Archive for May, 2014

             One beggar helping another beggar finds food.

            This wonderful old saying paints a familiar picture of two people meeting on the road and exchanging stories about their travels. Where are the good roads to find a ride? Where are the safe places to sleep that get you out of the rain or the snow and where no one will harm you or harass you? What doors can you knock upon and find food to sustain you for that day of the life journey and how will you recognize those doors when you see them?

            Very often this is what people did during the depression of 1930’s when so many people were out of work and resorted to traveling around the country seeking work and food and a place to sleep. Yet, this is, also, exactly what the apostles were doing.

             Traveling from village to town to city, they brought God’s good news about the new life coming from Jesus Christ, crucified and raised. They preached about the way God’s love for the world became visible and concrete in the person of Jesus, who taught them that God wanted humanity healed from the dis-ease, the wounds, and the community destroying behaviors they inflicted upon each other and upon the world. God’s intent was for humanity to enjoy the abundance of life God created for them from the very beginning of life and re-created for them through the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The One, who willingly took upon himself all the consequences of humanity’s sin and carried it with him to the grave where it remains buried for eternity. Their sin laden past was now entombed in God’s mercy and loving forgiveness.

             Freeing them, making them ready for the new life Christ’s resurrection brings into being as God unites to Christ all who are baptized by marking them with Holy Spirit as they rise out of the water and uniting them with one another into the new life of a people gathered together like wheat grains in a field that is gathered then formed into the one loaf of bread that is Christ’s body living transcendent lives in the world.

            Now, one beggar might tell another beggar where food may be found, but only a friend- a brother or sister-will invite the one they meet on the road to journey with them, so together they are able to support each other along the way and in the course of the journey the one met on the road will be taught the valuable lesson of how to find nourishment for more than one day, which is exactly what the apostles were teaching the people they met on the road through the truth of the old saying, ‘giving a person a fish feeds that person for a day, but teaching the person how to fish will feed them for a lifetime.”

            This is what Peter is getting at here in the opening portion of the letter when he speaks about the assurance of being chosen by God for something better, something more than what they had imagined was possible for them.

             Peter transitions from assurance to the five imperatives for this new community of Christ’s disciples that will teach them how they are to live together by the word “therefore,” which is Peter simply saying, “because of what God has done through Christ here is how you respond to it.” Here is the way you exiles and resident aliens, who are social outsiders, who live with few rights in a place that is not your own land or your home, who are vulnerable and who live in a precarious social situation because you are powerless, are now to live because you are a new community with a new secure home that is imperishable, enduring and will sustain your life today and for eternity.

            Peter begins by calling them to be attentive – “gird up the loins of your mind,” which is the literal translation of “prepare your minds for action” and “sober up” discipline yourselves, be self-controlling before setting before them three imperatives- be hopers, be holy, and love one another.

           The imperative to be hopers is a call to set our hope firmly, squarely, foundationaly on God and the grace that Jesus Christ brings to us now and in the future. Our hope is not to be grounded as the psalmist tells us on princes or kings or human initiatives which is to say we don’t pin our hopes on any of the plethora of politicians telling us they have the answer or multinational corporate CEOS, or political pundits and talk radio ideologues who claim to have the plan for solving our current economic, social, educational, or world problems, nor are to trust that Congress or the New York State Legislature will be pulling their heads out of the sand and actually solving the serious issues confronting us because, to quote poet Richard Sheridan, “The Right Honorable gentleman and lady, is indebted to his memory for his jests, and to his imagination for his facts.”

             Rather, we set our hope on God and God’s grace because that is where the richness and the substance of life will come to us. Particularly, as we heed the imperative to be holy as God is holy. This imperative comes from God’s instructions to Israel contained in both Leviticus 19- “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy” and from Deuteronomy 6 as well as in Jesus’ teachings, particularly the sermon on the mountain.

         The imperative to be holy contrasts the pre- and post-baptismal existence of these new followers of Christ. They are to no longer live as they had previously in an insatiable ambition, passion, self-indulgence, unchecked greediness, a acquisition, commodity based way of living where everything and everyone is treated as one more item in the marketplace for sale and which knows nothing about God’s path of life.

          One who becomes Christian will not simply go about conducting their lives in the same way they did before they were Christian. Nor is it enough to simply add a once in awhile worship and a little devotional reading when it’s convenient. Remember for Peter, salvation is new birth; it is not just an addendum to one’s status quo. One becomes a new person through a new orientation. Through a re-framing of one’s life. It’s sort of like what it is taught at Weight Watchers and that is switching an unhealthy practice for a new healthier behavior. There are many voices out there—political, social, philosophical, economic, relational—telling us what it means to be a good person. Some of these are positive and others are not, but none of them are enough. We are not simply to be good; we are called to be holy.

             To be holy, or to use the churchy word- sanctified, is to be set apart. Of course this being set apart implies a from and a for. First Peter views the from in terms of the Gentile recipients’ earlier way of living, which is still lived out by the rest of society. While the ancestral traditions of their families and their communities formed and shaped their lives in the past and up to the moment they received God’s word from the apostles, those traditions and practices and ways of living are futile and folly in light of the new life God has given them through the gift of grace. And, the truth is they can’t go back to their old way of living because they are now living for God, the One who is Wholly Other.

                Also, being holy is not some personal spiritual practice that we “take time” for, as the old hymn says. Holiness is a way of being. It is God’s way of being. The character of Christian holiness is found in God’s holiness. This is certainly not a call to become gods, but to become the image of God in the deepest sense of that term. As God is Wholly Other, Christians are to be other than we were before we were Christian, other than the rest of the world. Our actions and our words are to reflect God’s being to the rest of the world. If you aren’t quite certain what God’s holiness is about read Exodus chapter 20- the Ten Commandments, Matthew chapters 5-7, and 25. These are the boundary lines, the psalmist sings about falling around each of us. The boundary lines of a pleasant place that keep us walking God’s path of life yielding joy and peace for everyone and every aspect of creation as opposed to aimlessness and confusion. For me, being holy means honoring that each person is created in the image of God and any action –revenge, violence, torture, disrespect, name calling, demeaning, that mars or destroys that image is absolutely forbidden. Not only because it is an act that mars and destroys the image of God in me, but it is an act against God. And, as Peter reminds us God will judge us. Our living, like those of the new Christians of Asia Minor, is accountable to God.

                      Which is to say that living an alternative way of being in the world is not going to be a walk on the beach. Our commitment to the gospel is not going lead into an easy accommodation with the culture of our society but into tension with the status quo that will lead us into exile. Into the experience of homelessness and the experience of not belonging to the culture around us with its norms and, which has become the experience of millions of people whether literally homeless, living as refugees in a foreign country, losing home or family after divorce, economic dislocation, or death, or the existential experience of spiritual homelessness.

                       In fact, many people I have conversations with feel they are homeless and rootless and do not belong to any community and are living alienated, disconnected lives without identity and without purpose and are seeking a community where they can belong, where they have a home.

                               The good news for us Christians, us exiles and resident aliens is God in Jesus Christ’s resurrection brings us home into a loving relationship with God and with the communal imperative to love one another, so that we will be like the seven year old girl Annie Lamott says, got lost one day and couldn’t find her way home. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where she and her family lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally, a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, ‘you could let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here.”

God wants each one of us to see the church and know we can find our way home, but that’s not all. God beckons us home to empower us to go out on the road to meet those who are alienated and disconnected and who are desperately seeking the food and the community that will sustain their lives, so we can invite them to come and taste and see that God is good, that they have a home where the food that will nourish them today and for all their days is generously provided by the God who loves them and by loving brothers and sisters in Christ.

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