Sunday, May 01, 2005

1 Peter 3:15-22 - "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

6th Sunday of Easter (Year A - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, April 30, and Sunday, May 1, 2005

A week ago, the RYMS went to Comedy City in Green Bay. Comedy City is an improv comedy club that has family-friendly shows. Competitive improv comedy pits two teams against each other, playing improv games where the players make up scenes, jokes, and gags on the spot—often using suggestions from the audience.

This kind of improv comedy has been made pretty popular due to Drew Carey’s TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway? One of the games they play on the TV show is called, “Whose Line,” where two players have to act out a scene but every once in awhile they have pull a piece of paper out of their pocket and read the phrase written on it. They’ve never seen the phrase, the phrase is something made up by an audience member, and the player just has to work it into the conversation.

Well, believe it or not, when I was at Comedy City last Friday, thinking about improv comedy games, I was also thinking about 1 Peter chapter 3, because it’s there that Peter says, “Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that you have.” That made me think of the “Whose Line” game. Being prepared to tell people about your faith, about the hope you have, is kind of like always having a sentence ready to go in your pocket.

So I asked 2 people to write down some sentences that I’ll use in trying to answer typical questions you might get about your faith. (Ask the people to bring the sentences forward). Now, I’ve never seen these sentences; I don’t know what they wrote.

Now, when someone asks about your church, what will you say? What’s your line? (Pull sentence from pocket. Saturday’s sentence was: “I’m happy to be here.” Sunday’s sentence was: “That was the best bean soup I’ve had all day.”) I’m not sure that that’s the best way to explain what your church is all about.

How about when someone asks why you can be hopeful even in tough times, what will you say then? What’s your line? (Pull sentence from pocket. Saturday’s sentence was: “My mother is always so busy, I have to make an appointment to see her, but that’s OK.” Sunday’s sentence was: “The hawk in the neighbor’s driveway appeared out of place.”) Again, there’s got be a better way to explain something about your faith in Jesus.

OK, that seems silly, because if someone asks you about your faith, you’re not going to just pull a random sentence out of your pocket to answer the question.

But maybe it’s not so silly. Why did Peter have to say, “Always be prepared to give the reason for the hope you have”? Why do we need that reminder?

Because I’m not sure we’re always so prepared. I’m not sure that we always know what to say when someone asks about our church, our hope, our faith in Jesus. Peter tells us to be prepared, because telling people about Jesus is something that we need to think about ahead of time. If you just wing it, make it up on the spot, you may just come up with something as random and strange and confusing as those sentences our volunteers gave me.

So, what should be our line? What should we tell people when they ask about our faith? Let’s talk about it, think about it; let’s get prepared. On the back side of the bulletin, you’ll see a place to start taking a few notes. Those notes are what you can stick in your pocket, what you can hang on your fridge or locker or above your workbench. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself of what you want people to know about Jesus, and then you’ll be prepared.

Let’s start with what Peter mentions in general in today’s reading. Peter reminds us that we have hope. He’s telling us to be prepared to talk about the hope we have. What’s that hope? The hope of forgiveness for our sins, forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The hope of life after death—because Jesus rose from the dead, we too will live a new life. That’s our hope. If we don’t mention how Jesus forgives us and gives us life after death, well, then we’re not mentioning what gives us hope, what makes our faith so important.

The only reason to encourage you to tell others about Jesus is because Jesus gives us hope. If Jesus didn’t give us hope, if Jesus didn’t forgive our sins, if Jesus didn’t promise that we will live forever if we believe in Him, then there’d be nothing to tell. Peter says, “Give reason for the hope you have.” That’s what we’re preparing to talk about—the hope.

So take that first question that you have on your bulletin, “When someone asks about your church, what will you say? What’s your line?” OK, if someone’s actually interested in hearing about your church, here’s a few things you should be prepared to say. #1 – the name of your church, which if you’re a member here means that your answer is “Redeemer Lutheran Church.” Write that down. It seems funny, but you’d be surprised how many people I meet, they tell me they go to church, but they can’t remember the name of their church, or sometimes even really where it is. So be prepared to name your church, where it is, and it’d be nice, but I suppose not necessary, if you’d remember the names of your pastors. That’s Miller, M-I-L-L-E-R, and Squires, S-Q-U-I-R-E-S.

