The Rev. Dr. Barry C. Black
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This is Military Recognition Sunday, and I I’m thankful to the God who has given us people who embraced the notion that there is no greater love than a willingness to place your life on the line for someone else. I was blessed to spend 27 years in the United States Navy. I have had debates with other chaplains regarding which branch of the armed services Jesus would have been a member of. And I simply say to them, boats and water, and that is the end of the discussion. But what a privilege it is to celebrate those who defend their country. And I would like to talk today about defending your hope, defending your hope.
Between my high school graduation and my freshman year in college, I was a colporteur and colporteur is a rather arcane word to describe someone who is selling religious books from door to door. You are a door to door sales person, and you are selling religious books. Or as they would say, in my denomination, you are placing truth filled literature into the homes of people. You meet many, many interesting people. I felt prepared for the responsibility because I had matriculated at Christian schools from grade one all the way through high school. I was preparing to go to a Christian university in Huntsville, Alabama, and I was being this religious book sales person in Columbus, Ohio.
I knocked on the door one day and the gentlemen invited me in and asked me to defend my hope. “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. I am.”
“Why are you a Christian?”
“Well, the Bible says,” and he interrupted me. He said he doesn’t believe in the Bible and he doesn’t believe in God. So it was as if he had taken all of my weapons from me. I flailed around like Samson shorn. I couldn’t come up with anything. And then he went on the offensive. He quoted David Hume. He quoted the noted agnostic, Robert Ingersoll. I still remember the pessimistic peroration of one of Ingersoll speeches that he quoted from “life,” he said, “is a narrow veil between the cold and barren peaks of two eternities. We strive in vain to peer beyond its heights. We cry aloud, and the only answer is the echo of a wailing cry.” I didn’t try to sell him anything. I left his home as quickly as I could, but as I walked to my next encounter, I made a promise to myself that I would never be in a position again, where I would not be able to defend my hope, to be able to defend my faith, to be able to defend my experiential relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
That is what our wonderfully epistle is talking about. In 1 Peter, chapter 3, verses 15 and 16, it is challenging us to be defenders of our faith. And it says, “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is within you in gentleness and reverence.” It continues in verse 16, “having a good conscience that when they defame you as evil, those who revile you will see your good conduct and will be ashamed.” The Bible is challenging us to be defenders of hope. Now, why is this so important? We are living during this COVID-19 challenge and there are so many people who are asking questions. I go to the Senate each day. I convene the upper chamber with an invocation and I have lawmakers who are asking questions. How is it that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God can permit something like this to happen to his world? I have staffers who are asking questions as they wrestle with issues of theodicy. Why did my friend die? Why did my loved one die? Chaplain, you have a hope, you have optimism. What is the reason that you can believe that an all-powerful and all loving God would permit a situation like this on planet earth? We need to be defenders of hope because people expect us of it, but God is commanding it in 1 Peter 3:15. “But sanctify the Lord God in your heart, and always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”
Are you prepared to defend your hope? When I was growing up, we used to sing a hymn I love. “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ,” We would sing. We would ring it out, “the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.” Can you defend your hope? Well, I want to suggest some ways that we can defend our hope.
First, if you’re going to defend your hope, give a sanctified response. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “but sanctify the Lord always in your heart and always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is within you.” It should be a sanctified response. That is the preparation that we need. And the Bible tells us how to experience the process of sanctification. John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them through the truth, thy word by word is truth.” So the process of the imparted righteousness of God comes to us through the word of God. Hallelujah. Hebrews 4:12 says that His word is quick and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing the dividing asunder of bone and marrow. And, hear this, and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the human heart. We do not so much search the scriptures as the scriptures search us. Our blessed Lord gave a sanctified response in the wilderness as he encountered the devil. And he said it is written. It is written. It is written. He used what Ephesians 6 calls the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God, sanctified them through thy truth. Thy word is truth. Give a sanctified response.
