Scripture: 1 Peter 3:8-9; 15-17
During an inauguration address Franklin Roosevelt delivered one of the most memorable and profound quotes of the 20th century. He said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The irony is that FDR, did not always take this sage wisdom to heart, and he lived his life with a couple of big fears. For instance, he would never close a door in a room with a fire place. He was afraid of fire, and he wanted to make sure he always had a way out. He also had a mild case of triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number thirteen. He went out of his way to avoid traveling on Friday the 13th, and whenever possible he would avoid sitting down with thirteen at a dinner table. We all have things, sometimes silly things, which make us uncomfortable and anxious. Sometimes these small fears can become full phobias which can be completely disabling but usually they are just sources of great anxiety that we have to face or run away from. In surveys of fear people have been asked to rate if they are afraid of a wide variety of things. Do you know what the number one people said they were afraid of? 74% responded they had some level of fear of public speaking. That is the number one thing that people are afraid of. The second highest response with 68% was death. That means, statistically speaking, at a funeral most people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy. There is a related fear to public speaking that seizes many people. It does not make many “top fear” lists but it is a major problem that can completely cripple churches. It is Evangaphobia, the fear of sharing your faith with others. Perhaps it is a fear you have.
For the past several weeks we have been going through a “We are Family” series. We first explored at how a congregation should act and love like the family of God. We then looked out how our relationships with spouses and children can be shaped by our faith and how those family relationships can inform our faith at the same time. Last week we focused on how to share the gospel with the loved ones in our lives by living like no one else. Today we are going to conclude the “we are family” series by examining this scripture from 1 Peter and how it can help us overcome our evanaphobia.
One of the favorite quotes that is very common to see shared around Christian circles is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. It goes something like “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” We really, really like that quote because if gets off of the hook. We like the notion that if we just live a certain way, that through some sort of osmosis process people will pick up on the gospel just from how we interact with them. We have delusions of grandeur that our act of kindness will fully communicate that out of God’s great love he sent his son to offer forgiveness of sins through his death and resurrection. Because many of us have evangaphobia, we cling to the notion that just living the way a Christian should is all that we have to do to share our faith with others. We know that it is not true though.
How we live our lives is important, because living authentic Christian lives is what gives our words weight. That is why this morning’s scripture begins with encouraging believers in Christ to love one another, be compassionate, be humble, and to repay evil with blessing. When we do this we live like no one else so that our lifestyle has an appeal and allure to people who do not yet know Christ. However, that is not enough. If we are going to invite other people to join the family of God, if we are going to make disciples, then we have to use our words. This is why Peter writes in verse 15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have.” It is not just enough to live like no one else, we have to be able to tell people the source of our motivation. We need to share with them why we are willing to live in a way that reflects the gospel.
I really appreciate the way this scripture is worded. It did not say “always be prepared to give a three point argument, citing credible sources, for what you believe.” When it comes to sharing our faith with others one of the greatest sources of fear for sharing our faith is feeling like we do not know enough. We feel like before we can even say the name of Jesus to anyone we have to be knowledgeable enough to answer any potential question or disagreement they could throw our way. That is not what the scripture says though. We do not have to have all the answers, we have to have hope. This is a lesson John Wesley learned well. Before his conversion experience at Aldersgate, where his heart was strangely warmed, John Wesley had an incredible knowledge of God and scripture. However, he lacked a hope found in Christ. This became evident on a trip from England to Georgia by boat. The boat got caught in a strong Atlantic storm. Wesley and several other passengers became panicked. A group of Moravians, a Christian group, calmly prayed and sang hymns during the storm. After making landfall, Wesley sought out the Moravian leader and asked him how he remained so calm during the storm. The pastor responded to Wesley by asking a question, “Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?” Essentially, he was asking Wesley does knowing you belong to God give you hope? John Wesley struggled to respond to this and the pastor finally followed up by asking “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley confidently responded, “I know he is the Savior of the world.” Wesley knew that he gave the theologically correct answer. However, the pastor replied, “but do you know he has saved you?” At that time in his life, Wesley could not answer yes to that question. Wesley had all of the biblical knowledge, but he lacked the reason for having hope. When it comes to inviting others to join the family of God and sharing our faith with words, we do not have to have all of the answers or an eloquent sales pitch. We need to have hope.
