This week, the pre-Lambeth Conference “Bishop’s Conversations” begin via Zoom. Once a month, for the next six months, Anglican bishops from around the world will gather online in small groups for Bible Study and conversation about what life during the pandemic has been like in our contexts. The aim of these gatherings is to establish relationships before we see one another face to face in England next summer at the actual Lambeth Conference.
Our first text is 1 Peter 3:13-16:
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.
I confess to some surprise that this passage is where we begin–a passage that begins with the experience of suffering and being maligned, and a sense of us/then division rather than substantive unity. But perhaps that is simply the organizers being honest about the past experience of bishops at Lambeth, where it seems everyone has felt maligned and divided.
To follow Jesus means to be vulnerable to pain and suffering. Our faith is not a pill we can take to ward off pain, nor a guarantee of physical, emotional, or spiritual safety. To hold Christ in our hearts is to walk with him to the cross, and to share with him in the resurrection. For me, it is that promise of resurrection, and the focus on the cross that allows me to–at my best–behave with gentleness and reverence as Peter would have us do in the face of suffering.
My real focus in the passage, though, is “an account of the hope that is in you.” What is the hope that is in you, to which you would testify in the face of those who would challenge your faith?
Hope is something that usually comes easy to me. During my vacation, I sat around singing old show tunes one afternoon, and enjoyed a tour through Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cockeyed optimist” from South Pacific:
“I’m stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!”
I have hope for our people, for our world, for our churches. I have hope for unity with justice for all people; I have hope that our congregations will thrive and grow; I have hope that the promise of forgiveness and redemption will turn each one of us away from sin and towards love; I have hope that our gathering at Lambeth next year will be inspiring rather than demoralizing. I have those hopes only because of Jesus. Can you and I make all things well? Definitely not. But can the mercy, grace, and power of Jesus Christ? Absolutely. And I can’t get it out of my heart.