The Epistle. I St. Peter 2. 11.
Dearly beloved: I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims abstain from fleshly lusts, which was against the soul, having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well: for so is the Will of God, that with well-doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men: love the brotherhood: fear God: honor the king.
To begin this morning, please know that I do realize that the Kalendar says we are still in Eastertide; and that we are still basking in the Glory of Our Lord’s Resurrection. And yet seemingly in spite of that, we have been given a lesson from the 1st Epistle of St. Peter that appears to be something of a downer. Once again, we are being told what to do and what not to do and how to behave; in a way that is evocative of those “lists” that St. Paul likes to provide on a regular basis.
But St. Peter’s message is not intended simply to commend to us a standard of the moral Christian life; rather, it means to tell us that in the wake of the Resurrection, we can no longer live as we used to. Further, the Apostle describes our duty as Christians; not only to confess Christ and proclaim the Gospel, but to make sure that our witness is so complete, so pure, that the enemies of God can have no response.
All too often we Christians have allowed ourselves to be defined by the world; and most often we are described not by what we are “for”, but by what we are “against”. We in the Anglican Catholic Church know this phenomenon all too well.
We hold to an all-male episcopate and priesthood, so we are called “anti-woman”; we believe that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is the union of one man and one woman, so we are called “anti-gay”; we believe that the killing of an unborn child is murder, so we are called “anti-choice”; we believe that one must be Baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and Confirmed by a Bishop in Apostolic Succession before receiving the Most Precious Body and Blood of Christ, so therefore we are not “inclusive”.
But I remind you that these are all worldly definitions; foisted upon us by those who have lost or forgotten or never learned the lesson of the Resurrection; the lesson that teaches us that we are no longer “of this world” (Ephesians 2:2 “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world“); but rather that we now belong to another world, another Kingdom; a place where we are defined not by what we are “against”, but by what is possible, through the Grace of God.
This is why St. Peter begins this passage by calling us “strangers and pilgrims”. The Greek definitions for these words describe someone who is only temporarily resident in a place; whose home is elsewhere. These same words were used by the author of the Letter to the Hebrews to describe Abraham in his travels (11:9; “by faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 13; These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth) and in Acts to describe the Israelites during their captivity in Egypt (7:6; “And God spoke on this wise, that his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years”): strangers living in strange lands, who were ultimately delivered to their promised home by God.
These are the images that resonate with us today; by the Grace of God, we have become strangers, temporarily resident in this world; because our true home is now in His Kingdom. And while we may still be held captive by our mortal existence, we know that by the Sacrifice of Christ our deliverance to our true home is assured.
And since we know that our true home, our true “residence”, is not of this world, it would be only natural for us to believe that the rules and ways of this world do not pertain to us; indeed, we must be careful to reject those ideals and laws that are in direct opposition to the Will of God. After all, we are citizens of God’s Kingdom; and His Law supersedes any edict of this world.
But St. Peter does not absolve us of our responsibility for living in this world; and it is here that his message gets a bit harder for us. First of all, we have this; “having your conversation honest among the Gentiles”.
Now in our current usage, we would interpret this phrase to mean “speaking truth”, and to a certain extent this would be correct. But in the Greek, the word used for “conversation” was meant to denote a man’s entire conduct, and not just the way in which he spoke. In fact, this was still the definition of “conversation” as understood by the King James translators.
Likewise, in the original Greek, the word “honest” meant “good in quality”, and “lovely, attractive”. In combination, what St. Peter is telling us is that as Christians, the entire conduct of our lives must be so “good in quality”, so “lovely and attractive”, that all the accusations of our enemies will easily be proved to be false.
So, when the world tries to say that we are “anti-woman”, let us show them our love for Our Blessed Mother, in addition to our reverence for all the Saints in history who also happen to be female. When the world says that we are “anti-gay”, let us show them our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters in Christ, and for all Gods Creation, no matter what their personal spiritual journeys may be.
When the world says that we are “anti-choice”, let us proclaim that we are the ultimate “pro-choice” community; but that the ultimate “pro-choice” decision will ALWAYS be to protect innocent life. And when the world tries to say that we are not “inclusive”, let us reply that God’s Love is all-inclusive; and likewise that His Salvation is available to all who would repent and come to Him through His Son.
But remember that as we speak these truths about our Faith, we are likewise admonished by St. Peter to always conduct ourselves in a manner that is so “good in quality”, so “lovely and attractive”, that all the accusations of the world will be shown to be false, “that, whereas they speak against you as evil-doers, they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation”.
But since I also implied that we must be careful to reject those standards and laws that are in direct opposition to the Will of God, I must also address the next part of today’s lesson. In what might seem to be a tricky balancing act between loyalty to our true home and our residence in this temporary one, St. Peter lays out a standard of behavior for our time in this world that on the surface appears to be something of a contradiction; “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake “. Indeed, some might interpret his admonition as a variation of that old line, “don’t rock the boat”.
It was never God’s intention that His Gospel should create anarchy on earth. There cannot be found in the Scriptures any command that the authority of the lawful government should be overthrown. The clear difference is in the phrase “lawful government”.
In ancient times, this meant the absolute government and authority of the emperor or king. But in our world today, this means the government as consented to by the people; the result of which is that more than ever, Christians have a responsibility to participate in the development and continuation of that government. But the way in which we participate in that government is crucial. And this brings us back round to the 1st point of today’s lesson.
We KNOW that we reverence the contributions of all women in this world as exemplified by our Holy Mother. We KNOW that we are committed to the traditional teachings of the Church as they pertain to the Sacraments. We KNOW that the lives of all children are precious to God. We KNOW that the Salvation of God is open to all who repent and believe in Him. And we KNOW that it is our duty and responsibility to convey this message to all the world; regardless of the fact that we are merely pilgrims and strangers here, and citizens of another country; the Kingdom of God.
It is not the job of Christians to force our Faith and Belief on the people and governments of this world; it IS our responsibility to conduct our lives in such a way, so that the hearts and minds of people and governments may be changed; so that all the charges against the Faithful may be shown to be wrong; so that the world cannot deny the truth. It is our responsibility to live our lives so “good in quality”, in a way so “lovely and attractive”, that all the accusations of our enemies will be proved to be false. It is our duty and commitment to live as witnesses to the Glory of Christ, so that “they may by your good works which they shall behold, glorify God”.