May 29, 2011 – Sixth Sunday of Easter
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17; Psalm 66; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
“Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts,” St. Peter wrote. Perhaps that’s as succinct a way to summarize what Christian living is all about as is possible. We are called to grow in holiness, and the way to do that is to grow closer to Christ and make him the center of your life.
But we often need guidance as how we go about sanctifying Christ as Lord. St. Peter, in today’s Second Reading, gives some guidance, although we may not find it comforting. We are to do good and avoid doing wrong, so that if we suffer because of our Christian faith, we will have a clear conscience. It may be better that way, but suffering for doing good rather than for doing evil is still suffering, and it seems unfair.
St. Peter does not argue that it is fair. Instead, he simply points out that Christ suffered for sins – our sins, not his own – which also was unfair. But Christ suffered and died for a purpose, “that he might lead you to God.” Jesus himself had pointed out that following him resulted in spiritual riches in this present age, “with persecutions,” and eternal life in the age to come (Mark 10:29-30).Growing spiritually is not merely a matter of nice feelings and warm fuzzies. We have Jesus’ own words that there is a test: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We can read those in the Gospels. We will be challenged, and we’ll recognize that we often fail. But we need to keep trying.
However, we do have assurance that we are not alone as we seek to keep his commandments, for the Father has sent us another Advocate (Jesus is the first, as he intercedes for us before the heavenly throne) to be with us always. This Advocate, the Spirit of truth, will guide us and strengthen us as we try to apply Christ’s commandments to the concrete situations of our lives.
One of those situations, which will recur time and again, is being ready to give an explanation to those who ask about our hope in God. St. Peter had in mind the hope early Christians showed when they faced persecution and perhaps even death.
There is still overt persecution; people have been killed because they are Christians this year in some parts of the world. For most of us, misunderstandings of our faith and our reasons for it will take other forms. There will be questions why we’re unwilling to participate in unscrupulous business deals, or why we won’t accept the premise that the world is a meaningless accident, or why we refrain from some indulgences of fleshly lusts. These are all cases when we need to be ready to give a reason for our hope for eternal life with Christ.
But we need, St. Peter reminds us, to “do it with gentleness and reverence” and respect our hearers. Philip, along with Stephen one of the first deacons, must have practiced that when he got to Samaria. Even though the Samaritans were rejected as religious outcasts by the Jews, Philip presented Jesus in such a way that they accepted him as Lord. The result was same as it always is when Christ enters a culture: “There was great joy in that city.”
So what does all this have to do with our lives as stewards, as we use our time, talent, and treasure in Christ’s service? We will have many opportunities to apply St. Peter’s advice, for many will question why we’re giving away our treasure to help others and spread the Kingdom of God. They won’t understand why we share our talents as gifts rather than always seeking to profit from them. Most of all, people will object that we’re wasting our time when we spend it with Jesus in prayer and in worship. They may not accept our explanations, but we should be ready to provide theme. We can trust that we’ll have the help of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who will be with us as we seek to keep the commands of our Lord.