Sermon for May 29, 2011

1 Peter 3:15 (Sixth Sunday of Easter—Series A)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

May 29, 2011

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is from the Epistle Reading in 1 Peter 3:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”  It is also the motto for the Christian, yet much more than a motto.  It is a Christian’s way of life.  “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  God’s Word here this morning is very specific in what we are to be about in our everyday lives.  Let’s look at it piece by piece.

Always – That’s a pretty simple word to comprehend.  Always means all the time, every time.  There is never a moment when it is not—midnight, 2 a.m., 6:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 8:23 p.m., and all the hours, minutes, and seconds in between, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year.  Always!

Always be prepared.  Be ready.  Be equipped.  There is to be no time when we are unprepared, unready, or unequipped.  We are prepared 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year “to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

Always be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in you.  First of all, what is that hope?  It is the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It is the fact, the truth, that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, bore the sins of the whole world and died on Calvary’s cross to win our forgiveness.  This same Jesus was bodily raised from the dead on the third day.  He has defeated Satan and death and given us eternal life.  We will live with Jesus forever in heaven, and in the new heavens and the new earth that He will create when He comes again in glory on the Last Day.  That is the Christian hope.  So you and I are to be ready always (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year) to share this information with anyone who asks us.  So are you always prepared to do just that?

When you really think about it, it’s funny what Christians are willing to share with people.  We will give our opinion on the weather.  We will tell others how foolish they are for liking that political candidate and why the one we like is better.  We will talk to others about how lousy their favorite sports team is compared to ours.  Christian will share the joy of a restaurant they ate at last weekend and loved.  They will talk about finances and kids and home improvement projects.  But for some reason, many Christians just don’t or won’t talk about the hope that is in them in Jesus Christ.  It’s strange because Christians are uniquely qualified and prepared to do so, yet we talk about everything else under the sun, most of which we are unqualified to talk about.  But when it comes to giving a defense to those who ask about our hope and faith, we tend to clam up.

And then flow the excuses.

“Well, I didn’t think it was appropriate to share my hope in Jesus.  I didn’t want to offend them.  They probably have their own beliefs; why should I interfere?”

Why shouldn’t you interfere?  Always be prepared to give a defense for the hope that is in you!  If we take the Bible seriously, if we are serious that faith in Jesus Christ alone saves and unbelief condemns, why wouldn’t we want to share that vital information with someone else?  If a person was standing on the railroad tracks and you knew that every day at precisely 2:22 the train comes, would you tell the person on the tracks or would you let them figure it out on their own?  If an individual’s clothes were on fire, might you tell them or not?  We will talk to people about things of little or no significance, yet when it comes to the thing of most significance, a matter of eternal life or eternal damnation in hell, we frequently shy away.  Always prepared—I’m sure of it!  Always willing—sadly, no.

And I’m just as guilty as anyone.  There are times when I will kick myself because I know that I completely blew a God-given opportunity to share my hope and faith in Jesus Christ and I didn’t.  Maybe I got scared, or didn’t feel like it, or simply chose not to for any number of pathetic reasons.  We have a clear command from our Lord Jesus to be His witnesses, to make disciples by baptizing and teaching, always being prepared to give a defense for the hope of faith that is in us, but we fall short.  We fail to always give that faithful witness.

But thankfully the Holy Spirit, the other Helper whom Jesus asked the Father to give us to be with us forever, returns us daily to the cross, our personal source of hope and salvation.  It is at that cross where the forgiving and redeeming work of Jesus was accomplished for us.  It is from the cross where the shed blood of Jesus flows and covers us with forgiveness for the times we are not prepared to speak up for Christ, for the times we fail to make a defense of the hope that is in us.  We are forgiven in Christ and strengthened in faith by the Gospel and the Sacrament of Jesus’ Body and Blood.  We are restored and resent in the power of the Holy Spirit back out into the world.

In our hearts, Christ the Lord is holy.  He is our Savior from all our sins, including our lack of faithful witness.  Yet He doesn’t dismiss us from our joy-filled responsibility to share the hope in Christ that is in us.  He forgives us and re-energizes us and empowers us to go back out into the world and succeed!  It’s like Jesus is the coach in the locker room at half-time.  The team has had a miserable first-half.  Defeat at every turn.  But our Coach doesn’t tell us we stink and to hit the showers.  He says I forgive you for your failures.  He gives us the Holy Spirit to re-invigorate us spiritually, giving us the confidence of sins forgiven, the assurance that Christ is with us through His Spirit as we go back out onto the field of play ready to win the game for the Lord!

The Holy Spirit trains us for our task.  Perhaps we can compare the Spirit to the athletic trainer.  It is the Spirit who gets us in shape again, ready to play, ready always to give our hope in Jesus to others.  As we train, we lift the weights of God’s Word.  We build spiritual muscle so that we are able to say, even in the face of ridicule and hostility, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is the power of God unto salvation!”  We learn, as we have in the Wednesday morning and now in the Sunday morning Bible class, what other religions teach so that we are better able to make a defense of our faith, giving the reasons that we hope in Christ alone for forgiveness and everlasting life.  The Holy Spirit trains us to see where we might have something in common with other faiths so that we can use that as a stepping-stone to give them the Good News about Jesus, the only Savior.

And we also receive training from the Holy Spirit on how to talk to people about Christ—with gentleness and respect.  We speak the truth of God’s Word in love.  We don’t beat people over the head with our Bibles and tell them how stupid they are if they don’t believe it.  Paul didn’t do that in our First Lesson from Acts 17.  He found something in common—the people of Athens were very religious, just like Paul.  Then Paul saw an altar “To the Unknown God.”  And very gently and respectfully, Paul told the people of Athens about this God, unknown to them, but known to Paul by grace, through faith in Jesus, God-made-flesh, who died and rose again from the dead.

And so in this way you and I are trained and always prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us.  It starts at our baptism where we are taken to the cross of our Lord and washed clean from our sins and our failures through water and the Word.  It continues as we are daily forgiven of all our sins through repentance and faith in Christ who died and rose to give us that complete forgiveness.  We are forgiven and sustained by the Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood, strengthened in faith to go out and be His witnesses in word and action with all gentleness and respect.  So with Christ as our Lord and Savior, in the power of the Holy Spirit, always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.  Amen.

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