Acts 17:22-31; Ps. 66:8-20; 1 Peter3:13-22; John 14:15-21
“Now, who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”
The section of Peter’s letter to the early church starts so positively. Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? Our good intentions should lead to more good. Of course we know this is true. And of course we know it does not always work this way.
It seems our president is struggling with this notion of late, but Clare Boothe Luce, the playwright, U.S. Ambassador to Italy and Brazil, and husband of Henry Luce, the founder of Time, Life and Fortune magazines knew it first when she came up with that wonderfully acidic line, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
Of course, Peter and the early church knew this all too well. People who do good still suffer. And it is sometimes true that we face resistance when we try to do what is good and right precisely for our effort to put others before ourselves, to act on behalf of another, to follow in this way of the crucified and risen One. So, speaking truthfully, Peter goes on: “14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need to be reminded of this. That transactional lament “But its not fair” can all-too-easily come out of my mouth. It is not fair to suffer for doing what is right. It’s not fair because I had the best of intentions. Good deeds should not be punished. And yet, sometimes they are.
Of course, we know this. We have all experienced this. And there are many reasons for it that help us to understand why it is such a common experience. We interpret other’s actions differently than we do our own, for one. And life is complex, for another. What is good for one person or one group isn’t always good for another. Rarely is life simple—especially when we are trying to change what it looks like on the ground, as is our mission as followers of this dying and saving One.
So Peter goes on, and on—giving quite a bit of attention to why we would want to do good, to do what is right even when it is hard, even when we are punished for it, and how we can set ourselves up to keep at it when the opposition feels particularly strong.
I don’t know about you, but I need this. I need the help and I need the encouragement to keep going.
Prepare a strong defense, Peter says: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you;” but gently, and with reverence. In other words, do it in the way that you would like it done to you. Keep your conscience clear because ultimately things will work out. Ultimately the truth will outlast a lie and what is destructive will ultimately be exposed.
I know this has been tested of late in the newspapers, but this isn’t the first time and it won’t be the last. And one of the keys here, according to Peter, is the ability to wait, to trust the process and the Spirit behind the process.
And that Spirit gets us to Jesus’ words of farewell to his disciples in John, and to what is truly remarkable. Did you catch that there are two Advocates in this brief section, not just one? The Advocate that Jesus speaks of whom our tradition understands as that third person of the Trinity, the Spirit of God, that Advocate is another advocate, a second advocate.
In other words, the disciples already had an advocate in Jesus. They already had someone who believed in them. He tells his disciples as he is preparing to give his very life for them. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever.” Another advocate added to the one they already had—this Jesus who was so “for” them, so in their favor that he gave his life for them—for us. He abides in you and with you, this spirit of Truth that is setting us free, reminding us what and who we truly are even as our good deeds are punished—perhaps especially then.
I was here on Tuesday night to meet with John, the new Cub Scout leader. I was expecting to show him the renovated spaces that were for them for storage and weekly use. But a 10-minute conversation turned into an hour as we began to talk about why he does what he does, about why he wants to give so much of his time and energy to kids that aren’t his. It turns out it has everything to do with his own experience as a kid. In a way, I suspect that’s true for all of us—for better or worse, because of good experiences we had, because of mentors who were important for us, or to make up for horrific ones.
The think is an advocate makes all the difference in the world. We need people who believe in us. It changes our reality and it changes our future, regardless of the unfair suffering that may occur along the way. As Peter’s letter explains:
For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God.[i]
How we need advocates? How we need people to be for us in a world with so much opposition. How we need people to see the best in us—to name it, and to remind us of it, especially when we are having such a hard time seeing it ourselves! It changes everything!
I wonder if there are ways that this Spirit, this Advocate is nudging you to advocate for others. What good do you see that you don’t say? How could you say it? What reason could possibly keep you from doing so?
What person or family or child could use some positive, self-giving, life-saving attention? Give it! What reason could possibly keep you from doing so?
What good work could use your support or your leadership? Give it! What reason could possibly keep you from doing so?
Mother Teresa once said “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Fred Rogers who built a TV neighborhood home for generations of children said, “The connections we make in the course of a life—maybe that’s what heaven is.”
You see, I think Jesus intended the church as a slice of heaven—a place where we could come to find an advocate when we can’t find them anywhere else. There is such a power in the idea of our lives being an absolute “YES” to one another. It changes everything! Make no mistake, this is the Christ who gave himself so that we could have life. This is the Spirit, the Advocate Jesus gives to his disciples. This is the God who gives all mortals life and breath, in whom we live and move and have our being. This is the Spirit that cries out in you when things aren’t fair. And it has the power to shape and save us, to mold and remake us. It has the power for life to the full.
Thanks be to God!
[i] 1 Peter 3:17-18.
St. Andrew Sermons