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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 21 July 2019 – Matins – Trinity 5
Deuteronomy 30.1-10 & 1 Peter 3.8-18
‘Where there is tea there is hope!’ This was written on the wall of café where I was eating my lunch on Friday. It made me think of our second reading this morning. ‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ 1 Peter 3.15&16 This is the challenge Peter gives the Christians he is writing to. It is, I think, a uniquely British approach to the challenges that life brings to suggest that a cup of tea might help, everything from a bad day at the office to a sudden bereavement can be faced by sitting down and having a cuppa with someone. But is a companionable cuppa all we have to offer in the form of hope? If someone asked you, over that restorative cuppa, why you have hope, how would you respond?
It is not only people in immediate need of hope who ask us questions about faith. People of faith are under constant attack, being challenged to justify what they believe. Even people we know well, including family members, can be dismissive, even rude about our faith – we need to listen to Peter’s teaching, we should not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse – we should bless those who dismiss us and what we believe. ‘Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.’ 1 Peter 3.15&16
As people of faith we have more to offer than a cup of tea when hope seems absent and when our faith is attacked. We should be able to speak about our faith, we should be able to account for the hope we have and we should be able to do this without belligerence, without arrogance and without being supercilious. When we talk about our faith we should only ever talk about it with gentleness and reverence.
For too long too many Christians have hidden behind the belief that their faith is private. People have assumed that, like sex and politics, faith is something we shouldn’t talk about with others. This is nonsense and has led to many faithful and committed Christians being almost inarticulate about their faith.
Because of what I do and because I have family members and good friends who do not share my faith, I am often challenged about faith and have to speak about it. It isn’t good enough to simply say that faith is just a feeling. It is a waste of time to say ‘the bible says …..’, because people who do not share our faith do not trust the bible as a source of truth. We have to be able to talk about our faith with clarity. In the parlance of today, we have to be able to articulate the ‘value added’ to our lives by our faith? What makes life more fulfilled, more meaningful, more hopeful as a Christian?
In my experience most people who do not share our faith think that we cling on to believing a lot of silly, old fairy stories basically because we are frightened of dying. They think that faith is all about trying to get a place in heaven. We have to acknowledge that this is an understandable interpretation of what we believe and that for centuries in the past the Church has used the fear of death as a way of exercising power over people and of getting money out of them! Our forebears have sown the seeds of the criticisms we face today. In addition many think that believing in God helps us to behave well and to behave better than people who do not believe in God.
We have to acknowledge that plenty of people without faith seem to manage to face death with relative equanimity and many people without faith put some Christians to shame by the good that they do. If we are giving an account of the hope we have, ‘heaven’ and ‘being good’ (or being better than most) are not good defences in the eyes of those who criticise us.
I think our defence has to begin with stating that we believe there is more to life than logic, science and reason can explain. Many who attack our faith today are virtually fundamentalist believers in logic, science and reason as the only sources of truth. Having said this we would all, probably make different defences for our faith. As I am the one standing in a pulpit I will share with you a few very short and simple things I say in defence of the hope that is in me.
‘Jesus wept’ John 11.35 – in suffering we are not alone, however isolated we may feel in our lives, we are never alone. When we weep, Jesus weeps with us. The Jesus who wept at the death of his friend reveals that even through grief and pain, new life can come. In my life, I have discovered this to be true and it gives me hope in the darkest of times.
Jesus forgave those who crucified him and by so doing broke the cycle of destructive behaviour surrounding him, an action which led to his crucifixion but also sowed the seeds of healing and resurrection. Difficult though it is, we should never be drawn into maintaining destructive cycles of behaviour – we do this by seeking always to love our enemies. In my life I have discovered this to be true and it gives me hope in the most complex situations.
When Jesus met the grieving Mary Magdalen at the tomb he said her name, ‘Mary’ and she recognised him. This is an example of the truth articulated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, ‘Love never ends’, love is bigger and stronger than anything, including death. And God’s love is not a kind of general, one-size-fits-all love – it is a love that calls us by name. A love which gives us identity, a love which holds us whatever happens. In my life, I have discovered this to be true and it gives me hope every day.
None of this can be proved by logic, science and reason. I do not claim that this has given me life in all its fullness, but it has given me a way to navigate my way through life positively and, for the most part, creatively ….. so far. For what it is worth, as I drink tea with people in need or people attacking my faith, this is some of my defence to anyone who demands from me an account of the hope that is in me. What is yours?
Let us pray
God of reconciling hope, as you guided your people in the past guide each one of us through the turmoil of the present time and bring us to that place of flourishing where our unity can be restored, the common good served and all shall be made well. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
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