Thursday, January 21, 2016

Redeeming the Ridicule

                 We’re in a series called Making Progress, talking about how we can actually be better people in 2016 than the people who woke up on January 1.  We’re studying 1 Peter, and last week we saw God’s plan to use us to change the world.  I hope you found that as inspiring as I did.  But even if you did, it’s very likely you left here and pretty quickly saw and heard things that brought you back down to earth.  Let’s face it, outside the walls of a church, we don’t find much encouragement in our walk with Christ.  In fact, I think it’s safe to say we’re more likely to face ridicule for our faith now than at any time in our nation’s history.   America has always been a land where people were free to believe anything they wanted; our founding fathers wanted to separate us from the old country, where state churches had the power to dominate public life.  But, culturally if not legally, the Christian faith always had a home-field advantage in this country.  Politicians knew that, in order to win election, they had to at least make a show of religious piety.  Movie studios often made big-budget, biblically based films Major corporations would refuse to advertise on a TV program that might offend Christian sensibilities.  Of course, there has been a long tradition of poking fun at religion in America, with people like Mark Twain and Sinclair Lewis pointing out hypocrisy.  When I was growing up, reporters and talk-show hosts loved to expose the flaws of televangelists.  But even as they did so, they were drawing a contrast between wing-nuts and con men on the one hand, and sincere, devout believers on the other.  We could all agree with them, to a certain extent. 
            We’re in a new day now.  More and more, we see people publicly ridiculing not hypocrites or religious con men, but the very idea of faith in Christ.  Perhaps you’ve encountered this through the media.  Recently, I saw the story of a policeman who pulled over a man who was speeding.  He noticed the man crying, asked him why, and found out the man’s daughter had cancer, which had recently taken a turn for the worse.  The policeman decided not to give the man a ticket.  The man then asked, “Can you pray for me?”  Right by the side of the highway, the cop knelt on the pavement and prayed for this man, then promised to have his entire church pray as well.  It was a beautiful story that brought tears to my eyes.  Then I clicked on the public comments.  Most were positive.  They were from readers who were touched just like I was.  But I also saw comments like this: “Any cop who brings superstitious nonsense to the workplace needs to be fired. This is disgusting and an effort to force his indefensible, cultish credo on people who have no choice but listen.”  And “It would (make me angry) if he tried to pray for me.  I don’t need an invisible sky fairy.”  But for many of us, our encounter of this attitude is more personal.  We’ve met ridicule for our faith from someone close to us: A classmate, a co-worker, a neighbor, a teacher, even a family member.    
            The people who first read 1 Peter were in a similar situation.  Like us, they weren’t yet experiencing any physical persecution for their faith.  But their beliefs were misunderstood and ridiculed widely.  In 1 Peter 1:11-12, Peter writes…so that, in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil… Christians were accused, for instance, of not being patriots because they didn’t worship Caesar or the Roman gods.  In Ephesus, a riot broke out led by people who made their living selling little idols; they said if people turned to Jesus and away from polytheism, it would wreck the economy.  For us today, we tend to be accused of ignorance and intolerance, two of the few remaining sins our culture is still willing to condemn.   So what should be our response when we face ridicule?  Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that…they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation. Peter is saying that our response to ridicule should be so outstanding, it changes the lives of our critics.  How can we do this? That's what I'll be talking about on Sunday.  

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