Scripture: 1 Peter 3:13-22
Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet 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. It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil.
Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the spirits in prison. In the past, these spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.
approach a people with so many gods. He know he needs to witness to the God he service, the risen Jesus. Here is how he starts. “Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. 23 As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. 25 Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. 26 From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. 28 In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.” Seizing on an altar to an unknown God he boldly states, ‘I know that God! Let me tell you about him.’ Paul knew the hope of his life and where it came from.
In life there are many ‘teachable moments’. When Janna and I were in Yellowstone with four of our grandchildren, there was a question about how much they each had to spend on souvenirs. They had a rather simple view of it. “We can chose something that costs this much.” But then I reminded them of tax. So, gathered around their math-minded grandfather, we had a time of teaching.
From my own past, I remember Grandma Canfield, my dad’s mother, making an off-hand comment about her own eternity. She asked (seemingly somewhat distressed) “when I get to heaven will I have this old body, or will God give me a young and vital body? I firmly believe that the question was not that she didn’t already know and have a confidence in her eternal home, but that she wanted us to articulate it. “No, grandma, God will make all things new!”
Let’s turn to our scripture for this morning. Peter starts rather in an odd place. He asks, “Who will harm you if you are zealous for good?” My first reaction to this statement was, “Let me tell you…!!!” On the surface, it seems he doesn’t understand the difficulties and complexities of life. So many of our forebearers have faced severe persecution, even death, while witnessing to the greatness of God. Oh, but he did understand! That is expressed by his next phrase – “But if you do suffer for doing good… ” The text says, “But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Paul indeed understood both the hazards of and the importance of living “out loud” no matter the circumstance.
So, what is your hope for today? [Here in the sermon I asked for responses from the congregation.]
For me, I have many, many reasons to hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. One of those hopes is found in John 14:21 – “… whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love them and will reveal myself to them.” I love a God who reveals himself every day if I am watching for him. And in those revelations, I find a multitude of reasons for hope – a living hope.
So, how is God revealed in every day? We can experience God in the beauty around us. The God of all creation has done a marvelous job! I see God I the strength I find in myself and in others when strength is needed. I experience God in the many joys I am blessed with. There are so many other ways experience God in daily ways: fulfilments, other people, experiences, answered prayer. What amazing fodder for amassing a living hope. These are the things I can witness to as others question me about my hope. Hear excerpts from Psalm 66: “Come and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me.” This is what I am talking about. The psalmist illustrates the great hope he has, which is generated by prayer and God’s faithful love. But notice that the hope comes in the midst of trials and tribulations – suffering! Here is Psalm 66.
“Shout joyfully to God, all the earth!
2 Sing praises to the glory of God’s name!
Make glorious his praise!
3 Say to God:
“How awesome are your works!
Because of your great strength,
your enemies cringe before you.
4 All the earth worships you,
sings praises to you,
sings praises to your name!” Selah
5 Come and see God’s deeds;
his works for human beings are awesome:
6 He turned the sea into dry land
so they could cross the river on foot.
Right there we rejoiced in him!
7 God rules with power forever;
keeps a good eye on the nations.
So don’t let the rebellious exalt themselves. Selah
8 All you nations, bless our God!
Let the sound of his praise be heard!
9 God preserved us among the living;
he didn’t let our feet slip a bit.
10 But you, God, have tested us--
you’ve refined us like silver,
11 trapped us in a net,
laid burdens on our backs,
12 let other people run right over our heads--
we’ve been through fire and water.
But you brought us out to freedom!
13 So I’ll enter your house
with entirely burned offerings.
I’ll keep the promises I made to you,
14 the ones my lips uttered,
the ones my mouth spoke when I was in deep trouble.
15 I will offer the best burned offerings to you
along with the smoke of sacrificed rams.
I will offer both bulls and goats. Selah
16 Come close and listen,
all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
17 My mouth cried out to him
with praise on my tongue.
18 If I had cherished evil in my heart,
my Lord would not have listened.
19 But God definitely listened.
He heard the sound of my prayer.
20 Bless God! He didn’t reject my prayer;
he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.”
It is good news of great hope that God stands with us even in the midst of suffering.
So how do we witness to the hope we have of God (Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit)?
Here is the crux of Paul’s call to us. In verses 15 and 16 he admonishes, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience.” Respectful humility – that’s a powerful phrase. People can spot a phony a mile away. We need to tell the honest truth as we know it. Don’t make up stuff! Don’t say you’re brave when you’re not. Don’t say you won’t run when you will. Don’t say you’re perfect when you know you aren’t! Paul wasn’t, Peter wasn’t, … none of us is perfect. Peter is saying that we need to speak with integrity. We speak as those who did not deserve the grace by which we live, but who are baptized into a new life, a new way of living. We speak into the context in which we live. We speak of what we know – first hand. That’s the most convincing defense of hope we can give. We speak into the world of others, just as Paul was in Athens. He connected with his hearers on a matter that they already knew or were aware of.
We need to be aware of how our own stories can inspire or teach others. Our most powerful witness to a living hope will be the connection between the stories of our own struggles and failures and the ways God has blessed us with hope. Think about some of the admissions that Paul makes. In Romans 7 Paul talks about how when he wants to do good, he does the opposite. In Corinthians he talks about his thorn in the flesh, and how he was never able to rid himself of it. Yet he proclaims so boldly what God has revealed to him, “My grace is sufficient for you” as God told him. Psalm 66 points to the Hebrew worldview that life isn’t all roses, but God is there even in the midst of the thorns.
Now, we might be thinking, ‘If I can avoid people’s questions, I will never have to witness to my hope.’ After all, Paul said, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope …,”. If I don’t let them ask, I won’t have to speak! But to truly live in the fullness of God’s living hope we must speak. We must seek opportunities to witness to our hope. Other people may be depending on us to help them along their paths.
One final word. We are not responsible for the outcome of our witness to hope. We put ourselves and our story out there for others to see and her and experience, but it is God who nurtures the seed, who gives power to our witness. God is ultimately in control of the outcome. God brings the change and growth.
So my question is this, What things can I do this week to be more ready to speak to others of my hope for living? Set yourself to the task. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman