Sunday, May 25, 2014

Testify to hope

1st Peter 3: 13-22. NT page 234 Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. 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, then 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. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who 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. And 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, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him. Sermon Do not fear what they fear says the second scripture lesson – but what is it that they fear? According to some study or another, what people really fear is public speaking, and I can understand that as I fear public speaking too. As much as I love to preach here in this sanctuary, I build up an incredible amount of anxiety about it, and generally by Friday night I’ll have this re-occurring nightmare, where it’s Sunday morning and time for church, in fact I’m already sitting in that chair, only I haven’t written a sermon yet. Last Friday night the nightmare was even worse. Not only had I no sermon, I also forgot to put on shoes. There I was in my dream, no sermon and no shoes, but it was time to preach. Do not fear what they fear says Peter, and I believe that they do fear public speaking, because I fear it too. I love it, but I fear it maybe most of all because once something comes out of my mouth I no longer have much control over it – and the words that I preach, they are a piece of me for you to reject or embrace, and it feels as though you won’t just reject or embrace my words, you’ll reject or embrace me. That is something else that they fear, and I know they fear it because I fear it too. They fear public speaking because they fear rejection, and it seems better to hide than to risk rejection doesn’t it? But without risking rejection there can be no acceptance, there can be no love, if you never ask her out on a date she never has the chance to say “no” it’s true, but she also never has the chance to say yes. So do not fear what they fear, scripture says, do not fear rejection. But I do fear it. I fear it every time we go to the beach – the beach which seems to demand that you just put yourself out there on a limb to be judged. No shoes to cover up your toe nails. No normal shirts or nice long pants. Everyone out there wants to look the same way – on the beach everyone wants to look more like someone else and less like themselves. But you know who I think really has it figured out? The lady in the yellow bikini who walked by, and just because you weren’t at the beach with us last week you still have seen her before I’m sure. She was tan, she was out walking, and it was definitely a bikini she had on, bright yellow, even though this woman was at least 700 years old. But was she afraid of who would see her? Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, says our second scripture lesson, but it’s easy to be afraid. And what do they fear? According to this study that I remember reading, public speaking is the number one fear of North Americans, but I find that hard to believe, because that would mean that public speaking even outranks death. I think that they fear death so much that they’re not even able to talk about it, and while I fear it too, I am ready to talk about it. After all, I’m convinced that not talking about it can only make it worse. Death is one of those things that gets bigger the more you look away from it. If the goldfish never dies but gets replaced by your parents while you’re sleeping, and if grandma never dies either but just goes on a cruise that she’s never coming back from, then how are you ever going to wrap your mind around the reality that one day your own heart is going to stop beating? They do fear death. I fear it too. Reminders of it are all around all the time. We were at the beach last week, and the beach on the one hand is a place that feels very much alive. The waves keep rolling in, which is something that makes children smile. They’ll stand with you holding your hand, and as the waves come in, if they’re small enough, they’ll be surprised each time it happens, and maybe when a big wave comes they’ll scream and run away – again and again and again. It’s wonderful, but if you look down you can point out the tiny mollusks that dig down into the sand. They’re pink and white, and so is the sand that they’re digging down into, because the sand is made up of the shells of last summer’s little mollusks. Some would say that it’s not a good idea to think about these things too much. It might ruin your day at the beach. But better than not thinking about these things is not fearing them. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Do not fear rejection, do not fear death – and with gentleness and reverence, always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you. There is no reason to fear you see, because hope casts out fear, and you have a hope based in water. Just as Noah was saved by God through the ark during the flood, you have been saved by God through baptism, which is not the removal of dirt from the body, but an appeal to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God. No, baptism is not the removal of dirt from the body – it is not a bath which makes you clean…for now, scrubbing off the sin and all its odor only to get dirty again. Baptism is instead the sign that you have been claimed by God, and joined to Christ through a baptism like his, so you will join him in heaven through a resurrection like his. Here then is the foundation of our hope – and by this hope even death losses its sting. By this hope, you can look up from the mollusks digging through the bones of generations gone before and look into the smiling face of a child bright with life and expectation of life eternal. By this hope, you can live again – no longer fearing rejection, for you have been claimed by God, redeemed by Christ, so what do you need the ever allusive approval of the world for? In the eyes of the world you must be a certain size, you must have a certain look – and what that look is exactly – you can only be sure that it is not what you already look like. I hear it again and again and again – you can’t because you aren’t good enough. So you stop cooking in the kitchen for fear that the meal won’t turn out as it should, and you microwave something from the frozen food section while watching the professional chefs on the Cooking Channel. You stop playing sports because someone told you that you’re not good enough. You don’t even go to try out, you settle instead to watch from the sidelines leaving running and throwing to someone else. You can’t sing either – or you think you can’t because you don’t sound like they do on American Idol, so singing becomes nothing more than a commodity to consume and the joy of singing yourself is lost – all because our world has taught us to be afraid of not being good enough while God yearns to hear your voice. But don’t you see – you must not fear what they fear – for in your baptism God finally tells you the truth. You are good enough – good enough to die for. You might fail – but you are not a failure. You might sin – but you are redeemed – forgiven - because Christ has redeemed you. And you need not be afraid, fearing what they fear – for Christ is your sure and certain hope. Amen.

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