"So, what do we say?"
18 July 1999
Text: 1 Peter 3:15-16
So, last week we heard an inspiring sermon, delivered with passion in three memorable parts. We learned that we should be teaching in the Name of Jesus, that is, with authority and we should be filling our towns and places with true doctrine and, finally, we should be bringing the blood of Jesus upon those who either do not know Him, or who openly oppose Him. While I am pleased that such a good report went out concerning that sermon, some were left asking themselves very practical questions such as "So what do we say." This week I want to simply follow up on the mission expressed last week in a practical way. My purpose? To instruct you in how to talk about Christian hope.
Our text says that in our hearts we should set aside, or sanctify the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s focus on the uncomfortable word "Lord" for a moment, because, if you are not comfortable with Jesus Christ as Lord—with Jesus as your source authority, control and direction—you will communicate that to everyone around you. Let’s be blunt. If you’ve been a Christian for three to four years, and you’ve never worn out a bible. . . if your bible is less worn that your Delorean Maine Gazetteer, then you probably are too illiterate biblically. You need to know your way around the bible better than you know you way around your town—the stories and themes of scripture should be part of your mental map, your accessible mental apparatus! You can’t give directions if you are ignorant, or lost. . . you can’t give away what you don’t have. Know Jesus, know the Word of God. Effective witnessing requires preparation as well as willingness.
Right. So you are equipped, or you are being equipped by attending Sunday School, discipleship and/or a bible study. Jesus is Lord of your life with integrity because you know the Word and you are regular in prayer and worship! Jesus is set apart, sanctified in your heart—He is held by you in the highest regard. Because of your exposure to Him in the Word, you are frequently in awe of Him, His wisdom and His truth. You are more impressed with Him than you are with yourself. You are more taken with His truth, than you are with your religious experience. . . experience is good, but truth is better! And you are, because of all this, firmly established as a citizen not of this world, but of that better world which shall come in the fullness of time.
Now let’s hang on to this last thought for a moment. You are not a citizen of this world. Friends, this is a critical distinction. Those who do not know Jesus Christ are, of necessity, citizens of this world; they cannot be anything more than that. We are aliens and strangers, they are residents. And the press of life in this world is tremendous. Our Christian faith is under terrific pressure to buy into the project of "improving life in this world." Let’s call this the "Progress Project." Remember, that’s all the ungodly have—this world, and the hope of making life here more pleasant, bearable until we die. We have more, they don’t. They believe, incorrectly as it turns out, that nothing is more important than this present world, its social and political order. This "Progress Project" may try to persuade us that Christian faith exists to help us become better persons—the old self-improvement/self-esteem project. That is not our mission! Truth is our mission. We are here to teach others about Jesus Christ, His sacrifice and our salvation—to fill the world with true doctrine and not propagate psychological poof about the perfectibility of man. One of the most dismaying things about the present state of Christianity is the sense that Christianity has either been co-opted by the therapeutic culture, or by those who present it as socially useful. We want our children to be exposed to Christianity (as if it were chicken pox and better caught sooner than later) because it will help them be moral.
Christianity, in truth, bursts the bounds of these modest utilitarian expectations. It is, in a sense, so radically anti-conventional that approaching it in these terms is rather like attempting to plow with a domesticated lion! Unthinkable, and unworkable, too. We need to loudly protest that there are indeed several things more important than this present world order, it social and political order. Things like the coming kingdom of God, eternal life, final judgment with either bliss or perdition. We need to relativize the human presumption of modernity—the insane notion that man is the measure of all things, and that reality is finally what we choose to make it. For example, when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be His construction of reality that finally matters! It will be abundantly clear that our "construction," or "reconstructions" of reality will either line up with His truth, or they will totally fail us . . . they will appear for what they are, the puny and rebellious concoctions of a sinful and alienated creature. Instantly, our political gods will topple and those who trusted in the "progress project" will suddenly see how un-free and oppressed they have become. There is more to life than politics, and life itself is bigger than man! What should have pre-occupied us, our relationships to God and others, relationships of truth, love and service, what should have possessed us, a passion for truth and fearless loyalty to Christ, will be all too obvious then. The desperate cries of "If only I had known . . ." or, "If only someone had told me!" will fall like fat stones to the ground . . . unanswered because, if we have been faithful, they will be loathsome excuses by those who knew better really, but chose to hold God and personhood in contempt. Those who prefer ideas to persons, abstraction to real human existence will see the practical and actual consequences of their proud disdain in the blood of many million Abels extinguished by their callous brothers, the idealistic Cains.
