Saturday, May 3, 2008

Always Be Prepared

Faith Lutheran Church, Miltona, MN
May 4, 2008
I Peter 3:15b-16a

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

During this Easter season our New Testament lessons have all come from the first Epistle of Peter. And here’s one of the most memorable verses from that epistle, from chapter 3 to be exact: 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.

George W. Bush, it seems, has an uncanny knack for coming up with ever more embarrassing mis-statements or mis-pronunciations of common words. In fact, publishing books filled with Dubya’s malapropisms has become something of a cottage industry.

But I wonder if President Bush really is a worse speaker than other politicians? Or is it just--because he’s the president and is therefore “on camera” every day--that he gets to make bigger, splashier, more public verbal miscues!

Think about it. How would you like to be in the spotlight, under the constant scrutiny of reporters just dying to catch you off guard? If some TV broadcaster were thrusting a microphone into my face 24 hours a day, 7 days a week I know I’d come up with mangled syntax that would rival anything our president has ever said!

The truth is that all of us get tongue-tied now and then. All of us have moments when we’re caught with that “deer in the headlight” look—unable to come up with anything intelligent to say.

Perhaps that happens most often when we’re asked a question that requires us to speak about God or our Christian faith. When someone calls us to “speak from our heart” about things that matter, issues of faith—then is when more often than not we clam up, find ourselves at a loss for words, tongue-tied, unable to speak.

You and I can prattle on for hours about the weather, gasoline prices, the Twins, the latest scuttlebutt at work, the juiciest gossip at school, how cute our grandkids are, you name it.

But if someone dangles a question out there asking us to speak out of our faith—well we get that look on our faces--like the way the President appears at a press conference when a reporter asks him a question for which he has no 3 x 5 card answer!

And when that happens, our situation is sorrier than President Bush’s predicament. Because when the President is at a loss for words, it’s usually just over some here-today-gone-tomorrow, issue of the moment.

But when someone invites us to speak of our faith—they’re opening up a door on eternity, posing an opportunity to talk about the most important topic imaginable!

Followers of Jesus simply must expect that others will ask them what it means to follow Jesus. It’s in the nature of things! We can count on it.

Therefore, we’d be wise to think about that sort of thing—before it happens.

That’s the first bit of wisdom that comes to us here in this text from I Peter 3. Always be prepared, the apostle encourages us.

When these words first saw the light of day, being a Christian was dangerous business. The First Epistle of Peter was written for Christians under siege, suffering persecution at the hands of the Roman empire.

Those to whom Peter first wrote were regularly being dragged out of their homes, hauled from their work places, marched at the point of a sword to some tribunal, some stern judge who wasn’t going to mince any words or beat around the bush. “What gives? What’s with you? Give us an answer—quickly now! How do you justify this Christian faith of yours?”

Because Peter’s fellow Christians didn’t know the day or hour when they might be put on the spot—it only made sense for the apostle to advise them: Always be prepared….

In other words: start getting ready now. Formulate your thoughts ahead of time. Come up with, and even practice, your witness to Jesus. Don’t act as though it’s not going to happen.

Dear friends in Christ, I don’t expect that many of us are going to be asked about our faith at the point of a sword or with a gun aimed in our direction.

But we can and we will be asked. The topic will come up. The opportunity will present itself. And when it does--and we get that “deer-in-the-headlight” look, it doesn’t just make us look bad. It makes Jesus look bad, quite frankly. It makes faith seem like some cheap thing that really isn’t worth anybody’s time, effort or passion.

So, Peter advises believers of all ages: get ready before it happens, always be prepared…

And for what should we prepare?

We should prepare for someone to call us to account. We don’t need to contrive chances to do that. We don’t need to orchestrate things. We simply need to be attentive to the opportunities that will, that do, that surely come our way.

It could sound like this: Why do you spend so much time over at that church?
Or when something awful has happened, it could sound like this: Why aren’t you falling apart, given all that you’re going through?

Or it could even sound like this: Hey--what gives you a right to be so happy??

Every day some circumstance, some encounter, some question sets us up to speak from the heart, to reveal something about the source and goal of our lives, to put in a good word for Jesus and his love.

For what should we always be prepared?

I love how Peter puts it in our text: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…

What that other guy who asks you that question is fishing around for is hope, your hope, the hope that is in you, the hope that God has planted in your heart so that you can keep on going, looking up, moving ahead—always toward God’s future.

This is not some dark, grim business we’re talking about. It is about hope. Always be ready to give an accounting for the hope that is in you.

Christian witness or evangelizing or whatever we call it—it gets such a bad rap because of the way it’s so often done—beating someone over the head with a load of guilt, a gunny-sack full of “would haves/could haves/should haves.”

But that’s not what Peter is after here. Peter is after hope! And the persons who set you up with a question or statement or maybe just a look or a sigh—the persons who pitch the ball to you, slowly and right over home plate—they’re not looking for a guilt trip. They’re hungering for some of your hope!

So, dear friends, don’t clam up. Don’t freeze. Let the Spirit speak through you, let Jesus in you have his way with those whom God places in your path. Say it—short and sweet if you prefer, but say it. And don’t worry about being eloquent or impressive!

So, someone asks: “Why do you spend so much time over at that church?”
Answer: Well you see it’s my home, it’s where my dear family gathers, it’s where my Father meets me, washes me, feeds me, speaks to me, takes me by my hand, and sends me back into his world.

Or someone else wonders: “Why aren’t you falling apart in tragedy?”
Answer: Well I guess it’s just that I know I’m not alone. My Best Friend, Jesus, is with me—he will not abandon me—and I trust he will wring some good out of this!

Or some skeptic confronts you with: “Hey—what gives you a right to be so happy?”
Answer: Well, as a matter of fact, I don’t have a right to be happy—but in God I always have a reason for joy. In the Lord, I get to start over fresh every day. Walking with Jesus, I know where I’m heading—into God’s tomorrow. Best of all: I know how the Story ends—in the endless love and mercy of my Savior.

If those sorts of responses help you—by all means, use them—help yourself.

But you don’t need to mouth my faltering words. You can, you will come up with something of your own. Jesus in you, the Spirit your Advocate, will give you something to say.

Get ready now. Plan ahead. Expect to be put on the spot.

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.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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