Talking About your Faith

Talking about your Faith             4/24/22
Psalm 150, Acts 5:17-32
Love songs are full of sweet words for that special someone. When we’re in love, we sing about that person’s wonderful looks and loving personality. After the initial fascination wears off, smart couples continue to give each other compliments and praise.
Why wouldn’t we express our love in even grander ways for the creator of the universe, one who sacrificed a beloved Son so we could be freed from sin and death?
Psalm 150 is the last psalm in the book of Psalms. It’s a love song to God that calls us to praise without apology or qualification and with more enthusiasm that we Presbyterians are really comfortable with. There is a whole orchestra making melody to God! It can seem pointless to us work-driven folks.
Praise isn’t an obligation. Praise is the ultimate expression of our love for God. It’s hard to do publicly without feeling self-conscious. We may think our sacred acts must be perfect to be acceptable, and that we are unworthy of God’s affection. Can a holy God actually love us unholy, imperfect, sinful humans? Can we truly believe God sent a son to die for our sins, even though none of us deserve it?
God doesn’t need perfect praise. There are angels for that. God wants praise from hearts full of gratitude for what God has done and continues to do for us, because God wants to be our loving parent.
Praising God reminds us of many things. First, that the God who made the cosmos cares about each of us personally and works on our behalf, which brings us joy and gratitude. Second, it reminds us of the importance of loving and treating others as we would like to be treated in response to God’s love, helping them as we can. And third, that we are not God and should not presume to make decisions on God’s behalf. God is in charge, not us. God has the ultimate power and the glory. We need to let go of thinking we are all that important, overcoming our selfish sin nature. Praise helps us do that.
Even though we constantly interact with a society of increasingly man-made things and ideas, time shows us that human institutions and structures are insufficient to keep us safe, healthy or happy. Our best response to the shallowness of the world is to return to God’s eternal and bottomless love. We need to throw off our inhibitions and praise God enthusiastically and publicly, trusting that God is pleased with our offerings even when we feel unworthy, and believing that God is with us even when our expressions of love are criticized by the rest of the world. Those who don’t know God cannot understand us.
The disciples knew all about criticism from the world. The Jewish leaders wouldn’t leave them alone, especially because the people were flocking to them in droves. Remember how Peter was before the resurrection? He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet, then wanted him to wash his whole body. He denied Christ three times. He was a confused mess. Then he saw the empty tomb and believed the story the women had told the disciples about meeting two men in glowing garments who said that Jesus had risen as he promised.
Later, Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit into them all, and Peter was transformed into someone who was absolutely sure that he knew what he knew - that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. The man who was afraid to admit that he even knew Jesus on the night of his arrest became a mighty witness and preacher, an energizer bunny powered by God. He kept testifying in spite of criticism, in spite of floggings, in spite of the disapproval of the people in power.
I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when the angels released the disciples from jail under the very noses of the guards. Were the disciples and the cell doors suddenly invisible? Were the guards asleep? The captain of the temple and the chief priests didn’t see what happened and couldn’t understand it. Perhaps it should have been obvious that these men had been delivered by miraculous means. But to admit that would have meant that they had lost control of their power structure and their very way of life. They would have had to admit that they were wrong, that God was working in ways they didn’t understand and even worse, they had persecuted people for following Jesus. They were jealous of the Holy Spirit’s success in speaking and healing through the disciples. They were afraid that the people would stone them, or that the Romans would punish and replace them.  Which is why they collected the disciples from the temple without using violence in yet another effort to silence them.
Peter’s reply to their demands emphasized that the disciples answered to a higher authority. He stood in front of men who had the power to order him to be tortured or executed and told God’s truth. He had the courage that comes from knowing that he was doing God’s will with God’s help.
Courage, like love, is an action, not just a feeling. Courage is doing something you know is right in spite of how frightened you may feel in the moment, even knowing that the consequences might be difficult.
We need to have the courage to say two things: “I believe that God is love,” and “I believe that Jesus is God’s greatest gift of love.”
To do this, we need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in God’s perfect will, so we can discern when we should speak and when we should listen and be patient. I don’t recommend talking to perfect strangers on the street about Jesus while handing out pamphlets. It’s not likely to do more than annoy most people.  It’s also counter-productive to talk at people, saying things like “You need a savior!” and “You’re going to hell!” Sometimes well-meaning Christians talk about their faith in inappropriate settings, turning others off.
My husband David works for RTD driving an Access-a-Ride bus, one that picks up and drops off people with various disabilities. Last week, he heard a driver on the radio ask the dispatcher how to get to a particular location. David had been there many times and knew it was more complicated than the GPS would show, so he got on the radio and gave her directions. She responded, “Excuse me, but I was talking to dispatch.” Some other drivers criticized her for not listening to David, and she said, “You need to go to church.” David replied, “I do go to church, every week - with my wife, the pastor.”
It's much more effective to develop a relationship, to love on people first before trying to talk to them about our faith. I’m not talking about saying the words, “I love you.” I’m talking about love in action, following Jesus’ example as much as possible. We need to earn their trust, and that takes time. Unless they’re on their death bed, we can take the time to be Jesus to them, showing them the gentleness, patience and kindness that comes from the Holy Spirit living inside us. The joy we feel because Jesus gave us eternal life can shine through us even when we’re not talking about him directly. We can talk about how blessed we feel, how much we love God, and so on, without imposing these beliefs on them. Thank God, there is free speech in this country. There are still places in the world where talking about Jesus can get you thrown in prison or worse.
If someone finds the Jesus talk wearing after a while, ask them why it bothers them. “Tell me about this God you don’t believe in.” Find out their history. Most people have at least been exposed to Christianity in our country, so they may have preconceptions or misinformation about the faith, or they’ve had bad experiences. Evil can triumph when God’s reputation is besmirched by those who don’t know God personally. Eventually, you may be able to show them that not all Christians are like that and that God isn’t like that, either.
When you get a chance to tell your own faith story, say a little prayer, then continue to say things that make it clear you’re talking about your own experiences. “This is what God did for me.” “This is my story.” You can even practice what you think would be helpful to say in advance. The Holy Spirit spoke through the apostles and will give you the right words if you pray about it. Peter and the apostles talked about what they witnessed themselves. Your personal testimony is more effective than talking in generalities or trying to tell them what they should believe. That’s why it’s called witnessing. You are a witness to the amazing grace and love of Christ. Then you might invite them to church.
This church is a wonderful witness to the love of God in the way you welcome visitors and each other to worship on Sunday mornings. COVID caused many people to stop attending church. I’d like to ask all of you to think about the people who aren’t here, especially those who were friends of yours, and decide how you might contact them, see how they are, and invite them to return to the fold. The sheep like to wander off. Jesus is the good shepherd. I consider myself a sheepdog for Jesus, helping to herd the flock. But you know the past and the people better than I do. Help me help Jesus gather the sheep back to church.
And all God’s people said Amen.

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