Pierre-Henry Buisson May 17, 2020
Alleluia, Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!
When I was the Chaplain of St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Maryland, the History teacher asked me to work with her students who were studying the Reformation, and how people were ready to die for their beliefs. She called these beliefs their “Core Values.” With the students, we tried to define what core values are. I found definitions and examples on the Internet to help them, as this one: “Core values are traits or qualities that are not just worthwhile, they represent an individual’s (…) highest priorities, deeply held beliefs, and core, fundamental driving forces.” After discussion, I asked them to write down their own core values. The result was not what I expected, to say the least! For many it was about sports, for some it was about friendship, family, and for a small group, it was about faith, Christ, and creed. Then I asked a simple question: “Are you ready to die for your core values?” An embarrassed silence was my only answer…
To illustrate my point, we watched a short video about persecuted Christian teenagers. we saw Chinese children in prison singing, “I’m not afraid of persecution, hardship, or even death… Nobody can separate me from the love of Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and gave me a new life.” My students were amazed to see these young persons accepting to go to prison, or even to face death, because of their faith. They could have said they were not Christians, they could have renounced Jesus to go free. But they did not. They stood firm in their faith, proclaiming their faith in the Risen Lord, without anger and without revolt. They were doing exactly what Peter asked Christians to do when facing trials or persecution: “Do not fear what they fear, and don’t be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” I still don’t know what I would do if I were in this situation — do you? I just know that today in our world many Christian brothers and sisters are persecuted because of their faith in the Risen Lord. They are the martyrs of today; they are silently witnessing to the One in whom they put their trust. Their core value is Christ. The least we can do for them is to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.
Being a Christian demands courage — the courage to make choices in order to show what are our core values as Christians; what really matters to us. It demands courage to follow Christ’s path of demanding and unconditional love, because it often leads us to do things differently than what is expected by our society. We don’t necessarily need to suffer for our faith, but we have choices, difficult choices, to make. How to reconcile Jesus’ call to unconditional love, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to love each other as he loves us, with what is happening in our society where people are suffering, where some are bullied because they are different, where people are not treated the same because of their race, color of skin, or sexual preferences? We have choices to make. What choices are we ready to make in order to be faithful to the Risen Lord and to spread his message of love to our so divided society? I’m so proud to know that so many of you are giving time, talent, and/or money to help those in need around us. That speaks volumes about your core values!
“Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” The hope that Peter is talking about is the certainty that comes with faith in the Risen Lord; the certainty that the victory is already won; the certainty that we are already partakers of Christ’s life and that one day we will share Christ’s unending life in communion with God. Maybe it is an invitation for all of us today to think once again about our own faith in Christ the Lord, to think about our relationship with Him. Who is Christ for me? What does Christ’s death and resurrection change in my life? How does my faith impact my relationship with the Lord, with my Christian brothers and sisters, and those around me? Am I willing to explain my faith to all who ask me questions about my belief in Christ?
Peter insists that we answer those people “with gentleness and reverence.” If Peter asks Christians facing trial or persecution for their faith to answer with gentleness and reverence, how much more are we inviting to treat our Christian brothers and sisters with even greater gentleness and reverence? I have been distressed so many times to see how Christians treat Christians of other denominations, how Episcopalians have behaved poorly when disagreements arose at the National, diocesan, or even parochial levels. Let us try to always treat each other with gentleness and reverence, especially when we disagree. Sometimes, it could be as simple as to refrain from sending a nasty email to all my contacts. Or to keep for me that angry comment I was about to say. Gentleness and reverence are concrete ways to express unconditional love.
This is not always easy. But Jesus assures us that we have already received the Spirit within us. The Spirit already abides in us, and will be with us always. This Spirit is a gift from the Lord to help us to pursue Christ’s mission to love and serve the Lord; to love and serve the world. The Good News is that we are never alone, the Spirit is working within us, helping us to make the right choices; helping us to find the words to express and share our faith; helping us to bear witness to the Risen Lord by the way we live our lives.
Peter invites us to always be ready to explain our faith. It’s exactly what Paul did during his entire ministry until his death in Rome. Paul was eager to bring Christ to all, and he was not afraid to stand up alone in front of strangers to proclaim his faith in the One God who created everything, and in the bodily resurrection of Christ. In the passage of Acts, we heard how Paul was able to present his faith to the Athenians using their own culture and their own spiritual traditions. He even quoted two Greek poets or philosophers in his speech because they were in tune with his faith: “In him we live and move and have our being; we too are his offspring.” This is an invitation for us to be attentive to the world around us, to its needs, its richness, but also to its limits — in order to know how to make Christ’s Good News relevant to the children, youth, men, and women of our times.
The Pastoral Constitution on the Church for the Modern World, published during the Second Vatican Council of 1965, begins with these words; “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted — these are the joys and hopes, the grief and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts.”
Together, let us be open to the joys, hope, grief, and anxieties of those around us. Let us be open to the needs of those around us, in order to help them; in order to serve them; in order to love them; witnessing by our words and actions the radical love of Christ for all.
The world is always changing and evolving. Our core value does not, because Christ is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow. However, we cannot present Christ’s message today here in the Quad Cities area in the same manner as we did fifty or 20 years ago. This is a challenge not only for the church, but also for each of us. How do we translate — and transmit — our faith in the Risen Lord, our faith in the One God who created the universe in words, images, and concepts that are relevant today? How are we going to bring Good News that is relevant to this generation? How are we going to help them to proclaim by themselves that Christ is the Risen Lord? Amen.