Secondly, give a reasoned response. The epistle says give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason, a premise, an evidence driven response. Our blessed Lord encountered a man who was born blind. From the darkness of his mother’s womb, this man had passed into the darkness of this world. He had never gazed upon the waving blossoms on the trees in the summer or the blue sky. He had never seen a sunset or the stars and the moon at night. He had never seen the light in a lover’s eyes. He had never gazed upon the ocean, rolling as it has billowed since creation’s dawn. And yet he encountered the one who spoke the world into existence for John 1says all things were made by him, and without him not anything made that was made. Our blessed Lord gave this man sight. Religious leaders came to this man eventually and said, “Do you not realize that the man who healed you was a sinner?” And this man, he gave an evidence driven response. I’m paraphrasing now. He said, well, I’m not an expert on soteriology. I don’t know anything about the science of salvation, but I know one thing. I was blind this morning and now I can see. And that is what our gospel lesson is talking about. It is talking about another helper and advocate. The Greek word is paracletus. Jesus says in the gospel lesson, John 14:15, “if you love me, keep my commandments and I will send you another helper. I will send you an advocate. Someone who can help you before the tribunal, he will lead and guide you to the truth. Moreover, he will not only be with you, praise God, but he will be in you. The 10th maker from Tarsus, the apostle Paul was aware of that. And in first Corinthians 6:19, he says, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, praise God.” And you are not your own. Oh chaplain, how can I have the Holy Spirit living in me? How can I get that blessing? How can I have the paracletus who will lead me to the truth so that I can defend my hope? Luke 11:13, “If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more is your heavenly father eager to give his Holy Spirit?” Wow. To those who ask, for over 30 years now, I have prayed Luke 11:13 on a daily basis. When I head for Capitol Hill, I am armed and dangerous because I have the paracletus living inside of me.
The third thing that you need to do if you’re going to be a defender of your faith is to give a demonstrable response. Having a good conscience, so that when they defame you as evil doers, those who revile your good conduct may be ashamed. God has placed within each of us, a GPS, a godly positioning system, his paracletus, but also the voice of conscience. Having a good conscience, Paul says in Acts 24:16, “I strive to have a conscience void of offense toward God and humanity.” Give a demonstrable response. What are you talking about, chaplain? 2 Corinthians 3:2 says that you are a living letter, read by those around you. Someone said that what you do speaks so loudly, that people can’t hear what you say. Our blessed Lord said in Matthew 7:16, you will be known by your fruits, by their fruits. You will know them. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel everywhere you go. When necessary, you use words.” We should be able to communicate without words. I was driving in, in DC traffic and a woman cut me off in traffic. I should not give the agenda, but it was a woman. And I forgot that I had my clergy collar on and I don’t know what my response was as she forced her way into a situation and almost pushed me off the road. But she looked at me and said with incredulity, “Father!” That was not the demonstrable response, whatever it was that I wanted to give. Without words you are communicating. Peter was so convinced of this, that in his epistle, he said to Christians, married to pagans, don’t try to brow beat them with words. He said, have such an amazing conduct that you, without words, will give a demonstrable response. Imagine what would happen if each of us made a commitment that by the grace of God, we would become defenders of hope. We would give a sanctified response because the Holy Spirit is living in us. And we are exposing ourselves on a daily basis to His power. We would give a reasoned response and evidence driven response. God is not so much looking for theologians as witnesses. He wants witnesses. People who can tell what they have seen and heard and felt. It helps us to do that. Well, Acts 1:8 says, “You will receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses first in Jerusalem, then in Judea, then to the uttermost parts of the earth.” Imagine what would happen if we lived in such a way now, there would be sufficient evidence to convict us of being Christians, simply because of the life we are leading. Edgar Guests, put it this way – “I’d rather see your sermon than hear it any day. I’d rather it should walk with me than merely tell the way. The eyes are better pupils and more willing than the ears. Fine council is confusing, but example is always clear. And best of all, the teachers are the ones who live their creed, for to see good put in action is what everybody needs.” I soon can learn to do it. If you let me see it done. Demonstrable. I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run. And the lectures you deliver may be ever wise and true, but I’d rather get my message by observing what you do. Thou enabled speaker charms me with his or her eloquence, I say, I’d rather see your sermon than hear it any day.
This is what I want to challenge you to do. I want to challenge you to do something I have been doing for now over 40 years. I want to challenge you each day to ask God for the gift of his Holy Spirit in your life. I literally want you to pray Luke 11:13. If you who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more is your heavenly father, praise his name, eager to give his Holy Spirit to those who will ask. And with the paracletus inside of you, you will be a living letter read by men and women who will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. God love you.