Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15)
Working in the ministry outside of the walls of this church, I try to keep this truism in front of me. We are called to be faith based but not faith imposed. Our faith in Christ motivates us to acts of mercy, acts of grace, and acts of kindness. We are called to minister to each other. We are also called to minister to those outside of our walls. We are called to minister to those that are obviously more marginalized than we are.
Again, we are called to share the love of Christ with each other, those in our social structures and to intentionally share the love of God with all people, no strings attached. We should be able to give an account for ourselves always. We should be able to speak out and to say: “Yes, I am a Christian and this is my calling as a Christian. I am called to give an account for my faith, and to do that with gentleness and reverence”.
In our first reading this morning in Acts, Paul is addressing seekers of truth on Mars Hill in Athens. His message is this: “There is a marker here to the unknown God on this hill. That unknown God is creator of all things, and in this God, we live and move and have our being. God is the ground of all being. We are made in his image, and as theologian Thomas Aquinas says: “We all have a spark of the divine with in us”. We live and move and have our being in God. We are not here to judge. We recognize that God is everywhere, and we are here to share that good
The “good news” is that God loves you just the way are. And, we are told to share our faith with politeness and gentleness, not to use pressure, not to force feed, and not to shove the message of salvation down people throats. That’s faith imposed. There are a lot of faith imposed ministries that I cannot identify with. I can work with them, but I can’t go with them there. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and we can agree on areas of mission that are important, but I cannot force feed people the good news. I can’t go there. I’m sorry, but I just can’t do it.
God is love and he loves you just the way you are. This same Jesus that I know and love, also knows and love you. I’m here to assist you in your needs, whatever those urgent needs may be. Whether you are a Christin or not, I want to share the love of God with you, and my goal is to improve your quality of life. That’s faith based. “judge not less you also be judged”. (Matthew 7:1)
Mother Terresa of Calcutta used to get a lot of flak from a certain segment of the church. The complaint was that she only ministered to the immediate needs, and not to the structural changes that needed to be changed in people’s lives and in society. That’s a bad rap, because she not only bandaged their wounds and nursed people from the ghettos of Calcutta back to health, but she also provided a sanctuary, a place to eat, sleep and a place to heal.
There are those that say, it’s better to teach someone to fish rather than to give out fish. That statement is true, but until people are equipped and enabled to catch the fish, we are called to minister to the short, intermediate and long-term needs of the people we work with and minister to. Our mission remains consistent, but our methods will change depending on the person or group of people that we are working with. I encourage you to walk this walk, and as you travel to invite others to walk with you.
And, we are also called to walk beside others. We may not be able to solve their problems, but we can walk with them, and listen attentively to the needs of others. When I worked at the VA Hospitals in New York City, part of our job was to visit new patients and get acquainted with them and their needs. All patients filled out a form when they were admitted to the hospital, and one of the questions on the form is their faith tradition, and if the faith tradition is Christian, then what denomination they are.
I was visiting one time with a man, (Mr. Chapman) that was in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. I mentioned to him that I noticed that he had listed his denomination as Episcopal, and that I too was an Episcopalian. He then told me that he really is not in any faith tradition, and he put Episcopal down, because he figured that way nobody would call on him. He told me he was an atheist. I asked him to tell me about why he was an atheist. He told me that he was raised in a Christian home, but was taught that God was stern. He was not allowed to play or do anything fun on Sundays. He said that to him God was a mean man upstairs that carried a big stick and walloped you when you got out of line.
I told this patient, that if that’s the way I pictured God, I would be an atheist too. But I added: “Let me tell you about the God I know. My God is a God of love. God is love. He loves you even when you make mistakes. You can’t earn this love. It’s just a given. It’s there all the time to enjoy, and there are no strings attached”. We talked for a while, and then he said to me: “You are welcome to visit me, but I do not want to pray with you. And, I came back a few times, and we became close.
When Mr. Chapman took a turn for the worse and was dying, he sent word for me to come visit. I did, and he did allow me to anoint him with oil and say a prayer of healing. He passed away from this life to the next, not too long after my prayer. I talked and prayed with the family, and then I went on my way. I had done my job as a chaplain. I had shared my faith, but I did not impose my faith.
We are called to walk with others and to share the love of God. We cannot provide all the fixes that are necessary, but we can walk beside others and share their hurts, disappointments and broken dreams. We can minister the love of God with others because that is the basis of our faith, but we are not called to impose our faith.
“Always be ready to make an account for the faith that resides in you, but do it with gentleness and reverence”.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen