Sermons

Sun, May 21, 2017

Accounting for our hope

Series:Sermons

The CEO of Qantas––

Alan Joyce––

was recently giving a speech to a business breakfast in Perth...

when a man, who had been hiding behind a curtain, walked onto the stage...

and shoved a lemon meringue pie into Joyce's face.

The assailant––

Tony Overheu––

is, reportedly, a "devout Christian"...

a senior member of the Churches of Christ...

a member of the Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship...

and an ardent opponent of marriage equality.

Singly out the openly gay Joyce for his public advocacy of marriage equality––

or what Overheu described as "corporate bullying aimed at social engineering"––

he said that people like Joyce ought to expect "push back" from "middle Australia".

Overheu's wife was reportedly furious with her husband...

claiming that his actions were inconsistent with Christianity...

but Lyle Shelton––

the spokesman for the Australian Christian Lobby––

seemingly leapt to his defence...

suggesting that opponents of marriage equality were, indeed, being subjected to bullying.

It's a bit rich, isn't it?

Freedom of religion means being free to follow your faith without persecution or discrimination.

It doesn't mean your beliefs can't be held up for ridicule or criticism.

And it doesn't mean that you can impose your beliefs on everyone else...

nor expect the state to enforce that imposition.

And yet...

there are certain sections of the Church that simply assume that the opposite ought to be the case;

that they ought to be able to impose their beliefs and practices on society––

people like Lyle Shelton and the Australian Christian Lobby.

And I don't know about you...

but there are times when I get absolutely fed-up with that sort of garbage.

Frankly, I get angry...

and I get embarrassed...

and I get tired of answering for a Christian voice out there in the community that I do not recognise.

Time and again we get these fundamentalists claiming to interpret the Bible...

claiming to proclaim the gospel...

claiming to speak in the name of Jesus Christ...

and yet, the God of whom they speak––

the God whom they proclaim––

is a violent, vindictive, and vengeful God...

a God who hates...

a God who, incredulously, is not merciful;

and the so-called gospel or good news that they proclaim...

is dripping with bigotry, exclusion, and damnation.

And, frankly, I have had enough.

I have had enough of people saying that those who don't believe certain things...

those who don't abide by their values...

those who are gay...

those who make the difficult decision to have an abortion...

or those who happen to follow a different faith...

are going to hell.

I have had enough of the distorted image that they present of God...

and of the Christian faith...

such that, that's what the average person thinks Christians are like...

and that's what they think God is like.

And, all too often, that's the only "Christian" view that gets reported in the media.

And it irks me that these sorts of groups––

these sorts of bigoted, hellfire-and-damnation people––

are so successful at getting their warped and hateful message across. 

Why is that? 

Is it simply that the media picks up on the fringe––

on the wacky and the weird...

on those who yell and petulantly stamp their feet the loudest? 

Perhaps. 

But surely that's not the whole story.

In answering "why", one media analyst pointed out that it's because such people...

"really believe their message. When that happens, you're not afraid to spend money, creativity, passion and energy to make sure your story impacts people's lives";

while another commentator suggested that their success is, in fact...

"an indictment of the rest of us who seek to bring faith and life together in relevant ways. It is an indictment of the Christian Church's feeble effort to 

proclaim and live the gospel".

In many ways, I think those commentators are right.

For those of us who hold a more liberal or progressive theological perspective...

we're comfortable living with ambiguity and nuance;

we're comfortable living with––

and pondering––

the deep questions of life and faith...

without always needing hard and fast answers...

and without needing to impose our insights and musings onto anyone else.

And, by no means, is that a bad thing.

I don't think that you can be honest––

intellectually or experientially––

unless you're open to doubt and ambiguity and change.

But, that said, there are times when we more liberal Christians are so tentative––

even mousy––

that we actually fail to engage in the public discourse at all.

For a variety of reasons...

we shy away from proclaiming what we, ourselves, have gleaned or have experienced.

We can be so careful in our open-mindedness––

and in our searching and questioning––

that we're afraid to say anything at all. 

All of which means that the words of the author of First Peter––

which we heard read this morning––

can make us feel somewhat uncomfortable:

"Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence".

He was writing to churches throughout the Roman province of Asia Minor––

modern-day Turkey––

who were being subjected to discrimination, ostracism, and harassment...

because they didn't fit in...

because they held different values and priorities from the rest of their communities.

And, note...

not only does he expect his readers to live a very different way of life––

openly...

unashamedly...

and unreservedly––

but he expects that that will provoke questions.

In other words, he expects that their faith and their experience of God's love in Jesus Christ...

will inform and will shape who they are...

how they act...

and how they live.

He expects that their faith will be manifest in gentleness––

that is, in kindness and in humility––

in the way that they consider and relate to other people...

reflecting the love and mercy and graciousness of God...

and that they will do so to such an extent that it will cause people to ask, "why"?

Why do you behave like that?

Why do you treat others with such compassion and grace?

Why do you accept anyone and everyone––

without exception and without expectation?

But, even more than that...

the author of First Peter expects that what will stand out––

what will be distinctive––

and attract questions and queries...

is that they have hope.

He expects that their sense of hope will be tangibly real in their lives;

that it will define their faith...

that it will characterise their experience...

that it will underpin their very way of life.

He expects that the possibilities for life––

and for the world––

that are opened up by the resurrection of Jesus Christ...

will undergird their thinking...

and breathing...

and relating...

and living––

not just on a private and personal level...

but in every respect...

in the way that they engage with the world around them.

 

And, in that sense––

some two thousand years later––

nothing has changed.

 

So, let us proclaim our resurrection hope...

let us be Easter people...

living a life that reflects the transformative power of the risen Christ;

and one that says 'no' to hatred...

to violence...

to vengeance...

and to damnation...

in whatever form it presents itself––

and especially when it masquerades as the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

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