John 14:15-21, 1 Peter 3:13-22, Acts 17:22-31 “Words of Hope”
Caitlin Trussell – May 25, 2014
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
[See 1 Peter and Acts readings at end sermon]
My husband Rob has spent quite a bit of his life on the seat of a mountain bike. In his early days, this included riding like the wind through tree-lined gullies in Nebraska as only a 10 year old with his 10 year old buddies can do. During his brief California stint, where he met me, this included riding trail in the Santa Monica Mountains that sit between Van Nuys and Malibu. And now, which I should be clear to say includes the last 23 years, there are few greater joys for Rob than careening around on the trails that wind throughout the Rockies and their foothills. The last year and a half have been no exception. In fact, the ante has gone up at our house where we now speak all things Leadville – as in the Leadville 100. 100 miles of trail at 10,000 feet above sea level just waiting to be ridden in the middle of August. Conversation regularly includes things like dressing in light weight layers for any kind of weather, the total elevation gain of training rides that get progressively longer as August looms, and the nutrition that will sustain those few who actually make it those 100 miles. There are a lot of moving parts in getting ready and maintaining readiness.
Because readying for Leadville is a constant hum in our home, it’s no surprise that what jumped from the pages this week is the readiness preached to us out of First Peter as we are told 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.” And it’s no surprise that this text is paired with St. Paul hanging out with the Athenians. He talks with them about their unnamed God. And he lives his readiness for talking about the hope of Christ in himself.
You can likely imagine that I come into contact with a few people in any given week. Something about running into a pastor seems to spark a certain kind of conversation. A conversation in which I am privileged, and I truly mean privileged, to hear the deep confusion, frustration, and opinions from people about spirituality in general and Christianity in particular.
In these conversations, there is a quote that regularly bubbles up. A quote popularly, and likely incorrectly, attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It goes like this, “Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” When someone says this out loud in a group, the general reaction typically includes soft smiles and nods as if the meaning is well-understood. Sometimes I’ll dig deeper with the person who offers this quote. Sometimes I find that this person has been beaten up by the words of a Bible-bearing Christian or two. In First Peter terms, this Christian was ready to give “an accounting” of the hope in them. However this Christian did not seem to be ready to do it with the “gentleness and reverence” also encouraged in First Peter. And sometimes I find that this person quoting this quote struggled to find their own words to talk about gospel, the good news of Jesus, and has given up trying. Given up trying to find words and given up on finding a community where words can be practiced with “gentleness and reverence.”
The 14th Chapter of John may help us press pause in the ironic debate about whether or not to use words. The reading starts in verse 15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The only commandment mentioned in whole book of John bookends our verses today. In Chapter 13 Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another…Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And in Chapter 15, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you…No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends…You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Jesus words are part of several chapters that are pretty much filled with only words of Jesus. Next time you hear that quote about preaching the gospel without words, consider that we tend to hear this as a choice; as either action OR words. Or we tend to hear that actions are superior to words. This is a false choice. Jesus encourages us to love in action AND words.
My friends, words are part of this life of faith – words for us to hear and words for us to say. It’s easy for us to get lost in our own inadequacy about which words to use. And it’s easy to get lost in our insecurity about what using these words might mean. It’s so easy to get lost that we also forget about the Advocate who is given to us, the Advocate who is in us. Jesus says to the disciples and to us, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever…I will not leave you orphaned.”
This Advocate is infused into us by Christ through water and word at baptism; by Christ through bread, wine, and word at the table; and by Christ through us, through people and word in the community of Christ. Faith is infused into us through these things and people and words – faith that is practiced here in readiness to be exercised in the world. Practicing starts in baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, and in conversation with each other.
In conversation we practice using words that describe the hope that is in us. These conversations happen in groups and 1-on-1. They happen spontaneously and they happen when we plan a coffee with another Christian for just such a purpose. Sometimes these conversations start with a question about what it means to say the words of the Apostle’s Creed out loud. Other times the conversations wonder about what Jesus on the cross means in the face of illness. And still other times the conversation struggles to find a place for words about Jesus in a world of too many words. The bottom line is that the Advocate gives us this community to find the words to use. In part because other people need the hope into which we’ve been drawn. “…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.”
I dipped a toe back into Christianity almost twenty years ago. My own frustrating efforts to find words were met by Christians in a Lutheran church. Christians who held space for my questions and my religious scars with “gentleness and reverence.” I desperately needed to hear words and to use them. First to understand that the gospel, the good news of God in Christ Jesus, is for me. And then to be ready to talk about the hope given by Christ in me. And I desperately needed a place and group of people in which to practice these words.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, gives us just such a place and just such a people. We are given to each other as church to hear a word of good news and to find words to confess that good news. And we are given to a desperate world, inspired by the Advocate to live and to talk about the hope of Jesus Christ, the one who came for you, for us, and for the sake of the world.
1 Peter 3:13-22 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but 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; 16yet 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. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.
18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
Acts 17:22-31 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”