Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

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 time 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 each other, 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. 

Peter’s letters aren’t as well known or as widely studied as the letters of Paul, probably because there are only two of them, and because Paul’s letters deal with a wide range of theological issues. But Peter’s letters deserve more attention than they get, because they have some pretty interesting ideas in them. And those ideas have a lot to say about how we live out our faith.

We know Peter as a member of Jesus’ ‘inner circle’ of disciples (along with James and John). Peter was originally named Simon, but Jesus said he would be ‘the rock on which the church would be built.’ So Jesus gave him the name Peter, which means something close to ‘Rocky.’ Peter and Paul didn’t always agree on everything, but they seem to have had the ability to work out their differences gracefully and work together respectfully.

Peter’s a very interesting character in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. A lot of the time he comes off like a big, impulsive kid. Peter leaps before he looks and speaks before he thinks, so naturally he winds up getting himself in trouble. Some New Testament scholars say that he’s meant to be seen as a spokesman for the rest of the disciples, and that his mistakes are meant to be lessons for the rest of us in our lives of faith.

But in spite of his rambunctiousness and his mistakes like denying Jesus on the night of his arrest, Peter went on to be one of the main leaders of the early church. And in spite of the fact that he may have been illiterate, Peter seems to have been one of the main creative forces behind the New Testament. Many scholars believe that Peter dictated the Gospel of Mark to John Mark, who wrote down everything Peter remembered of the life and teachings of Jesus. And since Luke and Matthew based their gospels on Mark, Peter probably also deserves some credit for their creation, too. And of course, he wrote – or dictated – two New Testament letters that bear his name, one of which is the source of our reading for today.

So in spite of his background as a fisherman who probably didn’t have much formal education, Peter wound up being one of the theological leaders of the early church. Clearly, he understood the meaning of Jesus’s life, death and resurrection well enough to make some very important contributions to the theology of the Christian faith. In the course of his missionary adventures described in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was one of the early church leaders who figured out how gentile converts should be brought into the Jesus movement that had initially been almost entirely Jewish.

In our reading for today, Peter says that followers of Jesus should live and act with a mind-set of genuine discipline. He says we should turn aside from the sins of our past, and to try to live the holiest possible lives, because we’re meant to be imitating a holy God.

And then Peter gets to an idea that strikes me as the most important single idea in his letters: the idea that followers of Jesus should think of ourselves as strangers in a world that is not our own. Or as it’s often expressed, we’re to be “in the world but not of it.”

Peter has something specific in mind in saying that: When we were kids, the way we acted reflected on our parents. If we were well behaved, others would think well of our parents. If we behaved like spoiled brats, people would think badly of our parents.

It seems that Peter has something like that in mind for us as followers of Jesus. You might say that Peter wants us to be respectful ‘visitors’ in this world. He urges us to live in a way that will reflect well on our heavenly Father, and on his Son who is our master.

If we’re polite and respectful of others, and if we show respect and consideration for one another, people will think well of the Lord who directs our lives. On the other hand, if we  fight and bicker among ourselves, our bad behaviors will reflect badly on the God we claim to serve.

The history of the church seems to support what Peter says. In times when the followers of Jesus genuinely commit themselves to living as mannerly aliens in the world, the Christian faith spreads like wildfire. That includes times during the great persecutions of the early church when the Christians could claim to be the best citizens of the very empire that was persecuting them.

But all too often, we followers of Jesus still act like spoiled brats, with a strong sense of entitlement, demanding what we think is owed to us and fighting among ourselves.

North American followers of Jesus today are quick to blame others for the decline of the church’s influence in our time. We blame the culture. We blame the federal government. We blame the media. But the truth is that if we really want to see who’s responsible for the loss of respect for the church, we should all walk into the bathroom and look into the mirror. Then we should turn to First Peter and read this passage about the importance of living as strangers in the world, strangers who are committed to living holy lives marked by love and respect for one another.

Because if we really managed to live according to what Peter says in our passage for today, people would be fighting to get into the church, ‘tearing a hole in the roof,’ so to speak, because they sensed that Jesus was present among us.

Let’s pray. Lord, you know that all too often we expect the world to honor us for our great virtue, forgetting that we usually don’t act all that virtuous. By your Spirit, transform us into people who live as your servant Peter said – as strangers in this world, pursuing holiness and living in imitation of Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace,