By the Rev. Joel Bergeland
Common Lectionary reflection for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Click here for the readings
May 14, 2023
Key verse: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” -1 Peter 3:15b:
In this week’s readings, Paul preaches to Athenians, Peter invites us to share the hope within us, and Jesus promises to give the Holy Spirit, described here as an Advocate – one who raises their voice. Taken together, they point to the wild reality that God has made us stewards of God’s own story. How strange! My hunch is that God could probably tell God’s story better than we could. Nonetheless, it is God’s foolish wisdom to make our words and actions bear the good news of Jesus Christ. The message of Jesus has spread only because people who are as human as you and I have proclaimed it.
“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,” says Peter. Would you be ready to give such an account? What about your congregation? (By the way, if you answer ‘yes’ to this question, you could do worse than use the sermon time to share the mic and listen to each other account for the hope that is in you.)
Peter’s admonition notwithstanding, many of us don’t feel ready. We’ve all seen evangelism done poorly. People are too brash, too gimmicky, too dualistic or threatening in their presentation of the gospel, and we don’t want to add to the religious discomfort and trauma inflicted on others. Or maybe we think the problem is with ourselves – we don’t know enough about God to be experts. Our faith isn’t strong enough. Our lives aren’t moral enough. We won’t be good at it, and we’d have nothing to say.
But the promise in these readings is that each of us does have something to say. God entrusts the story to us, and we already have what we need to proclaim it. Peter doesn’t prescribe words, doctrine, or formulas for us to use; he simply invites us to speak about the hope dwelling in us. And while the source of the hope we have in Jesus is shared, it takes a unique shape in each of our lives. We don’t have to wait until we’re experts on God or have a rock-solid faith, we are called to share from our lives as they are, not as we think they ought to be. If we have hope, we have something to share, even from the unfinished, messy, contradictory lives we all lead.
Can this be the lens through which we hear Paul’s speech to the Athenians? It’s easy to put Paul on a pedestal, but he’s as human as you and I. His words seem more powerful when I hear them less as a thoughtfully planned piece of rhetoric and more as someone who is grasping for language to communicate the joyful shock of being called into God’s service. He isn’t that different from any of us stumbling to figure out how to tell the story from our vantage point. I see an invitation in his personal and contextual words to trust that sharing the hope we have within us, however we can, is enough.
The gospel becomes more vivid and concrete when proclaimed from many angles and in many voices – perhaps this is why God saw it fit to entrust us with the mission of bearing God’s story into the world. And whether or not we see ourselves as ready to share, we don’t do it alone. God gives us the Holy Spirit, the Advocate. How beautiful it is that the word for Advocate means “the one who calls alongside.” We know this Spirit of truth not because we have perfected our faith, but because the Spirit abides with us, and is in us. Our very lives are the canvas the Spirit paints on, and when we dare to share the how we are enlivened by hope, surely this Spirit will call alongside us once more.
The readings today contain clear and evocative descriptions of each person of the Trinity and their work – why not give the worshiping assembly a chance to get their mouths familiar and confident with this language by assembling the readings into a creed? Here is one example:
We believe in God, who made the world and everything in it.
God gives us life and breath and all things.
From one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth
So that we would search for God.
But God is not far from each one of us –
In God we live and move and have our being,
And we are God’s offspring.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
who suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,
in order to bring us to God.
He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
He has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God,
with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
We believe in the Holy Spirit,
The Advocate, who is with us forever.
This is the Spirit of truth –
The world neither sees nor knows this Spirit,
But we know the Spirit,
For the Spirit abides with us,
And the Spirit is in us.
Paul uses a Greek statue as a jumping off point for proclaiming the good news of God in Christ, and he later quotes a Greek poem to similar effect. Both the statue and the poem are cultural products of the time that were not made with Christianity in mind. But we see Paul using what’s in front of him creatively to tell people something true about God.
Have youth be like Paul today. Ask them to find a cultural product of our time that can be used to show something true about God. Have them consider lyrics from songs, memes, ads, moments in sports, or videos from TikTok that can be used to illumine our faith. It might be to your advantage to come prepared with a couple examples to get their brains going.
After youth have shared, discuss: What was this like? Did you think about God differently because of thinking in this way? What is hard about it? Do you think you’d ever share something like this with friends outside of church? Why or why not? Can anything be used to show something true about God, or are there limits?
Brainstorm with children some different ways to show someone that you love them. Giving a hug, telling someone you love them, buying a present or flowers – all of these are great ways to show love for someone else. As Christians, we love Jesus, but we show it a little bit differently. Jesus asks us to show his love for him not by giving him a hug or buying flowers or even telling him that we love him, but by keeping his commandments. And the greatest commandment he gives us is to love God with our whole self, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Close your time together by brainstorming some different ways you might show your love for Jesus by keeping these commandments – praying, appreciating what God has made, sharing what you have with others, staying patient, forgiving others, etc.
The Rev. Joel Bergeland serves as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Pittsfield, Mass.