A Gentle and Reverent Defense
February, 2009 Pastor's Newsletter Article
Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. 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. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God's will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.
First Peter 3:14b-18a New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
A newcomer to Saint Peter recently asked me why we talk about discipleship in our congregation. She was familiar with street preachers, and had some unpleasant experiences with a college roommate who was a person of strong faith (and determined to force her faith upon anyone and everyone). Those are the images that came to mind for her, when she thought about discipleship, and that didn't seem to fit with how she was experiencing Saint Peter.
I've seen a street preacher or two in my life, and I had a few High School and College friends whose evangelical intent was less than gracious, but when I think of discipleship, I think of First Peter. The readers of this letter are instructed to, "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." That is what discipleship is all about. Not converting someone from their failed way of thinking. Not forcing someone to accept Jesus into their lives. Not manipulating someone with guilt or fear.
It has, instead, to do with attending to our own individual faith - to our own individual relationship with God - in such a way that our faith begins to give us hope. Then, grounded in hope (which leads to peace), it has also to do with making a humble, gracious, gentle and reverent attempt to provide a glimpse of that faith to those do not know what it means to be graced by God through Jesus Christ.
When Jesus commissioned his disciples at the end of Matthew's Gospel, he instructed them to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you." I doubt that he had street preachers and aggressive college roommates in mind. My hunch is that he, like First Peter, is pleased when we, with gentleness and reverence, find a humble and authentic way to make a defense for the hope that we have received - the hope that carries us through all times of difficulty and accompanies us through all times of joy - the hope that was given to us as a gift, and which we offer to others as a gift.
Let us grow in discipleship. Let us invite others into discipleship. Let us do so with strength and conviction. Let us do so with gentleness and reverence. And let us trust that through us, the Holy Spirit will move in ways that draw others into a living and growing faith in Jesus Christ.
God's peace to you all,
David J. Risendal, Pastor