Defend your hope.

These thoughts started a conversation that was had at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church on Sunday, October 8, 2017. The discussion was based upon a reading from 1 Peter 3:15-22 and the “Apostles’ Creed.”
     I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the conversation in your home or small group.  You can download it here.

What comes to mind (images and actions) when you hear these sayings: defend country? defend a friend? defend politics? defend family? defend your faith?

 

In our reading for today, Peter writes to a persecuted church.  “For the first readers, following Christ brought them into conflict with the social norms of their communities and could provoke open persecution.”

Dear friends, since you are immigrants and strangers in the world, I urge that you void worldly desires that wage war against your lives.  Live honorably among the unbelievers…

For the sake of the Lord submit to every human institution…

Household slaves, submit by accepting the authority of your masters with all respect…

Wives, likewise, submit to your own husbands…

Husbands, likewise, submit by living with your wife in ways that honor her…

Finally, all of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves.  Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult.  Instead, give blessing in return… Who will harm you if you are zealous for good?  …regard Christ as holy in your hearts.  Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. (1 Peter 2:11-12a, 13, 18; 3:1, 7a, 8-9a, 13, 15, Common English Bible)

To be very clear, it should be noted that Peter is not trying to defend the institution of slavery, the subjection of women, nor patriarchy.  Instead, he wants the church not to be its own worst argument.  Don’t give unbelievers a reason not to believe in the hope found in Jesus Christ.

Truth be told we, Christians, are often our own best worst argument for following Jesus.  So often we exude spiritual arrogance assuming that our way of being in the world is the only way of being; and, for those who are not like us, we condemn to hell in this life and the next.  We are known more as a people of judgment than we are for the love with which we share.  We are often seen as beggars—reaching out into the community when we need money to support our budgets and capital projects—instead of givers of God’s abundance.  We are often rigid in our belief structures demanding that people believe our opinions, instead of simply inviting them to experience the Truth of God’s Word found in Jesus Christ.

We are often our own best worst argument for following Jesus.  According to the Quadrennium Report, conducted by MissionInsite, the activity of our neighbors (here in Norwich) in a religious congregation or community has dropped by 12.3% in the last 10 years.  That outpaces the U.S. average by half which has seen a decrease of 8.5%.  34.5% of our neighbors, nearly 14,000 people (13,745 people!) claim no religious or spiritual preference.  This part of our community has seen an 8% growth in the last 10 years which is 1.5 times faster than the national average of 5.6%.  Dechurched Christians—Christians who once claimed the faith but do so no longer—account for 95% of the increase in “nones.”

Do you have friends who do not profess the faith of Jesus?  For what reasons do you hear them saying they will not or do not go to church?

 

Do you have dechurched friends?  Why do they no longer come to church?

 

In what ways are you making a good argument for them to gather in community, find, and share the love of God found in Jesus Christ?

 

If we’re the ones (or at least part of the ones) defending the faith—defending the hope found in Jesus Christ—in our community, we’re clearly losing the argument…and we have been for a while.  We’ve got to do something different—and, ultimately it has nothing to do with the seating in the sanctuary, how often the organ is played, whether we sell a building or not, how we utilize the facility, the songs we sing, or our preference for the order and content of worship.  It has everything to do with how we relate to one another.

Therefore, [writes Peter] get rid of all ill will and all deceit, pretense, envy, and slander.  Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word.  Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good.
(1 Peter 2:1-3, Common English Bible).

All of you be of one mind, sympathetic, lovers of your fellow believers, compassionate, and modest in your opinion of yourselves. Don’t pay back evil for evil or insult for insult. Instead, give blessing in return. You were called to do this so that you might inherit a blessing.  10 For
those who want to love life
    and see good days should keep their tongue from evil speaking
    and their lips from speaking lies.
11 They should shun evil and do good;
    seek peace and chase after it.
12 The Lord’s eyes are on the righteous
    and his ears are open to their prayers.
But the Lord cannot tolerate those who do evil.
13 Who will harm you if you are zealous for good?
(1 Peter 3:8b-13, Common English Bible)

Live your life humbly seeking and sharing the love of God found in Jesus Christ.  Be the best best argument for following Jesus; and, when people ask why you’re living so well, “when anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it [–share with passion and conviction the love of God found in Jesus Christ–]do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.  Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you” (1 Peter 3:15b-17, Common English Bible).

Be the best best argument for following Jesus and there will come a day when every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

Amen.

 “The people of God, who are the church made visible in the world, must convince of the reality of the gospel or leave it unconvinced  There can be no evasion or delegation of this responsibility; the church is either faithful as a witnessing and serving community, or it loses its vitality and its impact on an unbelieving world” (“¶130. Faithful Ministry” in The United Methodist Book of Discipline—2016).

 For Christ’s sake, go forth from this place and be the best best argument for following Jesus.  Amen.


Other Thoughts and Questions

  • As you look at your life, who are you trying to convince that you’re a follower of Jesus? Who are you arguing with?
  • 13,745 people in Norwich claim no faith or spiritual tradition: that’s nearly twice the population of my hometown!
  • The faith of Jesus is less about being right about things that were meant to be, and are, a mystery and more about a way of being in the world.
  • Our best argument for Jesus isn’t debatable. It’s a lifestyle, “the Way” to life in this world and the next, for ever—a life of reconciliation and peace.
  • “Don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong” (Romans 14:16, Common English Bible).
  • “Let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, Common English Bible).
  • A copy of the Quadrennium Report, by MissionInsite, for the city of Norwich (CT) can be found here.
  • The urge to incorporate “Reason to Believe” by Rod Stewart in this discussion is strong.
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