Lectionary Passages for May 25. Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:8-20, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect...: (RSV)
The passages for May 25 are so amazingly relevant for Christians in a pluralistic society! So many of us have friends, co-workers, and neighbours who are of different cultures and religions than ourselves. One of the responsibilities we have is to be witnesses to the good news of Christ in our world.
But how do we witness? There are two extremes that bother me. One is to be overly forceful and condescending, demanding that others follow our way. This is the extremist view that would have the whole society "towing the line" (think crusades, reformation, persecution...) The other extreme is to be timid and overly apologetic, unconvinced and unconvincing.
In today's readings, I find a way to witness that feels right. In 1 Peter, the believer is to do good to others, even under duress. They are to keep a clear conscience and be ready to explain their reason for hope in this life. That tells me that the Christian is a joyful person, living a life that entices others to ask their secret. They aren't out there pushing their faith, just living it so well that others can't help but notice and ask! And when the opportunity arises, they are ready to explain themselves well, in a gentle and respectful manner that will not raise the ire of the asker.
In Acts 17, Paul finds a natural opportunity for his witness when he finds the statue to the unknown god. He resonates with much of what the people of Athens already believe and affirms them for it. Certainly this is a respectful approach. He goes on to explain his particular joy, that God sent Jesus to show humanity how to live and to give the invitation into Christ's victory over death. At this point, (read through to verse 34), Paul loses some of his audience. After all, the idea that someone was raised from the dead was and is bizarre. Some of the crowd, however, want to hear more. The same thing happens when we share our faith. It's fine if people don't see things our way. Our job is simply to be respectful and "ready with an answer" it's God's job to do the convincing!
I have a good friend of another faith. She and I share many values and beliefs, but they are expressed in different words and through a different culture. I don't press my belief and she doesn't press hers. We are both open to seeing and hearing God in each other. I'm not waiting for her to convert, I'm just sharing the reason for my hope as best I can, anything else is up to God. This feels like a natural and relevant way for me to be a witness in our multi-cultural society.