Be ready to make your defence – Sixth Sunday of Easter 2011

1 Peter 3: 15,16 “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

 

On Wednesday next the Church remembers St Justin the Martyr. Born around the beginning of the second century, he was a scholar and professional philosopher, who was converted to Christianity and then used his intellectual gifts to commend the faith to the pagan world. He is famous for writings called “The Apologies” – which doesn’t mean saying sorry for being Christian but rather defending the Christian way, giving a reasoned account to enable the questioner to understand. Justin famously gives us one of the earliest accounts of the Sunday eucharist. He met his end in Rome about the year 165 when he was beheaded – a martyr, a witness to Christ, in his teaching and in his death.

 ΑΠΟΛΟΓΙΑ

 

That word “apology” – a defence, an answer – is the word St Peter uses in today’s Epistle: Always be ready to make your defence, to answer, to account for, the hope that is in you. Peter is almost certainly writing for people who may have defend themselves against hostility, perhaps even in court. But for any of us, his words ring true. Every single one of us is meant to be ready to give a reasoned answer to any who ask it of us. The man or woman in the collar is of course a prime target for questions of all kinds. But all of us may have to give account. Perhaps it is when the children or grandchildren want to know why? Why church? Why the Bible? Why be good?

I notice that Peter doesn’t require us to defend the institution called church. Of course, it hadn’t evolved all that much in his time; but this is a mercy, for all institutions have good and bad in them, the defensible and the indefensible. Neither does he expect us to be able to prove the truth of the Creed. But we are expected to make some sense of “the hope that is in us”. That implies that the Christian community is indeed a people of hope, and that you, or I, share that sense of hope. Hope springs from the faith that God is good, and the good is the ultimate reality – and for Peter, this is intimately connection with the belief that Christ is risen. At funerals we often say, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through his great mercy we have been born anew into a living hope by the resurrection..” Somehow we have to find ways of making this hope real and believable for those who question us and say why? Why hope, when the world is as it is? Why live good lives, when it doesn’t seem to matter?

 

 

Peter says we have to be ready to give an account, a reasoned explanation – we have to make some kind of sense, for those who ask us. That’s what Justin Martyr was doing when he tried to explain Christ in the terms of the philosophies of his time. That’s what St Paul is doing in today’s reading from Acts, talking to the Athenian assembly of the Areopagus, quoting to them the pagan poets. I often get a bit annoyed with people who think to prove the faith to people by quoting Bible verses. Unless you are already a believer, disposed to think well of the Bible, to believe what it says, then that means very little. It might be useful for strengthening your own grasp of the faith; but we are to be ready to make sense of our hope to outsiders, and so we have to share a common language of ideas and issues. It’s not about translating into contemporary slang, so much as knowing what matters, both to people and to God, and making connections. And it’s a job given to all of us, for each of us has our own insight which will make sense for somebody else. It’s far too important a job to leave with the men and women in white collars.

Peter also says we are to make our answer “with gentleness and reverence”. Some people think that rudeness and disparaging others adds force to our reasoning – but Peter doesn’t think so. Courtesy, gentleness, respect for someone else’s position – much the best way to make the connections. Paul, wandering around the pagan altars of Athens, could have said some pretty sharp things about superstition and idolatry. Instead he uses the kind of ideas that would make sense and gain the assent of the better class of thinking pagan. Doubtless at the end he had not succeeded in winning over many of his listeners, any more than he had been shaken in his own firm beliefs; but a pattern had been set, such as the likes of Justin would follow, and then other thoughtful pagans, who would become the first theologians and thinkers of the ancient Christian world. That process of dialogue, of trying to make some sort of sense to ourselves and to others, still goes on; and we all have our part to play. As Peter says, “You must always be ready”! But ready to account for our unquenchable hope in gentleness, with respect, and with lives that show the integrity of our words. It is very often not great philosophical insight, or profound theology, but the witness of good faithful hopeful lives and deaths, that best commend the faith and help others to make sense of “the hope that is in us.”

 

Feel Free to Show Me Christian Love at Any Time (Rainbow Cross) T-SHIRT

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