The church leader Thomas Bandy has coined a famous question – “What is it about my experience of God that my neighbours can’t do without?” He is talking about sharing your faith. (Some call it ‘evangelism’, which is often confused with the different word ‘evangelical’. You should look them up. It is too important to leave the confusion alone.) There are two sides to Bandy’s question. One is about your experience of God and that we have already looked at. The second part is about your neighbour. And there is a question I want to ask about that.
Do you love them? Or are they passing like blips, the house number near to yours, the wheelie bin next to yours, the leaves drifting over the fence?
Do you love them? Maybe they are not in your street but in your school or work. Are you interested in their lives? DO you ask how they are and want to know? I suddenly realised in writing this that except when they moved in, I haven’t even prayed for them?
Do you love your neighbour as much as you love yourself? IT is a royal command from the Lord.
But of course, it is not up to you to say what they need. That would be disrespectful, not to say foolish, for us to think up in our little minds about what they need and how. That’s a little fallacy in the Bandy question that you can only find out by relationship, by connecting, by taking an interest. They will care what you know when they know that you care.
Many of us have been raised in a judgemental church and we have become so sure that we know what’s good for people that we resemble Pharisee more than Disciple.
But there is more. A few of us are so afraid of sharing our faith that we overdo it when we get the chance. Others are so afraid that we never say a word, and our neighbours are left thinking that we are just great guys and beautiful persons and we get the glory instead of the God who has shaped us for love. It’s like plagiarism really – taking the credit for something you didn’t do. AT the University you can be sacked or failed for doing it, but here we just sneak around subjects and make faith-sharing optional.
Too much and too little. NO it appears from our Bible reading that even the impetuous Simon Peter has been learning to get away from all these things. Remember him, he was either running fast forwards or running away? He could get it so right in one breath and so wrong in the very next sentence.
And he says this: “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. And always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the hope that you have”
We need to be ready. When people ask us questions, they usually ask somewhat nervously or indirectly, and often in an ignorant way – it is after all new to them, and they deserve our tender care and respect for where they are coming from. So it is we who must be ready. If we are ready, it’s our peace that makes them open up.
So, are you glad to be yourself or have you intimidated yourself?
In this passage, Peter is very aware, that we all fear rejection or misunderstanding or worse. But come back and ask yourself – Does it shut you up? Is that fear allowed to overrule all your other motives? Be as afraid as you like or as you must, but have a go anyway. How is your readiness?
Some things you do not have to do. You cannot make people believe. You can offer them some help towards a fresh perspective on life. You can love them. You can pray for them. You certainly don’t have to know the answers to their questions before they even ask them. You do not have to prove you are right, you just offer your experience and evidence. It seems God doesn’t like proof-talks, since he hasn’t furnished us with intellectual proof, but he just loves to become present in conversations about Jesus’ life and love (the gospel).
Why don’t you ask questions, like I am asking you questions today – questions like: I am very interested in people and I am curious to know what you believe? And Why – How do you weigh up your experiences and all the voices? And what about…. Four questions only in any one sitting then shoosh the Inquisitor in you. The answers from your neighbours always hold surprises.
We need to be ready to give away church privilege. Lastly, we need to be sure these days that we are not assuming we have authority, we have privileged right to being the only religious voice. We need to keep saying things like ‘This is my view or this is one Christian view. It is all up to you, really. I am not trying to push something onto you. It’s been good for me to think about it, so it might work for you too.’ And words to that effect.
So how is your ‘gentleness and respect’ going?
This has been a long list of hints and examples. If you have picked up some good suggestions that is great, but if you are somewhat overwhelmed, be yourself always.
You are a daughter of God, brother of Jesus, so maybe you would like to join me in this prayer?