If in our hearts, the core of our beings, we revere Christ as Lord then we should have hope. We should have a great hope. When it comes to sharing our faith that is what we need to share. We need to share why being a Christian gives us hope. You may have never considered that question, but all of us need to have the answer for the reason we have hope. The most effective words we can use to invite others into relationship with Jesus are the words that speak hope. So what is your reason for hope? We do not have to have a novel ready to give out, but we should be able to share our story. We should be able to tell people why we have found hope in Christ. We need to know our story, here is mine.
I have hope because I know what it feels like to be hopeless. I know it is the case for many, but middle school was a hellish time for me. Today there is a lot of emphasis on not bullying and many schools have prevention measures and zero-tolerance policies. That is not the way it was, I could not get any help because that is just the way it was, or it was just “kids being kids.” I was told it was my fault because I let people’s words and actions get to me. It seemed that the greatest wrong I could commit was just being me. If I was myself that was not good enough, if I adapted to fit in I was mocked for being a poser. It was a rigged game that could not be won, and I felt trapped. I felt hopeless. Eventually, we moved and it got better. The damage was done though. I looked in the mirror and I felt worthless and unwanted. I felt like there was no place I belonged. Today, I know those were lies of the worst kind. Today, because of Jesus I have hope. I know that I am worth a great deal, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made by the creator of the whole universe. I know that I am wanted because Jesus wanted me bad enough to give his life in exchange for mine. I know that I belong, because I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, that I have received a spirit of adoption, and that I forever belong to the family of God. I know those things, but I also feel them in the depths of my heart. It is heart knowledge that grounds me, shapes me, and defines me. It is my reason for hope. My hope is found on nothing less than Jesus Christ and his righteousness.
That is the reason for the hope I have, what is your reason? If you have never put it to words, then please do so. Share your story, because your story is important. On more than one occasion, I have shared something very similar to what I just shared at church camp to Jr. High students. More than once I have been blessed to know that sharing my story made a difference in someone else’ story. Sharing my reason for hope helped another young person find hope. Stories by their nature are life changing. Stories stick with us, and the best ones do change us. Part of the mission of the United Methodist Church is to transform the world, and when we share our story we introduce something transformative into the world. Your story, the way that Christ has touched and transformed your life is important.
In order to invite others to know Jesus you need to know your story. Even if you have spent your entire life in the church, there is a reason why you stuck with it. There is a reason why you have hope in Christ. What is that reason? Put it to words, write it down if you have to. Learn your story, and then share it. There are people in this world, probably people you know who NEED to hear your story. There are so many people in this world, so many people in this small town who desperately want and need a reason to have your hope. For some of these people it is your story that will best speak to them. It is your story that will transform their world by introducing them to the full love of God. It is your story that can lead to the formation of new disciples.
Verse 15 does contain a final instruction about sharing our hope. It says we are to do it with “gentleness and respect.” One of the other great reasons why people have evangaphobia is because they are afraid of offending someone else. So out of deference for their sensibilities we never risk sharing our story and sharing the gospel of forgiving love. If we truly believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one gets to the Father except through him, then it is disrespectful and offensive not to share that message of hope. This does not mean we take what we believe and shove it down people’s throats, it does not mean we belittle someone who disagrees with us. This is why sharing our story, our reason for hope is an effective way to share our faith. We share our story not our dogma. We can do this gently and we can do it in a way that respects the dignity of others. We do this by living like no one else, so that people ask us for the reason why we have a hope that seems to be in short supply in this world. Then when someone asks us, we are prepared with our answer, with our story.
We are family. Being saved by grace and offered adoption through Jesus Christ, we are God’s children and heirs to God’s kingdom. That is part of our story and that is a profound reason for us to have hope. However, the family of God is still open. Jesus said his Father’s house has many rooms, and there is always space for another brother and sister in Christ. May we get over our fear of sharing the gospel, and may we be willing to invite others into the life of faith and the path of discipleship. May we be willing to share our story and give the answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope we have. In doing so may the family of God grow and the world be transformed.