Saturday, May 28, 2011

2011 May 28 - Better to suffer for doing good (6th Sunday Easter Cycle A)

When I was ordained, a good friend gave me this little contraption. It’s a compass – and you all know how it works – no matter which direction you stand, the arrow always points North. This particular one is more pretty fancy and heavy, so I don’t actually take it outside…, so it sits in my office and reminds me of my real compass… my Moral compass. What’s a moral compass? Let me give you an example:

Anybody in here familiar with the Scouts? In the Cub scouts, we had the Scout Promise we would recite every time we got together:

I, _________, promise to do my best
To do my duty to God and my country,
To help other people, and
To obey the Law of the Pack.

Now – I never was a girl Scout – but you girls should recognize that your scout promise was very similar. Maybe even more common around here was the 4-H pledge of Head, Heart, Hands, and Health… again similar to the scout pledge. As kids, we learned that promise by heart… we probably HAD to, in order to get a badge. We could recite that promise on demand - at any time… this promise was our Guiding Principle… like a Moral Compass. It was supposed to point us to the truth… to form us and help us make mature decisions.

Same goes for our religion. We come here every week and recite our Creed… you know, “We believe in One God…and so on”. We learned it as a kid. We can recite it on demand at any time. But the same question applies: Do we actually let it guide our everyday lives?

At some point in our lives, we’re no longer bound by the law of the pack. Just reciting something doesn’t make it real. We have to decide for ourselves whether we really believe all this stuff. We have to decide how we’re going to live – what guiding principles will we use to make decisions for the rest of our lives. And when things go bad – and you know they will – where will we gain our strength to go on? Where will we place our hope? Where does our Moral Compass point? Hopefully, our moral compass always points to Jesus… the Way the Truth and the Life.

That’s what Peter is talking about. “Be ready to give a reason for your hope”. Every one of us has to think for ourselves about what life is really about. Is God real? Is Jesus real? Can Jesus really help us in our day-to-day living? You bet He can! But Peter is saying that you and I have to THINK about that and put it into words in order to help somebody else to understand it. Be ready to SHARE what you believe.

Could you do it? Could you speak out in public in defense of your beliefs? Are our beliefs strong enough that we’d be willing to suffer for them? Peter says, ‘it is better to suffer for doing God’s will than to do evil’. That is a tough one – it’s about Integrity: Do what’s right - all the time. No exceptions.

Let me try to make that make more sense: when I got my tractor and brush hog, I told myself I will NEVER get off the tractor with the brush hog still engaged. That’s one of those little safety things that probably everybody knows, but I have to remind myself… cause sometimes I think – well, I just have to knock that log out of the way or whatever – it’ll only take a second… but I remind myself of my guiding principle – I recite my little creed: “I will never get off with the brush hog still engaged”… just in case it would roll or kick something up at me.

That’s a simple example – but how would you apply that to your religious beliefs? Several years back, Randy worked at a fairly large utility company up north. He had a great job with great benefits. He’d been there for like 18 years and planned to retire with that company. But he started to notice some unethical business practices going on which he didn’t agree with. He tried talking to his Boss and even the president of the facility – but it was obvious he wasn’t going to get them to change. Randy quit his job rather than contribute to evil. That is integrity. Could you or I do that?

In 2009, Miss California was on track to win the Miss America pageant – but when it came time for the interview portion of the competition, she was asked a simple question: “do you believe same-sex marriage should be legalized?’. This lady answered like this: "We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage. And you know what in my country, in my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be, between a man and a woman."

Now to you and me, that probably sounds like a pretty good, safe answer. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the ‘politically correct’ answer. The media and other groups unloaded on her. Some say she lost the pageant because of that answer. A couple months later, she lost her Miss California crown too – and she believes that too was because of her answer.

This is a case where our modern culture is starting to turn on Christianity. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of same-sex marriage, this lady had the constitutional right to give her opinion of how she believes. 20 years ago, that question wouldn’t even have been asked. 10 years ago, if that question had been asked, her answer might have been considered most generous and tolerant. Our culture is becoming intolerant of Christianity. Why? Because we believe that our moral compass points to the truth -and some truths are black and white.

You know, Many situations in our lives are ‘gray areas’ where we have to discern what is right and what is wrong based on each individual situation. Fortunately, WE have a teacher who taught us – and we have an Advocate called the Holy Spirit that resides in each one of us – to help us make those decisions. The Holy Spirit IS our moral compass – He always points to the truth – and sometimes the Truth really IS black and white. But you can bet that ANYtime you or I attempt to tell the black and white truth, somebody in our culture is going to come down on us. Believe it or not, it even happens here at church.

So what should we do? Back down? Do we abandon Jesus’ words as our moral compass because society thinks we’re not politically correct anymore? Peter says – it is better to suffer for doing good, if it be God’s will, than to do evil. Pray for wisdom and courage to do so. Come Holy Spirit, show us the way.

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