#2 – more seriously now, if someone asks about your church, it’d be good to tell them a little bit about what happens—worship services, Bible classes, youth activities, preschool, community service. More than trying to cover it all, though, tell them about what you do at church, how you’re involved. If they’re asking you about your church, talk about what church is like for you. You don’t have to know every fact about the congregation in order to help someone understand something about your church.

#3 – after you’ve told the person a little bit about the congregation, here’s the important part, the part that Peter wanted us to prepared to say: the hope. No matter what kinds of questions someone has about your church, try to keep bringing it back to the hope we have in Jesus.

So they ask, “Why do you go to church?” You say, “Because it reminds me of the hope I have in Jesus.” “Why do you put up with the church telling you that you do bad things?” “Because my church also tells me that Jesus forgives me.” “Why is it so important to go to church each week? “Because I forget about the hope of forgiveness within minutes of leaving church. I need those reminders.”

You don’t want to be obnoxious about this. Peter himself says, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” But you don’t want someone walking away thinking that you just go to church, because they have nice flowers, it’s a pretty building, they have cookies after church, they have fun youth activities, or because you’re just supposed to go to church. You want someone to walk away from your conversation knowing that your church tells you about the hope of Jesus, that you find church important because of needing forgiveness from God, that there’s something truly hopeful about being at Redeemer Lutheran Church—and it’s more than just hoping that the service will be over soon.

So what’s your line? I don’t know. It’ll be different for every person in here, different in each situation you’re in. You can’t just keep one sentence in your pocket ready to go. However, I do know what your answer can have in it. If someone asks about your church, I know that you can tell them that our church preaches and teaches the hope we have in Jesus Christ, the hope of forgiveness and life after death. It comes down to three simple sentences: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Let’s take the other question which is perhaps a more serious conversation, a question that might come when someone is going through something difficult. “When someone asks why you can be hopeful even in tough times, what will you say? What’s your line?”

#1 – this might seem obvious, but do admit that you go through tough times. If someone asks you how to get through tough times, don’t say, “Oh, my life is great. It’s never difficult.” Even if you really don’t feel like you’ve gone through much difficult stuff, don’t act as if your life is perfect and happy. You might have to say that you’ve never gone through the same tough thing, but at least admit that your life isn’t always easy.

#2 – don’t take the easy way out of the conversation. Someone asks you how you can have hope in a tough situation, and you might be tempted to say, “Oh, you know, you take it day by day, count your blessings, look on the bright side of life,” and leave it at that. While that might be true, if you have hope in Jesus, there’s more to it than that.

#3 – tell them that your hope comes from Jesus, knowing that He gives us life after death. No matter what happens in this life, there’s hope. Jesus wasn’t defeated by death on the cross, and He’s not going to be defeated by anything in your life—not even death.

So you tell someone that you have hope, because you’re not alone. Jesus promises that He’ll always be with us. You have hope, because there’s more to this life than trouble and pain. Jesus says that He will rescue us from this difficult life.

This may be really hard for someone to understand, because if they do not believe in life after death, if they struggle to believe in God, then their pain, trouble, or difficulty may seem like the ultimate problem, like their life is being ripped away and there’s nothing beyond this life. So you tell them about your hope with “gentleness and respect,” as Peter said. You don’t expect them to understand right away. Yet, you speak clearly that you are hopeful because of Jesus alone. You aren’t hopeful because you think you’re perfect, you deserve a reward, you’ve got an in with God, or anything like that. You have hope, because of Jesus alone. Again, get those three simple sentences in your notes. That’s what it comes down to: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Well, I didn’t want you taking notes today just so that you’re ready to tell others about the hope we have. I also wanted you to take notes as a reminder to yourself. There is hope in Jesus.

I’ll admit it, and I think you would too, that it’s so easy to forget our hope, so easy to forget that we don’t have to prove ourselves to God—instead He simply forgives us, so easy to forget that the troubles of this life will not be able to take away the promise of life after death.

Because it’s easy to forget those things, I’m glad you wrote them down. Like I said, take your notes, put them in your pocket or on your fridge or your locker, desk, workbench, dashboard, someplace that you’ll see them this week. Make sure your notes are easy to read, that they clearly say: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.

Jesus prepared me to speak those words to you today so that you would know the reason for the hope we have in Jesus. Now, Jesus has prepared you today so that you can go and tell others the reason for the hope we have in Jesus. What’s your line, what will you say when someone asks? It won’t be some random phrase that doesn’t make sense. Your line is clear: Jesus is my hope. Jesus forgives my sins. Jesus gives me life after death.