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Friday night I attended the Baccalaureate service for Columbia Theological Seminary here in our sanctuary. It was a beautiful service and I hope an encouraging one for the students who graduated yesterday. We sang a hymn during the service that I had not heard before though it is in our hymnal. It’s called Dream On, Dream On and it’s number 383, if you want to look at it later. It’s a fairly new hymn and we find it in the section of our hymnal called A New Heaven and A New Earth. The composer and text writer are both Korean and we were led in singing by a Korean student. I always enjoy learning new hymns particularly when they come out of a culture different from my own. I share this with you because I was particularly struck by the second verse. It says “Hope on, hope on, Easter people: beyond the cross, a dawning sun. Christ, our hope, broke down all barriers: nation, culture, tribe, and clan. Reconciling us to God, Christ made us one human race, joined in peace and liberation, led by justice, hope, and love.” Well, my friends, we are Easter people. We live on the other side of the empty tomb. And as Easter people we are called to live a certain kind of life…one that is marked with justice, hope, and love. A life that is permeated with God’s presence. A life that is filled with hope when all the evidence in the world tells us we have no reason to hope. This way of life is supposed to stand out. This way of life is supposed to tell others something about us and the faith we claim. 1 Peter says that the way we live our lives as Easter people, as followers of Jesus Christ, should make other people wonder about us.
The writer of 1 Peter was writing to a community of the earliest Christians. They were faithful disciples of Jesus at great personal risk to themselves. They were a part of a society and culture which demanded allegiance to Empire above all else, a culture which hailed Caesar as Lord. As disciples of Jesus, they knew they were called to a different sort of life. Their allegiance was to Christ first and not to Empire. This was a costly choice. These earliest Christians were knowingly and willingly living a life in actual defiance of the expectations of their time. They were maligned, harassed, and threatened. I imagine that day to day life was difficult for them in away that I cannot quite comprehend. So, the author of this letter wanted to encourage them by reminding them of their identities as disciples of Christ. And to remind them that their identity and their hope were both found in Christ alone. They were baptized children of God, claimed and cleansed in the waters, called Christ’s own. This was their foundation, their call, and their hope.
We, too, are baptized children of God. For some of us that was done on our behalf when we were too young to fully grasp it. For others it was a personal choice made alongside a public profession of faith. For some still, perhaps it is a choice and profession yet to come. What does it mean to be a baptized child of God? Our writer links the story of Noah with baptism. Noah and a few were saved from the water by water. And Noah was saved by God because of his own righteousness. We are saved by God through no activity of our own and certainly not by our own righteousness. We are cleansed in the waters of baptism which is our outward sign of an inward grace. We believe that God has claimed each and everyone of us before the foundation of the world and when we baptize we are declaring that, indeed, we belong to God and are in need of grace. And as those who belong to God and are saved by grace there is nothing that anyone in this world can do to us or say to us that will change who we are as children of God.
This identity matters, you see, in our day to day lives. We may not give it much thought. We may not think that our faith and our identity as God’s own has anything to do with our daily living. But it does or at least it should. As disciples of Christ we are called to live a certain way. We are called to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. We are led by justice, hope, and love. These things make a difference in how we live our lives each day. It makes a difference in the way we treat other people, in the way we prioritize our time, in the way we raise our children, in the way we interact with God’s creation, in the way we spend our money and use our resources. It makes a difference and it should be a difference that is visible to anyone watching.
The latter part of verse 15 in our text says this: Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you. Eugene Peterson puts it this way: Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are. Now, to me this means that we ought to be living in such a way that people wonder about us. It must mean that the Christian life is different somehow. And it must mean that we are to live that life out loud without fear. Disciples of Christ live their lives in service to others. Disciples of Christ consider their faith when making decisions about all things. Disciples of Christ live in joyful obedience to God. Disciples of Christ do not fear what the world fears. And disciples of Christ talk about these things.
I wonder if that’s the kicker for us…the part where we are ready to talk about our faith. Now I know that we do not belong to a Christian tradition that emphasizes testimony though some of you may have come from traditions that do. In truth, I wish we emphasized testimony more. And when I say testimony, I mean one person standing before the body of believers talking about their faith. It’s not an easy thing to do. Putting words to our faith is not easy. Articulating what we believe about God and God’s activity in the world and in our own lives is not easy. Saying what we believe about grace and salvation is not easy.
One reason that I love the confirmation process in this congregation is because we require our confirmands to articulate their faith and then we ask them to share it with all of us. Each confirmand must not only put pen to paper and write out what they believe but they must also stand before the elders of this congregation and tell us what they believe. How many of here have done that? How many of you think you could? These young people put their hope into words. They put their faith into words. And then they share it with the rest of us. They are accounting for the hope that is in them. They are telling us why they live the way they do.
Oh, I want for each one of us to be able to talk about what a difference Jesus has made in our lives. I want for us to talk about why we do not fear death or its hold on the world. I want for us to account for the hope that is in us. It is the hope that we find in Christ who suffered for sins once for all. It is the hope that we find in Christ, the righteous for us the unrighteous. It is the hope that we find in Christ, who is over the angels, all authorities, and all powers. It is the hope we find in Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God. This is the good news we have to share. These are the faith claims around which we structure our lives. These are the difference makers for us.
In the past few years, I’ve attended two conferences which both had this very idea as their theme. At one we heard contemporary up and coming Christian leaders tell us why they are Christian, why they are followers of Jesus Christ. That was it. And I was blow away. They talked about their baptismal identities, what salvation means for them, and who they are in Christ. It was powerful and so simple. Why Christian? At another, we were all encouraged to tell our own stories of faith. We attended workshops that helped us articulate it in different ways. And we were reminded that our stories are all worth telling and worth hearing.
Always be ready to stand up and say what it is you believe to anyone who asks. Always be ready to account for the hope that is in you. Hope on, hope on Easter people, we’ve all got a story to tell.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
May 21, 2017