It’s said that the best offense is a good defense. That’s good advice indeed, especially in light of this Sunday’s passage from I Peter 3. In verse 15b we read, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you (NRSV)…”
I was reminded of this passage on Thursday during Ruth’s Pantry when a patron, after receiving their food, castigated our congregation as being hell-bound for our position on human sexuality, diversity, and inclusion. Of course, the first response of our workers was not the most Christlike response. We momentarily forgot I Peter’s admonishment, “Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse (3.9 NRSV)” as we planned, but did not act upon our retribution. I was reminded that we are told to have a defense for the “hope that is in us.” In other words, why do we believe as we do?
It is my goal to here offer my defense for the hope that is in me, should I be asked. The first point I always look to is found in John 3.16, “For God so loved the world…” The Greek word John uses is cosmos, which is the whole ball of wax. Every person is included in my understanding of God’s love. As we say, “all means all.” But, it goes deeper for me.
As I read the gospel accounts of Jesus’ interaction and invitation to discipleship, I only see one instance in which Jesus places a precondition on a person and, strangely, it has nothing to do with sexuality. Jesus invites a rich young man to confront how his idolatry was getting in the way of his relationship with God (cf. Matt. 19.16 ff). His idolatry? The same as ours, possessions. Perhaps we would all do well to come to grips with our own sin of idolatry before we point out someone else’s “sin?”
Further, in John 8, a woman is caught “in the act” and Jesus does not condemn her, but invites her to newness of life (John 8.11).
If I read the gospels correctly, Jesus invites people into the kingdom as they are. As we do not hold the keys to the kingdom, nor does anyone else, we invite persons into the kingdom (NBUMC) just as they are. We then seek to provide a safe, loving, nurturing, environment where God’s grace and love can take root and grow. Where the Holy Spirit leads is the Holy Spirit’s business. Our job is to love, then get out of the way.
Mark records an interaction in which the disciples are unhappy because someone was casting demons out in Jesus’ name and they aren’t card carrying disciples (Mark 9.38ff). Jesus instructs them not to stop him because “Whoever is not against us is for us (9.40 NRSV).” Imagine, declaring yourself to be for Jesus while actually being against him. As in Jesus’ day, I suspect there’s a lot of that going around.
Well, we gave the Pantry patron “a cup of cool water (food) because we bear the name of Christ (Mark 9.41),” and, after discussion realized there is only one answer to the questions we field about our understanding of human sexuality—love. We are called to love, “our neighbors as ourselves (Luke 10.27),” and all God’s children are our neighbors.
We will continue to love because hope is love. In the end, that is all there is.
See you Sunday,