5.22.22 Homily on 1 Peter 3:15-16 by Rev. Trenton Prieshoff
We are Witnesses – this phrase says so much about both our identity and purpose. Who we are and what we are meant for are so beautifully and powerfully wrapped up in our understanding of this one word.
I was introduced as Reverend Prieshoff but I understand how much of a mouthful that is. Pastor Trent is fine. But I am also known bu another name. I teach 8th grade math here in the public schools and my students know me as Mr. Prie (pree).
We are witnesses… that is our calling: our identity and purpose are wrapped up here… it’s who we’re meant to be… what we’re meant to do… We are witnesses.
But I think there’s a lot of discomfort and confusion with that being our identity and purpose…
Some may have images of bible thumping with fire-and-brimstone and the pain that leaves behind
Some may think of it as something for people with who have had lots of training
Some have memories of being turned away or shut out because someone felt weird when you spoke up.
The way that Peter describes our calling as witnesses is important. He writes in 1 Peter, 3:15 “Do not be afraid. Instead, in your heart, honor Christ as the Lord and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
To Peter, To be witnesses isn’t about a quota, a job we need to get done, or a communication style we need to perfect… it’s a stance.
The way a runner starts off in their stance, they are ready for the moment… The way a dancer holds a form, they are ready to respond to the music and to their partner… the way soldiers will gather in formations to assess their situation and plan the next step.
The assumption is… if you have experienced Christ then you will live like you have hope.
And if you live like you’ve got hope… then people are gonna ask you some questions.
And as a witness… you need to be able to respond to their questions.
We are in the world but not of the world… those words in that order don’t come from the bible but Jesus communicates that truth in John 17:14-16 when he prays to the Father because of the challenges that he knows his followers like you and me are going to face
We are in the world… but we are not of the world.
As a teenager, that meant I shouldn’t drink, smoke, and cuss because I have to go to school in the world but I shouldn’t do what other kids do to fit in. But I think that means something deeper… It’s about the stance we have in the world.
As a teacher… I don’t evangelize in class. But I witness.
After getting herself into trouble one day, a student came back to my classroom to apologize and ask, “am I still in trouble?”
And I could tell her, “look, kid… I’m not mad at you. You’re a bright student and you could have a lot of opportunities opening up for you in the future. But I have also witnessed this anger that is bottled up in you and if you don’t find a way to process and get rid of it instead of just covering it up… I am really worried about how you are going to lose opportunities.”
She said, “I don’t know how to do that.”
“Well,” I told her, “You know that I am also a pastor. I don’t know how to answer that as a math teacher. Is it okay with you if I talk with you like a pastor instead of a math teacher?”
Being a witness … being prepared to give a reason for the hope you have… is something we all do in all of our vocations in every kind of community.
There is an important question I would like to ask you… You don’t need to answer right away, but you should think about it. It should shape the conversations you have after church when you go to brunch and watch baseball:
What kind of stance do you have? What does your stance communicate about what is real? About what is true?
But that’s not what I came to talk with you about today. I didn’t come to talk with you about your stance or how to be a witness in three easy steps.
Peter says “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
This command is built on an assumption:
The assumption is that you have hope.
And sometimes, it’s hard to have hope… Sometimes, being in the world… that’s too much to assume.
In our scripture reading today Luke is telling us that they set sail on a journey that takes them from Troas (Northwest Turkey) to Samothrace (an island in between Turkey and Greece) to Neapolis to Philippi. But we are missing some context.
Go a little further back in verse 6 and we are told that the team tried to go to Asia (another district in NW Turkey) and God told them “no.” They traveled all that way… only to be told “no” when they finally got there. They went to Mysia… “no.” They went to Bithynia… “no.” And because we read this in just a few sentences I think it’s easy to read over it too quickly.
Paul tells us that he funded his ministry by making tents. These were weeks, maybe months of stopping to make tents, set up in the market, save up money, buy provisions and get ready to travel again… Stop to make tents, set up a market, and so on.
I’ve been in a season like that: a season of wandering… a season of searching, a season of wondering.
Seasons when you feel like “What am I even doing?”
Am I making any progress?
What difference am I even making?
