6th Sunday of Easter, Proper A6     
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Peter 3:13-22 Sermon                                                 
May 29, 2011

Hymns:  (NOTE:  This was "pick-your-own hymn" Sunday, so the following 8 hymns were selections made by members of the congregation.  We routinely do this in months with a fifth Sunday.)

from The Lutheran Hymnal:
501 "Soldiers Of The Cross, Arise"
658 "Onward Christian Soldiers"
451 "Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus"

from With One Voice:
731 "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"
699 "Blessed Assurance"
654 "Alleluia, Song Of Gladness" (now playing)
718 "Gather Us In"

----- "Eternal Father, Strong To Save" 


 TEXT (vs. 15-16): 15But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

             In one of the congregations I served in the past, there was a member by the name of Rose.  Rose got married later in life to a man by the name of Frank, who was not a member.  And since they had no children, Rose usually came to church by herself.

            I really enjoyed having Rose as a member.  She was as genuine of a person as they come, and she had a heart of gold.  But Rose was also not very subtle either.  You knew exactly what she thought and where she stood.  And when she opened her mouth, you had no idea what was going to come out.  Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was humorous, and other times it was absolutely shocking. 

            This situation happened on the Sunday where I confirmed the first confirmation class I had in that particular church.  We had lots of visitors that day; and after church was over, we served coffee and a cake, which had the names of all the confirmands on it.  It was really quite a joyful and happy celebration.

            Well, Rose was there on that day--I don't think she would have missed it.  As we were all chatting, I heard Rose above the crowd of people when she said, "I think confirmation is nothing more than a nice word for Lutheran brainwashing."  That certainly got some people's attention; I know it got mine. 

            It only got a mild reaction from those who knew Rose; but for the others, they were shocked.  I know it completely caught me off guard.  So I questioned her further about it, to find out exactly what she was talking about.

            For some reason, she was under the impression that confirmation instruction was something like opening up the top of somebody's head, filling it full of a whole bunch of Lutheran-ese, and getting them to regurgitate it--like playing back a recording.  And if they got it right, then they were thoroughly brainwashed, and we would confirm them.

            I've often said, rather jokingly, that teaching confirmation was something like standing and throwing mud at a wall--some sticks, and some falls off.  And when we go through it the second year, we pick it up and throw it again, and hope that more will stick.  Even though there is some rather crude truth in that analogy, that still doesn't completely describe what we actually do, or attempt to do in Christian instruction.

            Back in the late 70's and early 80's, there was a program on television called "The Paper Chase."  It was a show that was about students at Harvard School of Law.  British actor John Houseman played one of the professors who specialized in contract law.  In the opening credits, John Houseman speaks the following quote:  "You teach yourselves the law; I train your minds." 

            This morning, we are looking at our Epistle lesson for today, written by the Apostle Peter.  Verse 15 states, "15But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you..." And believe me, this has nothing to do with any form of brainwashing, or the ability to regurgitate a bunch of meaningless words and phrases.  This involves knowing what things mean, and how they apply personally.  This also involves having the ability to sort things out, to know the difference between wrong and right, and to strengthen the foundation of faith on a personal level.  We need to be able to think things through critically, and to make determinations based squarely upon what God says in his Word, and not based upon human feelings, emotions, or traditions.

            When I met with the colloquy board before being accepted on the clergy roster, I remember telling them one thing in particular.  I said that one of the key things in my training came when I ceased being a Lutheran Christian purely by birth, and I became a Lutheran Christian by conviction.  God the Holy Spirit was working through all of the detailed and intense study; he was working in my heart to give me a deeper and more solid faith. 

            And even though our instruction here in our congregation is not nearly as deep and detailed as it was for me in seminary, the goal is still the same.  I want everybody to be a Lutheran Christian by conviction.  I want people to know why we teach what we teach, and why we believe what we believe. 

            But I don't want you to just take my word for it, and leave it at that.  I want you to be able to open your Bible, and to process the information yourself.  1 John chapter 4 verse 1 states, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."   That's not brainwashing at all.  That's telling you to think critically about what is being preached and taught.  That's a standard you have to hold me to. 

            That's also a standard that you have to carry with you into the world.  The modern ecumenical movement has done much to "muddy the waters," so-to-speak.  Those who espouse this thinking count upon people's ignorance of the Bible in order to make it work.  As a result, people wind up thinking that any old church is good enough, and there's no real difference.  It's all good, just as long as a person is sincere about it.  Now that's really brainwashing!

            We are Lutherans.  We're not Methodists for a reason.  We're not Roman Catholics for a reason.  We're not Presbyterians for a reason.  Use whatever label you'd like here.  Do you know why?

            The primary reason is Scripture itself.  We maintain that the Bible is not only inspired by God, but is also without error in all things.  Most Christian groups will agree as to the inspiration, but will depart when it comes to the part about the Bible being without error.  And when that happens, then all theology becomes subjective and relative.  It becomes whatever a person wants to make of it.  Truth no longer has any foundation.  Because the foundation has become so eroded, we can see the theological mess that has resulted in so many church bodies.

            Another thing that goes right along with this, is the place of tradition.  This was one of the issues in the church in Luther's day.  The argument here, is that people will contend that Scripture itself was handed down by tradition.  So if that's the case, then oral traditions also have equal merit with Scripture. 

            The problem with this thinking, is one of plenary, or the verbal inspiration of Scripture.  2 Timothy 3 verses 16-17 say,  "16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work."  And 2 Peter 1 verse 21 says,   "21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."  The Bible is the only thing that's inspired by God and without error; tradition is not.

            Finally in Matthew chapter 15 verse 9, Jesus upbraids the Pharisees for their traditions, when he quotes Isaiah: "9in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'"

            Holding people accountable to the Bible isn't an easy task.  In the Lutheran Church, we hold to the Book of Concord of 1580 without reservation.  Much of the book exists because of the error that had crept into the church that needed to be specifically addressed.  One key document is the Augsburg Confession, which condemned the Church of Rome for their unscriptural doctrines and practices.  It delineates what Scripture teaches, and what it condemns. 

            We hold to the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, because in the decade or so following it's writing, there were at least four revisions of it.  Those revisions made it weaker and gave allowances for false doctrine.  We want our statements regarding the Bible to be clear and strong.

            But what happens when there are contradicting theological opinions by religious groups?  In answer to that, we know that one of three things must be true:  Position A is correct and position B is wrong, or position B is correct and position A is wrong, or both position A and B are wrong.  They cannot both be correct.

            Now I know that I've given you a lot of content to mull over.  Ultimately however, we keep coming back to the same thing; namely the Bible itself.  To know the hope that is within each of us, we have to go right back to the pages of Scripture and to what God has told us.  And if we look at our Epistle lesson from 1 Peter, the over riding theme is Jesus Christ himself.  Jesus is our Lord, he is our Saviour from sin.  He died, descended into hell, and rose again on the third day.  That's the hope that is within us!

            And then Peter continues on explaining baptism and what it means for us.  Our baptism works faith in our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and gives us a good conscience toward God.  And every time we confess our sins in our worship service, and we hear the words of absolution or forgiveness, we continue to receive that same gift we originally received in our baptism. 

            Up until now, I have been giving you the foundation for the hope that is within us.  Peter talks about the reason, and that's where we need to be right now.  The reason for our hope is faith in Jesus Christ alone.  Faith doesn't come through brainwashing, or by throwing doctrine like mud against a wall, or by training a person's mind.  Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and it is a gift that comes from God alone through Word and Sacrament.  A person can't find faith from lofty philosophies or human reason.  Faith isn't something we can find on our own.  If we attempt to go chasing after things invented by men, then we will always come up empty.

            In our first lesson this morning from Acts, the Apostle Paul was up against some of the most well noted philosophers of the day.  Everybody seemed to have their own ideas about gods and goddesses and all sorts of religions and synthetic theologies.  But Paul comes along and gives them the simple truth of Scripture; the Gospel of Jesus Christ and what he did to save sinful humanity.

            The truth of the matter, is that we are part of the sinful human race.  God's Word shows us how far removed our sinfulness is from his holiness.  There is so much evil in this world, and we are partakers of it.  Our sin has condemned us; and without Jesus, we would have absolutely no hope at all.  We would continue to be lost and condemned creatures.

            But Scripture tells us the Gospel message, and what Jesus has done to save us.  Through faith alone, Christ's righteousness becomes ours.  God no longer sees our sinfulness; he only sees Christ's righteousness in us.  That's our real hope.  And that's the hope that will take us to heaven for eternity.

            In our text for today, Peter also gives us fair warning.  He lets us know that we will suffer on this earth.  But then he asks us point-blank:  Do you want to suffer for doing good, or do you want to suffer for doing evil?  You're going to experience suffering either way, which way do you think is the best way for you?

            It's interesting to see the way people react to this.  People will so often choose the way of evil, because they somehow think it is easier.  And so they will risk jail time, or getting a DUI, or winding up in hospital because of a drug overdose because they would rather suffer for doing evil.

            What's at risk when we are doing good?  Do you think somebody might make fun of us because we're a Christian?  Do you think someone might think we're out-of-touch because we believe the Bible is God's true Word?  Do you think that people will think we're weird because we go to church on Sunday instead of playing golf or sleeping in?  Dare we make any judgments about what's morally wrong?  And if somebody knew we have faith in Jesus and love our Lord, and that we believe we're on our way to heaven...oh what then?  What would people think of us?

            As we live on this earth, it is important that we have the hope Jesus gives.  We need to not only know what that hope is, but why we have it in the first place.  We don't need to have an extensive theological background to understand this either.  The Bible and the body of Christian doctrine are important, without a doubt.  But even a little child can give the reason for the hope that is within them, when they sing that old familiar song:  "Jesus loves me, he who died, heaven's gates to open wide; he will wash away my sin, let his little child come in.  Yes Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so."