Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

https://soundcloud.com/hapearce/reflection-for-november-23-2021

I Peter 1:13-23

Be Holy

     13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action: be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

     17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

     22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers [and sisters], love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

It seems to me that the letters of Peter fall into the category of under-appreciated books of the New Testament. For one thing, the scholars say that the Gospel of Mark was the first of the gospels, and that it was actually Peter’s account of the ministry and teachings of Jesus. So as we read the letters of Peter, we should probably be keeping in mind their connection with the original gospel story.

But there’s another reason that Peter’s letters strike be as deserving more attention than they usually get. Peter expresses some important ideas about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And a couple of those ideas show up in today’s reading.

For instance, the passage we’re reading is headed “Be Holy.” The Hebrew people considered themselves to be a holy people because of their covenant with God and the fact that they had the laws of Moses. But of us most followers of Jesus wouldn’t describe ourselves as holy, because we acknowledge that we’re all sinners. So it comes as a surprise to learn that Christian tradition has said that the followers of Jesus are a holy people. That’s because of our master’s death on the cross, not because we live pure and sinless lives. Our holiness is a gift out of God’s grace.

In the first verse of this passage, Peter says that we should ‘set our hope fully on the grace to be given us.’ It’s always a good idea to remind ourselves of the actual meaning of grace: the un-earned favor of God. So our hope is not that’s we’ll ever be good enough to make God like us for our righteousness – instead, we have hope because of the grace of God that moves us to follow Jesus.

But in spite of our dependence on God’s grace, Peter says that we should still aim to live lives that will be worthy of being considered holy. He doesn’t give us a list of rules and regulations for doing that. Instead, Peter just seems to assume that anyone who has been studying the life and teachings of Jesus will have a pretty good idea of what kind of life his followers are called to live.

The only specific example of that kind of life that Peter gives is a call to cultivate a deep and heartfelt love for one another. This is the second aspect of the ‘holy life’ Peter is calling us to. You might remember that Jesus prayed for this love among his followers at the Last Supper – on the last night of his earthly ministry. And he said that love for one another would be how the world would know his true followers. So living by the teachings of Jesus and cultivating a sincere love for other followers seem to be the cornerstones of a holy life.

Which, obviously, can be challenging. It’s not hard to love the people you see at church on Sunday – the people who worship and pray and study and serve alongside you regularly. But how about the people from other parts of the church – people who disagree with us on matters of doctrine and criticize us as “not real Christians” because of those disagreements? It seems to me we’re called to be agents of reconciliation in the greater church, as well as between God and those outside the faith.

But there’s one other theme in this passage that we should think about, because it was pretty important to Peter. And that’s the idea that we should live in the world as though we were strangers or aliens in it.

What Peter’s trying to say here is the idea that’s sometimes expressed as being “in the world but not of it.” We’re supposed to live in such a way that the world’s people – those outside the church – will see our lives and glorify God because of us. It’s not that we’re supposed to be patting ourselves on the back for our own righteousness. Instead, we’re called to be good neighbors to those around us, helping those in need and showing the love of God whenever we can. The idea is for those who encounter us to think better of God because of the way we live.

It seems to me that if that’s the bottom line of what we get out of this passage, Jesus will feel that Peter did a pretty good job of sketching what it means for his disciples to live “a holy life.”

Let’s pray. Lord, we invite you to move in our hearts by the power of your Holy Spirit, shaping us into people who keep Jesus’ teachings in our minds and hearts, and who work to foster within ourselves a love for all our brothers and sisters in him. And let everything we do and say bring glory to your holy name. Amen.

Every Blessing,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 12 and 146; Nahum 1:1-13; and Matthew 19:13-22.)