Preached May 15,2011
1 St. Peter 2:11–17
St. John 16:16–22
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
The first epistle of Peter begins with these words: 1 Peter 1:1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,… By consulting a map, we find that he is describing all of what is present day Turkey, plus whatever else he may have included under the term “Asia.” This is a lot of territory, but it does not include any of the Jewish homeland; these people were all Gentiles. And yet, much of St. Peter’s address to them is in terms as though they were Jews. How is this?
We may reasonably attribute this to the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. This Greek language translation, said to have been made by seventy scholars and hence the name Septuagint, was made around the year 270 BC at the synagogue in Alexandria. It spread among Greek speakers all around the Mediterranean, and facilitated the development of small Greek speaking colonies of pseudo–Jews, people who followed Jewish laws and customs, but were entirely Greek in their heritage. These people were well versed in the Old Testament, and hence many were ripe for conversion at the coming of Christ. Thus St. Peter can address as Jews people far from Israel, people who were familiar with the Old Testament through their study of the Septuagint, and who had now come over to Christianity.
Chapter 2 of Peter’s epistle is a series of exhortations about how to live, instructing the people about right behavior. Peter develops an extensive allegory of Christ as the corner stone of Zion. It is at the end of that allegory that we come to our Epistle Lesson for today.
As the lesson begins, Peter is talking about the fact that Christians have no permanent home here on earth. We are to live as pilgrims, simply passing through this life, with our eyes fixed on the goal that lies ahead. Think about that for a moment. How does that square with the message of the world today, the message of “I’ve got mine” or “Get it while the getting is good”? They are completely contrary, are they not, and yet only one of them is the road to heaven. The other is the road to perdition.
In order to enable us to keep our eyes on the goal, on heaven, St. Peter exhorts us not to be distracted by fleshly lusts, which as he says, war against the soul. One of the main reasons people are attracted to the pursuit of money, power, and other evils, is the opportunity it provides for them to indulge these fleshly lusts. It takes money and/or power to indulge in over eating, gambling, pornography, etc. And there is always the old fashioned greed factor, the love of money for its own sake. This can be every bit as deadly as any of the others, perhaps worse. If we have our eyes on heaven, we do not need any of these things because God will provide the things that are essential and everything else is superfluous.
St. Peter goes on to warn them about the need to preserve a good reputation in the community by speaking carefully. This is important for the honor of the community in order to put down the rumors being circulated about the Christian community. There are many ideas as to the meaning of the phrase “in the day of visitation”; you can let your imagination run wild with that one as there is no general agreement on exactly what that means.
The last part sounds rather like St. Paul, and the next part sounds even more like Paul: 1 Peter 2:13–17 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. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Now this immediately brings to mind the passage where St. Paul writes in Romans 13:1–6 Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. 5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. 6 For this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
It really sounds like Peter and Paul are working off the same script, doesn’t it? The plain meaning of these words for ordinary times is not difficult to discern for any of us. The problem is that we live in extraordinary times. We live in times when government is acting against the interests of the nation it is supposed to serve, and this raises serious questions for Christians as to how passages such as these are to be considered. Are we duty bound to accept what the government says in all cases, without objection? That is what these passages appear to say on the surface, and that is what many Christians take them to mean. But is that consistent with the rest of what you know of the Christian faith?
We may consider some possibilities to explore this question. Suppose the government were to reinstated the medieval “Law of the First Night” whereby the ruling authority had the right to sexual relations with all new subject brides on their wedding nights. Would we all be bound to go along with that? I don’t think so, and yet a superficial reading of these passages suggest that we must.
Consider another possibility. Suppose our government decided to abandon our border enforcement, leaving our nation open to uncontrolled floods of illegal immigrants from Latin America. No, wait … this is already happening. It seems that the superficial reading of these passages has already taken hold in this case.
St. Paul is a bit more help than St. Peter at this point when he says, speaking of the ruler, 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. That is the key element; he is the minister of God for good. Government is not appointed to do us harm, to run rough shod over us. Now this is not to say that there will not be times when individuals will not disagree with the actions of government, or that such things should not happen with regularity. But the point is, government is not to operate to the destruction of the nation, to the detriment of the populace as a whole.
Our government today is operating without regard to the law, particularly without regard to the Constitution. It has assumed a philosophy of “might makes right,” and under those circumstances and in those actions, we are not in any way obligated to obey it, except that we will be punished if we do not.
In the past year, we have seen the Department of Homeland Security institute the most absurdly intrusive and invasive forms of search on airline passengers, supposedly for airline security. We are supposed to simply accept this, ignoring the fact that they have never yet caught a single suspect, prevented a single hijacking, or accomplished anything of value. But they think that they are justified in demanding the right to commit sexual assault on passengers or to see everyone nude by means of high radiation scanners. There is simply no way to construe this as the work of God’s agents, working for good. It is a fundamental principal of Christian ethics that evil is never done that good may follow.
As Christian people, we have an obligation to evaluate the actions of our government, to determine when it is God’s agent for our good, and when it is not. We must be careful in this judgement. The fact that I do not like what the government is doing is not sufficient reason to say that it is not God’s agent. It is only when it is acting to the detriment of the whole nation can it be said to be no longer God’s agent, and this is not a judgement that can be reached lightly. It seems that we are in such a time right now when the majority of Americans are being targeted by the government in one way or another.
In so much as we can, we must honor our government, but that is only to the extent that it is honorable. When it acts honorably, we certainly should show it honor and respect; when it acts disgracefully, we cannot.
We must always fear and love God! This is never hard to do, because God never changes.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.