Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:8-20; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
If you know me, this title may seem strange. I am against war or any violence to solve territorial problems. I admit that this stance may be totally unreal. After all, I protect my meager belongings, the property in which I live. I avoid having guests or permanent residents other than immediate family members in the home which I live. I bristle when it seems that someone else is moving to fill the position which is currently mine as a source of earning a living or… even a position which is not paid unless you count the satisfaction that comes from using the talent God gave to me all the while increasing that talent through using it.
Maybe I would resort to violence of one sort or another, if someone were moving into my space and my possessions. So far I have not been tested and I have not tested the waters. I try not to irritate other people but the more I try, the more I fail. So it is probably just a matter of time until my defensive nature will raise itself suddenly and violently.
Here in 1 Peter 3, we have Peter telling us to “… be prepared to make our defense.” What is he saying and why? My first reaction is to think that Peter wants us to confess our wrongdoings or our inaction when we should have acted. But Peter is really saying that we should be ready to give the other kind of confession; the kind that is a statement of what we believe and why we believe and why we are filled with hope. Let us listen to some verses from 1 Peter 3.
“Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”
“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” 1 Peter 3:15
Elizabeth and Mary were best of friends – usually. But there came a day when Elizabeth followed the call she was feeling and started a Wednesday Bible Club with the children who walked past her home on the way from school. She of course did not grab the children as they passed and entice them into her home with fresh-baked cookies. She asked their parents. It was no easy task to speak with their parents because – you know – most parents these days are not casually waiting for their children’s return from school. More likely the parent is getting younger children into the car in anticipation of flying to a music lesson or a cheerleading practice or a soccer game.
Finally, Elizabeth had, in her possession, signed permission papers from parents for these children and Bible lessons began in a respectful, loving way. What is wrong with this picture? Can you guess? Yes, Mary, Elizabeth’s close friend, really did not like children very much and she was actually luke-warm about God and Jesus; never mind about the Holy Spirit. But, most of all, some of her friendship with Elizabeth was being eroded because Elizabeth was using more of her time for this new ministry. Yes, ministry. God had called Elizabeth and was guiding Elizabeth and had led the parents to agree to this idea of after-school Bible class for their young children. Best of all, the children loved to be with Elizabeth hearing Bible stories they had never heard. They were also learning a more compassionate style of thinking and behaving.
Poor Mary. She started being somewhat caustic toward Elizabeth. Even when Elizabeth and Mary were together, Elizabeth was bubbling with monologue about the children and which story she would tell next and what creative activity they could do to make the story more memorable. Elizabeth would talk aloud of what refreshments to serve. Poor Mary. No wonder she became critical and unfriendly, slanting toward loud criticism of this new endeavor that had come to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was wise and realized that this situation was not good. Somehow, she needed to have Mary understand why Elizabeth was using money, time, effort, and latent talent in sharing God with these willing children. Elizabeth went to the source of all wisdom – God – to transform this situation. It came to her that Mary likes to use her talent for baking. So instead of speaking a defense to Mary, Elizabeth casually mentioned to Mary one Wednesday that Elizabeth was short on time and did not have anything special for the children to eat. In the next second Mary was offering to bake for the Wednesday after-school Bible Club. Peter said that we should be prepared to make our defense for our belief and action that comes from hope in Jesus Christ. Sometimes this defense is better done in round-about ways.
Peter was probably thinking of speaking our defense: our reason for following and serving God in Jesus Christ. Here was Elizabeth making her defense as a quiet invitation for Mary to use her talent to serve Christ through the children. Was this a once-and-done occurrence? You probably guessed what happened. Mary caught the fever. There was excitement in this place when Bible Club was in session. Mary would not be ready to acknowledge this, but the Holy Spirit was here, probably enjoying Mary’s double chocolate with marshmallow icing cupcakes along with the children.
How do you make your defense for taking time each week to be present in worship; maybe, being part of worship? How do you explain the joy that walks with you as you leave and your neighbor notices? Or, the restaurant waitress notices? When she remarks about the happy, relaxed face you are wearing, what do you say? Think! What do you say? Is it time to be honest about your joy? Is it time to be bold? Is it time to make your defense so that the waitress will catch the hope that is in your whole being? I speak to myself also. Do I make my defense gently and reverently? Do I extend an invitation to share this joy and hope that is available to the waitress?
Usually we think of the word “apology” as something we say when we have hurt someone or done something ridiculous or when we have forgotten to do something we had promised to do. Well, it happens that the word “apology” also means to defend your belief or your thesis as in a requirement to earn certain degrees. In religious training, we find the word “apologetics.” That course involves “defending” what we believe. It does not mean being sorry or saying a strong “excuse me.” It is here from Peter. Be prepared to make your defense for the hope that is in you.
Our designated Psalm today – Psalm 66 – has this verse that pops right into our eyeballs. Verse 16 says, “Come and listen, all you who believe, and I will tell you what God has done for me.” And, in the following verses we hear the apology, the defense, of the Psalmist for his belief. Here it is:
“I called out to God with my mouth, and praised the Lord with my tongue. If I had cherished evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me; but in truth God has heard me and has attended to the sound of my prayer. Blessed be God,who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld unfailing love from me.”
Paul, the apostle, the one who started many, many churches, the one who wrote many profound and encouraging letters to those churches which are included in our New Testament, spoke his defense in various ways, at various times and places. In Acts 17:30-31, we have one such apology. I read from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.
“In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him. He has set a day when he will judge the world’s people with fairness. And he has chosen the man Jesus to do the judging for him. God has given proof of this to all of us by raising Jesus from death.”
In the gospel of John, in chapter 14:15-21, we have John’s apology, John’s defense, using the words of Jesus as John heard them. John was one of the twelve disciples, also called apostles.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spiritof truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. I willnot leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
How would you speak or write your defense? When I am asked about the puzzling writings in the Bible; when I am asked why bad things happen to good people, I do not have anything even close to reasonable to say. I can’t even say that we should believe blindly. What I say with my whole heart is that I don’t know why God does what we say he does and doesn’t do. But, with all certainty I know intimately that God is with me every minute of every day. The times that I have recognized God’s presence and caring and omnipotence (which is to say the utmost power that God has) would fill a book. These are little and big things – like an almost automobile accident, ordering my day so that it works, restoring relationship, showing me that I just imagined a problem in a relationship, healing me; like opening doors for work and growing in ministry, and, yes, managing my finances.
My apology, my defense, is that I have watched people become healed physically through God’s mercy and healing power; through medical people and love. I have also witnessed healing as the passage to life everlasting where pain and tears are no more. What is your apology, your defense, for your belief in God when it seems unrealistic and silly to the people who are watching?
O Lord God – God as Father, God as Son, God as Holy Spirit, grant us this thing called faith and put the defense, the apology, in our hearts and minds and on our lips. We know you are real. Help us to confess and explain and live this reality so that unknowing people may come to belief. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen