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08.23.15 Purgatory for Protestants 2 Peter 3:1-13 Sermon Outline

by on August 24, 2015

Most people think Protestants don’t believe in purgatory. We do. It’s all a matter of timing.

Summary Points

  • Two responses to the delayed fulfillment of God’s promise: lust or love
  • How the present heavens and earth testify to the New Heavens and Earth
  • Judgement by fire and the doctrine of purgatory
  • The role of the Lord’s Table in our salvation
  • Our Eucharistic prayer

By the time 2 Peter was written, arguably the last book written in the Newer Testament, people had grown tired waiting for Jesus’ return. Some of the faithful expressed their impatience with the taunt: “where is the promise of his coming?” They had lost hope, because, “ever since our ancestors died, all is the same and always has been and always will be.”

Today we might hear things like, “There will always be war in the Middle East, famine in Africa, and competition for limited resources.” Such sentiments reflect the tacit belief that God may as well not exist. According to 2 Peter, such thinking eventually leads to a lifestyle of “lust,” by which the Bible refers not to unrestrained sexual desire, but to indulgence in general, including greed, exploitation, and basic self-centered living.

By contrast, 2 Peter invites us to take the long view. The author urges us to, “remember the words spoken long ago by the holy prophets.” We’re also to recognize that God remains present, as we remember “the commands of the Lord and Savior spoken by the apostles.” From this perspective, God exists, but God is patient. Second Peter assures and urges us to repentance because of God’s desire that none of us perish. Note that the object of God’s patience isn’t unrepentant people outside the church, but those of us inside the church.

Taking the long view leads to a lifestyle of “love” in contrast to a lifestyle of lust. The Bible understands love as an other-serving lifestyle. Second Peter refers to “leading lives of holiness and godliness,” which “wait for and hasten” the coming day of God. In other words, 2 Peter invites us to patience in and service towards the New Heaven and Earth promised by God. By actively waiting—not passively waiting around—we actually hasten the fulfillment of God’s promise.

To help us maintain this perspective, consider the testimony of the present creation. Psalm 46 speaks of earthquakes and floods and human wars, over all of which the Lord shall be exalted. In my own state of Colorado, we have enduring evidence of massive forest fires, only months after which new growth begins to sprout. Yes we have the burn scars, but from the biblical perspective, these scars are the reminder both of the loss but also of the deliverance. Those abandoning the community of 2 Peter see only loss; the faithful see loss and deliverance.

What is more, for the faithful, those who take the long-view, remembrance leads to hope. And hope leads to action. It leads to godly love. And this was the reason 2 Peter was written, “to arouse sincere intention” or “pure mind.” The author knows that right thinking—that is remembrance, taking the long-view—will lead to right action.

Second Peter uses the biblically popular image of judgment by fire. The first earth was flooded, he says, and the present heavens and earth will be purged with fire, yielding finally a New Heaven and Earth. Judgment by fire is the basis of what most of us know as the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, though the concept is shared by more than just Roman Catholics. Within Protestant circles, purgatory is becoming more and more accepted.

Our passage closes with an assurance of a New Heaven and Earth where “righteousness is at home.” What’s really at issue in judgment is that righteousness isn’t at home—WE are not at home. The disagreements about purgatory are essentially philosophical debates about time. We all agree that righteousness is necessary and therefore that sin must be dispensed with. What we argue about is how this is done and when. We both agree that God must do it, so it isn’t really a debate about faith, grace, salvation or how these relate to one another. Coming home to righteousness, regardless of how or when, is our salvation because God does it for us.

Second Peter’s use of the images of judgment, fire, purification, and purgation are invitations for us to burn off spiritual calories now, in this life. And why not, since God is going to do it anyway? This is why we come to the Table of grace. We come to remember the prophets and the apostles. We come to remember the command of the Lord and Savior: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We come to change our diet from one of lust to one of love and to burn off our spiritual fat. We come to rejoice in the promise of a New Heaven and Earth of which Christ is the first fruit, and of which we are the rest of the harvest.

God our Creator and Re-creator, we give you thanks for the beauty that surrounds us and the nature that sustains us. In your wisdom you gave us life and the responsibility to steward your creation. Most of the time it is happy collaboration, sometimes we victimize your world, sometimes your world victimizes us. We thank you that we can take the long view of redemption and peace within your creation, the view you yourself hold, and which you presented to us in Jesus Christ.

When he took our flesh upon him, he brought your life to us in a new way, and proclaimed the promise of your faithfulness to all people. He welcomed sinners at his table, and called them to repentance. He illuminated those with darkened minds and called us to right thinking and action. He modeled for us the way of love over the way of lust, the way of sacrifice over the way of selfishness, and he offered himself for the sin of the world upon the cross of judgment.

On the third day you raised him from the dead by the power of your Spirit, showing us your power to bring about a new heaven and a new earth. Send your Spirit we pray, that we to might be raised to newness of life in Christ, and that we may receive, with this bread and cup, the body and blood the Lord and Savior, that with him, we may live according to your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name and the realization of your dream. Amen.

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