Did I hear God correctly?
I told you that as a teacher, I am a witness. A witness has experienced things… and they tell what they have experienced: what they saw, what they heard, what they felt.
And every day I am a witness: One way or another.
I like to think my life is a witness of the power and love in Jesus.
But in the classroom, I am in the world and I witness the grotesque language they use to bully and belittle one another.
I witness the gross inequality of resources for students in one zip code over another zip code.
I witness the coldness, obstinance, and defiance of students in crisis.
I witness the ways students belittle my own dignity… the way they twist my words, slander my integrity, and misrepresent my character.
I witness children resorting to violence, alcohol, and drugs.
I witness the parent express disgust toward their child and I witness the look on that child’s face when they hear those words.
And some days I like to hope my life is a witness of the power and love in Jesus Christ, and some days my life is a witness of the abundance and potential for them… And some days all the things I witness are a lot to take, line is crossed and my stance looks defensive. There are days when my stance is just putting my palm to my face. There are days when my stance is to break down and just weep.
“In the world but not of the world” is more than a catch phrase. It is the reality. We are in the world. And in the world, we witness corruption, negligence, and indifference in the classrooms and workplaces around us. We witness pettiness and one-upmanship. We witness the fresh atrocities in Ukraine. We witness hate crimes in Buffalo, Dallas, and Los Angeles.
We witness the anger and the grief made fresh every morning.
We witness the fear and the suspicion that are all that’s left when our optimism dries up.
…and hope? It can be hard to come by.
We are in the world, but not of the world. We experience all the broken promises, grotesque violence, and terrible inequalities of the world…
Because we are in Christ… we experience the unfailing love of God.
So what kind of hope is Peter talking about?
- He is talking about a hope that sees.
People of God, if you are writing anything down, please write this down.
We are witnesses.
We see what is happening and as good and faithful witnesses, it is right to call out what we see.
It’s common to get the impression that… in order to win people over to Christ… we have to be optimistic and happy. When we see pain and heartache in people around us, we have to turn to a hollow positivity, saying things like “well, God will work all things together for the good…” or “there’s gonna be a testimony that comes from this.”
Maybe a testimony will come… and God will work all things together for the good of those who love him. But that does not mean we shouldn’t call a spade a spade; a crime a crime; a sin a sin.
Our calling to be a witness does not ask you to turn a blind eye to the heartaches and grief in the lives and communities around us. Our hope is not blind optimism. Our hope sees. And our hope testifies.
2. He is talking about a hope that remembers.
I think it’s tempting to think that hope is something you can see coming.
When do you feel hopeless? When you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel… when you can’t see where you’re going. When you’re anxious about the future.
When do you say that you are feeling hopeful… when there aren’t any foreseeable conflicts or roadblocks ahead.
But that is a hope that is based only on your circumstances. Everyone has that kind of hope.
Hope isn’t based on what you are feeling right now.
Hope isn’t based on the expectation of progress ahead.
It is based on what is real. What is more real even than the pain and grief we witness. What is real is that God is a God who sees us. God is a God who knows our hurts and failures and loves us. Our God is not a God who stands by wishing the violence of our world away. Our God is a God who puts his own skin in the game.
I am reminded of one of my favorite verses from Lamentations 3. The prophet, Jeremiah speaks about the pain and loss and heartache he has experienced and even blames it on God. He says, “I remember my affliction and wandering; the bitterness and the gall. I remember them well and my soul is distraught within me … yet … this comes back to mind and therefore, I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not overcome. His compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. I will say to my soul, “the lord is my portion. I will wait for him.”
Our hope is not based in what we feel or what we can see… that would be “of the world” but we are not “of the world.”
3. And last, our hope is a hope that praises.
I read to you earlier from 1 Peter chapter 3 when Peter writes about giving an answer for the hope we express.
I want to read to you now from his introduction when he describes that hope:
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Praise does not do a disservice to the reality of grief. In fact, our hope is born out of our grief.
We are in the world… but not of the world.
And that allows us to be witnesses of all that we see.
It allows us to be advocates of all that is right.
It gives us the footing to be able to point to the promises of God and His faithfulness.