A meditation on 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 116:8-9

We are reading through 1st Peter this season. This is an epistle about how to endure the sufferings and trials we will face as Christians in light of the joy and thankfulness we receive in Jesus’s Resurrection. Today, first we will dwell on some commands Peter issues that are really blessings. It is like they are saying to us “turn this way” and in turning that way we escape from a number of troubles and dangers. They are commands of freedom or as St. James calls such things a law of liberty (James 2:12). Second we will hear of the assurance and grace that will aid us in receiving these blessings.

First Peter tells the Anatolian church to set its hope on Christ’s return. This is a command. This is a blessing. Peter saw Jesus ascend into heaven. He saw two men standing before him in bright raiment saying “what are you doing waiting around for, Jesus shall return in the same way that he ascended.” Jesus had told him it was not for him to know when he would be coming back (Acts 1). This is consistent with what Paul tells the Thessalonians who are constantly obsessed with all the details of when Jesus will come back and what will happen then. Paul tells them in 1 Thessalonians 5 that he will not write to them about dates and times because they already know Jesus’s return will seem like the coming of a theif in the night to this perishing world, but to those who eagerly await he will come as the delight of the children of the day. I know when I was a young Christian in a more liberal church we would joke about those who talked often of Christ’s return. I mean its been two thousand years folks.  And I would say to obsess about trying to predict it or getting ourselves all worked up into hysterics isn’t what Peter is asking. He isn’t asking for snide superiority or indifference either. What he is asking of the Anatolian church is to live in hope that this world is temporary and perishing and that our rightful king will one day come. I do not expect that Jesus will return tomorrow. I eagerly yearn for him to return today praying daily “thy kingdom come.”

By living in this hope the troubles of today lose their potency. Its not that what we do or what happens today doesn’t matter, but the way in which they matter is informed by the light of eternity. One day, one day we are not expecting Jesus will come and overturn all of our business dealings, and all of our relationships, and all of our routines, and all of our earthly comforts and pleasures and pains and temptations and torments. And so to live as children of the light we will find ourselves ordering our lives in preparation for life in the presence of Jesus. I do not mean by that that we will build underground bunkers and store up a century’s worth of canned goods. I mean we will more easily be able to let go of that which is harmful to our souls and we will more easily be able to cling to that which builds us up if we see our lives in light of the promise that Christ will come again. Where before you were conformed to evil desires that are coming away, now order your life after the good desires God has for you. Peter tells the Anatolian church in light of Christ’s impending return, do not to be conformed to the world but to the holiness of God. He is quoting here from Israel’s call to purity, to be a distinct people apart from this world, when he says that you shall be holy as the Lord your God is holy (1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 11:44-45, Leviticus 19:2). This before was a curse around their neck. Now it is a foretaste of what is to come and the breaking forth of the kingdom of heaven. Yearning for Jesus’s return helps us to yearn for who we will be then, helps us to cast off shackles and look to truth and to love and to virtue and to gentleness and to justice. Command and blessing.

Second, Peter commands the Anatolian church to live as foreigners in reverent fear. This is not our home and we should not be too at home in this world. While we are here we are called to remember whose we are and where our citizenship is, we are subjects first of the King of the Universe, King Jesus. There is a kind of fear that God has no patience for such that in Revelation St. John the Divine sees cowards as the first cast into the lake of fire forever with witches, sorcerers, tyrants, idolators and the faithless (Revelation 20). But there is another kind of fear that we ought to have. To put it plainly we are to be those who fear God and nothing else in this world. The phrase God-fearing has fallen out of common parlance but it is a good phrase. We are to fear the judgment of God. We are to fear falling from his grace. We are to fear losing his pleasure. Young children love their parents, or should. But they being helpless as they are ought to fear being abandoned by their parents left alone without defense or care. Consider how spiritual defenseless you are. Consider how much spiritual care we need. We ought to fear the turning of God away from us. We also ought to fear the turning of God against us in a wrath we cannot withstand. Rightly ordered fear fears God. Rightly ordered fear fears not poverty or worldly weakness, or worldly shame and embarrassment, or violence done upon the body, or destruction done upon one’s property. I have a ways to go before my fears are ordered rightly, may the Lord help us all. Reverent fear quakes in prayer before the Almighty God whose pleasure it is to adopt us and gather us as his children. Reverent fear feels awe at the Eucharist and in prayer, for we commune with great power. How would you feel if a great bear emerged through the church door, overturned the pew behind you and loomed above you? How should we feel as a much greater power beckons to us and calls us to have faith and be received as his children. Reverent fear that makes us pious and courageous facing the troubles of this world, that makes us men not snakes, this is what we need. Pathetic fear that makes us snaky and double talking cowards, from the second sort, good Lord deliver our hearts. As foreigners in this passing world, reverent fear will help us cling to that which endures, and help us from being conformed to the passing things of this world. You will find in that fear a kind of sublime comfort, where in worldly fear you find only anxiety. Command and blessing.

Love one another deeply from the heart. This last one sounds like its a command, when I first typed up my sermon I thought it was going to be a third command which actually turned out to bless us. But Peter isn’t actually commanding them to love one another deeply from the heart. What he is saying is as you suffer together in this world, as you share together a hope in Jesus’s return, as you share together in reverent fear, you will find yourselves conforming less and less to the world, you will find yourselves fearing less and less as the world fears. You will find in sharing this hope, in sharing this reverence, that as you are being purified you will be able to love one another deeply from your hearts in away that you couldn’t before. You will find yourselves receiving a new kind of love, caritas, sometimes translated as charity, for eachother. This new love is a blessing we should be delighted to find, should God bless us to find it. This love Christians have for eachother is a consolation as we turn away from the world and together toward God, this love is a foretaste of the kingdom we are yearning for each day.

Now let us turn to the assurance of this hope, of this holiness, of this reverent fear. We were not bought for God, redeemed for God with perishable things. It was not with mere trinkets of gold and silver, this world’s treasures that we were gathered. Dearly he bought us. It is the precious blood of the lamb without blemish, it is the self-offering of the life that gives life to the world, by which we were brought into the presence of God. It is the same power that rose Jesus from the dead that will help you have faith, that has given you hope. This world is passing away. The things we would love outside of Christ are dying. Your flesh which rages with pride and greed and wrath is falling off your bones. It will wither like the grass and fade away. So heed these words and feast on that which will endure unto everlasting life: The Word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was preached to you, Jesus who died is alive, he is King, let all the earth rejoice. So assured let us put away all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Let us rather crave pure spiritual milk. Let us taste and see that the Lord is good as the former things fade away.

For you, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. – Psalm 116:8-9