What we need to say is that human freedom and dignity are gifts to and for us from a personal Creator and sustaining God. They are not the notions of man, derived from our social experience. They are part and parcel of the world God fashioned for us, part of a moral order that stands over and above our aspirations and implementations. The will to power and the will to worship are both fully human purposes, but the politically obsessive age in which we live would have power usurp worship, or at least so thoroughly eclipse it, that most forget that we were created to know and to enjoy our God. We were made for worship, not to excel at managing this created order and each other!
We need to say that because people individually are infinitely significant, because we are on a journey of establishment as worshipper, and because we have a destiny that our true meaning doesn’t come from what is here, or what we do here, or even what happens to us here! We know, as Christians, that we are headed somewhere after death, that our biological existence is always transparent to the yet-to-come. We are restless now, but headed to final restfulness. We know that we shall stand, in the last day, before the living God, know and be known. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead guarantees this Christian hope. His ascension into heaven convinces us of heaven. Real knowledge yields read hope and settles the question of why we are here, gives life direction and purpose. We need to say, plainly, that all who own Jesus Christ can be there with us, exultant, triumphant, reunited and joyful.
Such knowledge makes us humble. Humble enough to admit that although the future, for us, is secure; it is not under our control. And things are better that way! Our age is haunted by hyper-active control freaks . . . calendar dominated, day timing, predictable schedule grunts who keep the lights on at night so as to hold the mystery and sheer delight of being at bay! If celebration is not penciled in, it’s a monster to be suppressed like pain. We need to talk about that, we need to laugh and encourage barefoot in the park frivolity for far too many have no joy because they have excluded it from their busy, progressive little lives.
Christian hope also gifts us with patience. We know that the best is yet to come. We know that the fullness of who we hope to be awaits us beyond the grave, beyond the dying. We know that the revelation of the fullness of grace, of our glory as sons and daughters of the uncontainable, irrepressible, undeniable Sovereign God of life lies on the further side of all sufferings and loss. So we patiently endure the loss, the imponderables, the seemingly senseless cost of it all because we know that all will be just, rectified and divinely sensible in the end! Impatience is so ignorant.
We are also kind, forgiving, gentle with others because of Christian hope. Final solutions, the extermination of foes cannot be seen as other than lamentable folly and loss. . . all these were potential friends, allies and companions. We value life, and mourn the squander of violence. We see the presumption of the godless, those who assert themselves to be masters of their fate, the makers of designer destiny and ask for God to protect us from the spiritual pride that leads that way! We gently point out that such presumption is a form of hopelessness. We say that reducing all to human decision and human effort is such a puny, little thing. We ask them to consider the inadequacies of their knowledge: Do you really know that you cannot afford another child? Do you really know that your next love affair will be the perfect one? Do you really know you will even have tomorrow? So, who is in control? We believe Someone is. Would you like to know why? If you really only believe in the now, what is the meaning of all your planning? If nothing means anything ultimately, why all this frenetic activity? Are you sailing through life below the deck where it matters not whether you are in a truck, or on a train? Holed up in the ship out of the sun, and safe from the wind and the sea? Why so pale, lifeless and afraid? Does the excellence of our destiny cause you to despair? Do you think you could never achieve it?
Then, we have so much to talk about. You don’t achieve it, it is a gift! Or better, it was achieved for you by One able to do such a thing. He has decided to give you a share in the benefit of His obedience and triumph of faith. You were created to nothing less, and there is nothing more. The whole universe was created for you to enter into fully, and deeply, to recover yourself. You have more meaning in your own soul than the whole course of history, the wars and empires, the shattered cultures and passing civilizations . . . and that knowledge is there that you also may hope with us! Hope enough to engage injustice, untruth and suffering without having to obsess over ridding the world of such things . . . it is enough to take the homeless in, to offer a final drink to someone dying, to give the gift of respect and dignity to someone who never thought to receive it! It is enough to rise above your hurts and disappointments by the rope of forgiveness, to extricate yourself from the snares of fear, anger, bitterness and resentment. To return good for evil, and hope for despair. No, it is not enough actually, it is more than enough. To say Yes to life is a work of love when it is uttered in the face hopelessness . . . for you are called to live beyond history now. This present world is surely passing away. To live without hardness, without irresponsibility, to be instant in service even to the undeserving and ungrateful, that is a life of Christian hope. It makes us salt, and it makes us light.