Before entering the ministry, I was a salesman. I worked for a company that sold home décor to little “mom and pop” shops across the Midwest. We sold figurines, clocks, and Christmas ornaments. I continued in that job part-time while at Seminary. I would travel the country and do a few trade shows here and there to help pay the bills.
At a show in Atlanta, I had been working with a customer for several hours when we entered a section of the showroom dedicated to Christian ornaments. In disgust the customer turned to me and told me, in no uncertain terms, exactly what she thought of Christianity. She wasn’t a fan, and I felt judged. But, in the face of her verbal attack, I was silent. I wasn’t sure what to say. I enjoyed her company. I told myself, “This isn’t the place, and if I offend her I could lose my job.”
After she finished her rant, she turned back to the wall, reached out and took hold of a small plastic cross. With confusion in her voice, she said rhetorically, “…but it sure sells.” There was a short moment of silence that followed, another opportunity for me to say something, but again, I said nothing.
Many of you have had experiences like that, experiences where you feel like you should have said something, but you let the moment pass. You might be thinking, “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it. It happens to all of us. Even the great Simon Peter denied Christ!”
It is true that we all fail, but it is also true that it is never OK to deny Jesus or to stand in silence. Silence and denial are one and the same.
Jesus said, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
The words of Jesus are clear and direct. We are at war, and there is no middle ground. Fortunately for us, Jesus has provided the battle plan. If it were up to us, we would grab literal swords and try to convert the world by force, but that is not God’s plan. On the morning of Jesus’ crucifixion, Simon Peter pulled a sword in defense of Jesus. He cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest. Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword away.” He said, “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
You see, we are at war, but the battle is not against flesh and blood, and violence is not the plan. Instead Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you.” That’s the plan, and we are given a sword to accomplish the task. The Apostle Paul tells us to take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and boldly proclaim the mystery of the gospel.
When that lady at the trade show said, “but it sure sells,” what if I had asked, in love, “Why do you think it sells?” What do you think might have happened? You never know how the Holy Spirit is going to work. Perhaps I could have led her to faith, or perhaps the Holy Spirit would have sown the seed for someone else to lead her to faith. I don’t know. But I do know this: challenging her in love would have brought her no harm. That day I was tested, and I failed, but I have practiced my response in hope that I will not fail again.
As Christians, we must not fear consequences that result from speaking the truth in love. We must only see reward. For those who acknowledge Jesus before others, he has promised to acknowledge them before his father in heaven. And to be acknowledged by Jesus, the judge of both the living and the dead, is to find peace for your soul.
Rev. Troy Tysdal is Director of Communications and Prayer for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren and serves as editor in chief of Faith & Fellowship magazine.