thought much about it, since it was fractured, stained, and likely no good to anyone anymore. The man carefully fished the bowl out and its pieces. He disguised his pleasure as he went and bought it at the till.
Then, taking it home, he set about cleaning it. He took care. He had spotted (as the store-owner obviously hadn’t) that it was in fact made of very expensive porcelain. He could gradually get the dirt and soil out of its pattern and make each piece as good as new. At that point, the man still has a broken bowl. But the man is an expert in the practice of kintsugi. Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. Instead of trying to hide the cracks, the Kintsugi technique uses a special tree sap lacquer dusted with powdered gold. Once completed, beautiful seams of gold glint in the cracks, giving a one-of-a-kind appearance to each “repaired” piece. In Japanese culture this celebrates each artefact’s unique history, and makes them a unique piece of art more valuable than if they had remained unbroken. So when the man finished with the bowl, he put it in a place of honour in his home, and showed off it’s priceless artwork to perfect effect. Just what he had wanted. The main point in our Epistle lesson which Peter wants to get across is that we are like that kintsugi bowl.
Your Ransom Price
Peter describes the way his readers used to be. Like that bowl, we were created. Our Creator God has made us for specific purposes and intended our lives to follow a certain pattern. But, instead we have been used for all kinds of purposes other than those for which we were made. When God is not acknowledged, there is a gaping hole at the heart of life (v. 18). It is a God shaped hole, and people fill that hole with all sorts of things which are not God, things like: power, money, sex, recognition, beauty, independence, and equality. And so, we’re like that bowl in the junk shop: we’re broken, we’re covered with the stain of sin, no longer able to serve the function for which we were created
‘Futile ways’, Peter calls them. These are the ways which characterise all of us apart from Christ. These “futile ways” go all the way back to Father Adam. Futile ways are ways that lead to a dead end, ways where we end up broken and on a junk pile. We have inherited reflexes and appetites. Unhealthy, rotten ones. We yearn for the wrong things. Our appetite for sin actually enslaves us. Sin affects our choices, and binds us with the iron chains of habit. Despite the pleadings of our conscience, and despite our resolution and effort to be better, we seem to make little real progress. We remember our Lord’s words, “Every one who commits sin is a slave to sin,” (John 8:34). Do a wrong thing, and it’s your master. And when this master is finished with us, we will be so broken, corrupted and disfigured, that we no longer resemble what God intended for us.
Yet, the key word in this passage is ‘ransomed’ (v. 18). It means that we have been ‘bought back’, like a dirty object in a junk shop. God had come into the junk shop, and had paid the ultimate price for us: the precious blood of the Messiah, God’s own Son. Peter has in mind the lamb that was sacrificed at the Jewish festival of Passover, marking the moment when God ‘bought back’ his people from their slavery in Egypt. Jesus is the lamb of God. So, the sacrificial death of Jesus has ‘ransomed’ us. That is why Jesus was sent in the first place. That was God’s intention from the very beginning.
Peter makes it clear that it is God who pays. We cannot redeem ourselves. At best, we could offer only corruptible silver or gold. This means that forgiveness for God is very costly. Nothing but the blood of Jesus was a sufficient price for ransoming us from our slavery to sin. God has paid that price with the blood of Christ offered up for you. But the Father who sacrificed his Son also approved and accepted this sacrifice. He glorified him by raising him from the dead. It is because of Christ’s work for you on the Cross that you have reason to trust God and what he can do for you. The God who raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory can and will also do great things and similar things for you.
Your Call to Holiness
Now supposing the original owner of the bowl had turned up the next day at the junk shop and had asked for his bowl back, since he wanted to repair it himself and use it to hold flowers again. The shop-owner might direct him to the man who bought it; but the kintsugi expert would be perfectly right in saying that the bowl was no longer available. Not only had he bought it, but he had cleaned it inside and out , turned it into a piece of art, and given it a whole new use, for which it was now really suited. It would be an insult to it, as well as an injustice, to use it simply to hold a few flowers.
“Be holy,” says Peter. Why? “Because God is holy.” The people of a holy God are called to a life that is so radically different from the way people normally behave. They are called to reflect God’s own character. You are the bowl, bought in the shop, and now cleaned up and put to quite a new use, with far greater honour than sitting in a corner filled with soil and a few dusty plants. That’s what ‘holiness’ means: being set apart for God in every part and at every level. God has set you apart and put to a new use. Christians are different from the world around them, wonderfully different. They have a different God, and through him a new and different life, purpose and destination.
Peter is reminding you of this, so that you don’t let any previous owners come up and try to force you back into the use you once had (v. 14). Don’t let your old self squeeze you back into it’s mould. That old self is dead, crucified, buried, and raised with Christ in Holy Baptism. Don’t return to slavery and death. Stay away from the practices and behaviours that you know are contrary to what God wants. You have to put those sinful desires to death daily. Holiness involves daily dying to sin. Saying no to yourself. Return to your Baptism daily, drowning that old self and all of its sin and lusts so that a new you may arise. The sinful desires are drowned, the new creation rises. Each day is a resurrection day, with the Gospel raising us to life, renewing us, lifting us up out of the death of sin to life in Christ.
There is power in the Gospel. It’s the means both of our new birth and of our nurture in holiness. The Gospel is the message about Jesus the Messiah, about God sending him so that through his sacrificial death you might be ransomed, from your previous life, and given a whole new life and purpose in God’s service. How does this work? God’s word is creative: he speaks, and it is done. When we tell people about Jesus something happens. The Gospel carries an energy, a power, beyond mere ‘words’. The word of the gospel is God’s call; it communicates, converts, and sanctifies. When the Gospel is proclaimed, people find themselves gripped by it, transformed by it, given new life through it.
The Gospels leads God’s people into holiness and transforms them to reflect more and more of God’s character in their lives. Through the Word of the Gospel you are sanctified and enabled to love your brothers and sisters with the same undeserved love that was shown to you. Through that life giving, transforming word, the blood of Jesus releases you from your slavery to your own sinful desires. God’s redemption breaks not only the chain that binds us to future doom; it breaks also the chain of our sinful past. Pursuing holiness is not the basis of our salvation; rather, it is the appropriate response to salvation and the ongoing result of salvation in our lives.
You were like that broken, dirty pot in the junk shop. We were born enslaved to sin. Yet, Jesus Christ “has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sins … not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Look to God, hear his word of promise, see his salvation in Christ, and fix your hope on him. Because we have been given hope, we are called to live in it. His Word gave us new life, and his Word will also enable us to live the life he calls us to. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the one who has bought you back. He is the one who has cleaned you up, and has already begun to put you to new use. He has promised to complete this work when he comes again.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.