sermon

Holding Under Pressure

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

June 2, 2019

Text: John 17:14, Acts of the Apostles: Acts 16:16-34,

Gospel Reading: John 17:20-26

Our blessed Jesus gave us the Word of the Gospel to save the world. He entrusted His Word to us to share with others.

It’s a message of love – God’s love for the world. It’s a message of hope – God’s love forgives us of our sins. It’s a message of faith – trusting in God’s love opens your door to His Kingdom. It’s a message of peace – belief in God’s love changes your relationship with your neighbor.

What a beautiful message we’ve been given.

What a popular message it should be.

Such an important message should be received with gratitude.

Such a valuable message should be treasured and lived.

It should inspire a new life – new determination to live better, love better.

The messenger of Christ’s Gospel ought to be received with appreciation. The deliverer of Christ’s Gospel ought to be commended for caring. The proclaimer of Christ’s Gospel ought to be honored for changing life for the better. The believer in Christ’s Gospel ought to be respected for being a role model.

Nope. Natta. No way. Oh, hum. Don’t bore me. I don’t care.

Such is the mild response to Christ’s Word of the Gospel.

The harsh response to Christ’s Word of the Gospel is more difficult.

The follower of Christ’s Gospel is bigoted because, “You don’t accept me for who I am.” The enthusiast for Christ’s Gospel is judgmental because, “You don’t think I’m good enough.” The lover of Christ’s Gospel is divisive and intolerant.

How does it feel?

Does it discourage you?

Do you feel pressured to stay silent about Jesus?

Have you heard people advise you not to talk about religion or politics if you don’t want to get in a verbal battle?

I’m here to tell you it is disheartening. It’s disheartening to me as your pastor. I have met wonderful Christians through nearly 40 years of ministry, and 60 years of life’s experience who have been intimidated and beaten down by criticism of Christian faith.

There was the high school teacher who was a church member who was told by his principal to stop wearing a cross to school. The principal was a church member. But he had been advised by the school solicitor to have all religious symbols removed from the teaching staff’s attire.

Yet students wearing pentagrams on T-shirts walked school halls unchallenged.

There was the CEO of U.S. Steel who was shocked by the Supreme Court’s ruling on behalf of the ACLU removing the Nativity display from inside the Allegheny County courthouse. In a different ruling by the same court, a menorah and Christmas tree were permitted to remain outside on the county courthouse steps. The reason for the season was hidden from public view under the guise of church/state separation.

We’ve been given every indication that the Word of the Gospel is socially unacceptable. What is socially unacceptable is politically unacceptable in a government that is of the people by the people for the people.

We are being pressured to be silent.

Like children of the Victorian era, Christians are to be seen but not heard. That pressure isn’t just from outside the Church. It comes from inside the Church as well.

I have been pressured to be silent by those who are uncomfortable with the name of Jesus being spoken in public.

There was the time I was invited to pray at a banquet by the president of the swim club to which our family belonged. I prayed in the name of Jesus. The president was approached by a family who was offended by my use of Jesus’ name in prayer.

He came to me about what had happened and advised I should not use Jesus’ name in such a prayer again. It offends people. When I was invited the next year to pray, I said I have a responsibility to my ordination to pray in Jesus’ name. The invitation was retracted by the president.

He was an elder in the session of the church I served.

He was the same elder who said during our session meeting that our youth group should not have prayer. It is too religious and would turn off the kids. Youth fellowship should be about having fun, not developing a teenager’s relationship with Jesus.

I could go on at length about the grieving hearts of Christian parents, children, employees who have been getting the message. Keep faith in Jesus to yourself. Religion is private. It’s offensive.

We are pressured to stay silent about Jesus. But we’re free to keep on believing in Jesus.

We are pressured to think Jesus has no place in public discussion. But we can privately say Jesus Christ has come to save the world.

How are we to hold both positions inside ourselves without denying Jesus Christ is Lord?

The Gospel is meant for the world. It’s meant to be shared. It can’t be bottled up inside us and show Jesus we’re fulfilling His mission.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 10:6, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” He is reminding Christians who are under pressure from the Roman Empire that faith isn’t private.

In v. 8 Paul is cites Deut. 30, “What does it say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.’” He’s telling the Christians in Rome you can’t compartmentalize your faith and keep it private just because you’re under pressure. You need to integrate your faith in all aspects of your life.

In v. 9 Paul says, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”                                             Finally, Paul summarizes his point about integrating faith inwardly and outwardly in v. 14, “How are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him?”

Our faith in Jesus compels us to have a public conversation about His blessing for the world. We can’t avoid it and we can’t escape the pressure that’s going to come from being public Christians.

Jesus knew this. This morning’s reading from John 17 is Jesus’ prayer for us. He won’t be with us visually to take the direct assault that comes from sharing His Gospel. We’re going to be the ones the public sees who will pressure us to stop. Jesus has given us His Word to share and it’s not going to be received by everyone with appreciation.

Jesus prayed in v. 14, “I’ve given my disciples Your Word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.”

We can’t escape being in the world and receiving what the world gives Jesus. There are too many vested interests in keeping the world’s power structure just as it is for Jesus to be universally accepted.

The challenge before us is to remain united in Jesus Christ despite the world’s pressure to conform to the silence it demands of Jesus. The difficulty we face is staying integrated as Christians, both personally and as a community of faith.

To be one with each other requires us to be one with Jesus in our hearts and in our lips. We must integrate our spirituality in all facets of our lives. This requires continual attention to our spiritual health and our devotion to Jesus.

You can withstand even greater pressure than what you face when you become even closer to Jesus than you presently are. Take your concerns before Him every day.

If you don’t own a reference Bible that can give you passages to read on everyday life events, find one and begin studying it. If you do own a reference Bible, let it speak to you about recovering your courage to share the Gospel.

Let God’s Word strengthen your heart so that you have a Gospel-fed voice in the world. Let God’s Word strengthen your mind so that you have Gospel-led thoughts that discipline your tongue to represent Jesus’ thoughts for the world.

Finally, find brothers and sisters of faith who will hold you accountable to being a daily witness to Jesus Christ. The world is transformed when two or three of us stand together to declare the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Where we stand as one, we are resisting the pressure to remain silent and God will direct us to greater paths of faithfulness.

Which brings me back to the CEO of U.S. Steel, a Christian who was offended by the Supreme Court ruling that removed the Nativity display from the Allegheny County Courthouse. Instead of quietly accepting the Court’s ultimate decision regarding the law, he began talking with some other CEOs about how to bring Jesus back into the public square.

He offered a place before the U.S. Steel Building for a nativity to be erected and gathered enough donations to erect the Vatican duplicate that has been part of the County’s observance of Christmas ever since.

The Vatican Nativity on Grant Street is a reminder to us that Christ prevails wherever there are Christians holding up to the pressure the world is applying to conform. We have allies who are united with us in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we are one with Christ, we stand together and don’t let public or private criticism from dissuading us.

Christians resisted the Roman Empire. Christians resist Supreme Court rulings that hinder public expression of the Christian faith. They do so unafraid of the consequences of their faith because they know that if they confess with their lips what they believe in their hearts they will be saved.

Look around you today. These are your brothers and sisters of faith in Jesus Christ. They are your spiritual partners who share with you the same heart for Jesus Christ’s Gospel. They are your companions on the journey to the kingdom of God.

Be one with them and show the world what Jesus does for those who hold up under pressure! Amen.

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