This morning at our weekly Bible at Breakfast group at a local restaurant in Vancouver we continued to read through the First Letter of Peter. Today we were hosting chapter three which begins with advice for Christian wives married to non-Christian husbands and ends with verses that link Noah and the flood with our baptism. We had plenty to wrestle with in the chapter. Then there in the middle of it all is a wonderful verse that, as one of our number put it, could easily be carved above the door of the Chapel to be read as we are leaving worship: "Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you" (I Peter 3:15).
The verse is set in the context of a time when Christian witness is suspect. The preceding verse gives this advice: "Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord." And the verse itself goes on to say "Yet do it with gentleness and reverence." Reading these verses one can almost feel the tension in the air as the early church begins to face hostility, marginalization, suspicion and persecution.
It is also evident that the letter assumes that Christians will live in such a way that they will, of necessity, have to defend their way of life. And it calls this way of life "the hope that is in you". This is a wonderful way to describe Christianity. We are grounded in hope. Not glib optimism. Not a thin veneer of cheeriness. Hope that takes the trouble seriously. Hope that tells the truth about the pain. Hope that God is redeeming broken lives and reconciling broken relationships when all the evidence is to the contrary.
This peculiar hope causes Christians - or should cause Christians - to accompany those who have been given up for lost, scapegoated, rejected and with those who have given themselves up for lost, scapegoated themselves, rejected their own souls as beyond hope. It leads us - or should leads us - not to give up hope when the world is shrouded in despair.
I wonder how we would describe the hope that is in us. I wonder how living that hope might lead others to challenge our way of life. I wonder what of our actions, choices, spending, lifestyle and politics we might be called upon to defend as expressions of Christian hope.
I think that I will make up some small laminated signs with this verse so that it can be placed by the doors of homes or offices of folk in the congregation, perhaps also slipped into a wallet or a purse, as a daily reminder to us to live and speak the "hope that is in you". This is one of the gifts of reading a chapter a week of the Bible every Wednesday morning over breakfast together. You never know what verse will inspire and encourage our life together. Over time you just learn to expect it.