The Way and the Life of Hope 5-21-17

In our first reading from Acts that Sherry read this morning, Paul introduces the Athenians to God. In our second reading, Peter welcomes disciples to the Way and Life, in a manner that they might not have been expecting. This morning, I would like to welcome our 7 new members to St. Luke by inviting you on our continuing hope – to know the Living God and to live into this Way and this Life. Listen to the word of God for you this day.

1 Peter 3:13-22  If with heart and soul you’re doing good, do you think you can be stopped? Even if you suffer for it, you’re still better off. Don’t give the opposition a second thought. Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They’ll end up realizing that they’re the ones who need a bath. It’s better to suffer for doing good, if that’s what God wants, than to be punished for doing bad. That’s what Christ did definitively: suffered because of others’ sins, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones. He went through it all—was put to death and then made alive—to bring us to God. He went and proclaimed God’s salvation to earlier generations who ended up in the prison of judgment because they wouldn’t listen. You know, even though God waited patiently all the days that Noah built his ship, only a few were saved then, eight to be exact—saved from the water by the water. The waters of baptism do that for you, not by washing away dirt from your skin but by presenting you through Jesus’ resurrection before God with a clear conscience. 22 Jesus has the last word on everything and everyone, from angels to armies. He’s standing right alongside God, and what he says goes. 

May 21, 2017

The Way and the Life of Hope

So let me talk to our new members today. I’m so pleased that we have welcomed you as part our community, and that you have welcomed us into your lives. Some of you have been coming here for years, some for just a few months, but already you are part of us, and we are part of you. In our little community, there’s really no hiding. We are part of each other, and every part really counts, so we thank you for your commitment and your willingness to live the Way and the Life of Living Hope.

I have some good news and some bad news about living as part of the Way in and through this congregation. Do you want the good news or bad news first? I think I’ll go with the bad news first, if you don’t mind. We always look for good news in scripture, but we can’t ignore the hard parts – that may feel like bad news to us at first.

The bad news in our scripture this morning is that the TV evangelists and prosperity oriented Christians who have enormous congregations are not always telling the whole truth – at least not according to Peter. Those prosperity pastors like to tell people that when they join the church and say the right words they will be blessed with riches and territory and health and everything will go right for you. There are passages in the Bible that would support that kind of thinking and preaching.

I Peter is not one of them, and that happens to be our assigned reading for today. I wish I could tell you that Peter is not correct – that by joining the church today, you can receive assurance that everything is going to go right for you from now on – that all your prayers will receive an immediate answer and everything in your life will be hunky-dory forevermore like everybody else in this congregation. I wish I could show you that following the Way of Christ will mean that there will never be suffering or difficulty in our lives.

That’s not exactly how it works. According to Peter in fact, we are called as Christians to realize we sometimes end up suffering even for doing good. He tells the receivers of this letter not to repay evil for evil, but to know that following the Way of Christ may at times lead to unmerited opposition and suffering. We don’t know exactly what was happening with these early followers, and whether the community Peter was addressing had already been persecuted or was going through hard times right then, but he clearly warns them that doing all the right things may actually lead to struggle and even other people challenging you or oppressing you.

So here’s the good news. Being rich or poor, living in Bryn Mawr or North Philadelphia, being healthy or sick, being tall or short, skinny or fat, married or single, none of these things are any indications at all about how much God loves you or approves of you. Paul in Acts and Peter in this letter invite us to connect with the Creator of all that is, to have a relationship with the God of all of Life, the One whose love is bigger than anything we can fathom, to follow the Way and the Life.

You all have renewed that relationship today in this congregation by publicly answering a few questions. That may seem like an insignificant thing, but this public declaration of faith and connection with our little merry band of followers of the Way is not an insignificant thing. When you promise today to combat evil and injustice, to resist oppression in whatever form it presents itself, and to accept the grace of the Living Christ, you are renewing a promise to live in the Way, the Truth and the Life.

While that doesn’t come with a promise that everything will always break your way, it comes with the good news that God will be with you every step of the way, and that you can always count on that presence. It comes with the promise that even in your brokenness, God will renew and love you into a life of meaning and purpose. It comes with the assurance that this motley crew of other broken human beings will walk with you on that journey, as we help each other on the way.

This may not sound as sparkly and wonderful as those mega-televangelists of the prosperity gospel and it may be why you’re not joining a congregation of thousands of people, but it is really good news because it is true, because it is absolutely true that this Living Presence will sustain you through everything you have to face in your life.

Peter says always be prepared to account for the hope that is in you. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15 Every month we include that in our newsletter and I make it a discipline of my ministry to name hope in my life and in our community and corporate life. I try to stay in touch with that hope through every month. Every week we start our service by reminding each other of the hope and the good news in our lives, and we hold each other in prayer in the struggles we are facing.

It makes a difference when we commit ourselves to each other and to God. It makes a difference when we say it publicly. That difference is not in how rich we get or in how rich the church gets. It makes a difference because of the hope that we give each other in all the situations of our lives.

Let me just get really specific about this for a minute. Pat Graham came into the church 5 months ago or so, and got excited about coming to this church and being part of this community. Soon after that, she got a diagnosis of cancer that has led to some difficult decisions and difficult treatments. It’s been a rough time and a bit heart breaking to see you struggle and I wish so much that being part of our community could just make that struggle cease – that you’d be done with it today.

I can’t promise you that, but I’m so glad you are here. It has been such a blessing for me to have you and Bill and Charlene become part of our community of resistance and caring. Pat kept saying, “I didn’t come here to be sick. I wanted to be part of POWER and to work with this congregation on everything it does.” It does warm my heart to hear that, I admit, but this journey is bigger than that, actually.

The promise is that we are all on this journey together, broken hearts and lives and all, wherever it leads. We are called to reject the evil powers of the world, repent of our sin and resist oppression. Those are all heavy duty callings. And the really good news is that God, the Creator all all that is, lives in and among us. God’s grace and presence renews and guides us every step of the way, in our families, in our work, in our relationships, in our heartbreak and our joy, in our health and in our sickness, in the births and deaths among us, in our accomplishments and in our simple, everyday prayer life and quiet.

Thank you, each one, for joining us on this powerful journey.

This is God’s for real good news.