1 Peter 1:13-16
There is a long-cherished piece of Scripture that is often quoted by many different communities of people, some religious and some not. It is from the third chapter of the Book of Ecclesiastes. It reads in part: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4). This pattern of identifying specific times for activities of life continues for a few more verses. These statements describing times for different events in our lives are true but used improperly can create within us the idea that all activities of life are reserved for specific times and places.
We certainly live our lives as though every activity has a time and place. Most people have meals about the same time each day, or at least on some sort of a schedule. We eat in the same places in our homes. In general, we have a place established for sleeping and there is some schedule we follow when sleeping. If we are associated with a school, we have a defined building as well as an arrival time and dismissal time. Within those two times there are discrete periods of time and rooms assigned to us with specific subjects for each period and place.
All these activities, divided into specific time, subjects, and places slowly and subtly condition us to believe and behave as though all activities of life can be viewed as separable activities. We even have marketing strategies that encourage us to believe and behave in that manner. Anyone know the most famous and successful strategy that encourages this belief that a portion of your life can be lived separately? “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas!” This slogan is popular because of the message it sends to potential visitors. The slogan deliberately communicates freedom. When you come to Las Vegas, you can do anything and be anyone you want to be. You can spend the money you work so hard to save; you can have the extra drink or two, you can talk to the attractive stranger at the bar and dance on top of the bar because, no matter the end result, no one at home has to know.
So, what is the point? Our culture and use of time make us believe that all activities are defined and separable to include our religious life. We become inclined to believe that our life is a series of compartments of activities: earning money, socializing, recreating, eating, and so on to include being religious as a separate compartment of life. If we followed that line of thinking, all of us in the sanctuary would believe that at this moment, as we stay in the church building, we are in the religious compartment of our life. But when we leave this place, we go our separate ways into different compartments. Some here will enter other compartments such as eating, socializing, or recreation and we would view those other activities as outside the religious compartment of our life.
If we think that religion, our faith journey, as only what goes on in the church building, we minimize religion in other places. When we think of religion as what transpires on Sunday morning, the harm lies in the tendency to suppose that what goes on at other times, in school, home, restaurants, and offices, is not equally religious. This is dangerous because we make small what is to be large.
Our Old Testament Scripture reading today gave instruction to ancient people about this danger of making their faith journey small. That passage read: “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). God has known since the beginning of humanity that we try to compartmentalize our lives, including our religious life. God defined the religious life of his people as those who “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Then God said, “Write those words everywhere! On your hearts, tie the words on your hands and head, post them on the gate leading to your house and on every door of your house.” Why? Because God wanted it clear that there is no religious compartment to our lives. There is no such thing as a part-time believer. There is no non-religious activity. Those who follow God can only be religious or irreligious in all activities of life.
Let that thought sink in a little: There are no non-religious activities. For those who believe in the claims of an infinite God they cannot also place a box around following Him. Everything about our life must be influenced by and seen through the lens of our faith. Let me give you quick example. Recently, I was invited to be part of a group of men from the community of Saratoga Springs who would help to influence and promote positive character development among boys and men. The other men in this group are very successful in their careers. They are decent people with good hearts who want the best for their families and for the communities. The group has met twice. At the first meeting, I felt that I might be the only person with an active faith journey of any type. At the second meeting, I was more certain that I was the only person with an active faith journey. I felt this way because the other men talked about their life in terms of compartments. For example, one man shared that he near a construction site and was bothered by the language of the workmen. The workmen’s words were loud and mixed with obscenities. This man noticed a young woman was about to walk past the site and he thought certain the men would make some sexually suggestive remarks to the woman. He said to the group, “If the construction workers had made such remarks, he was prepared to intervene on behalf of the young woman and correct the men’s behavior.” This man was living out his life in the noble and gracious hero compartment. The man said to us, “Fortunately, the construction workers did not say anything to the young woman and the need to intervene passed.” He then added that a couple of days later, he was on the golf course with his business friends. The conversation from the other men was ‘locker room talk,’ some of it sexually suggestive and would have been offensive to women. He said he did not feel equipped or convicted at that moment to speak up and correct their behavior. This good and noble man was living out his life in his recreation compartment where the standards of conduct are considered acceptably lower. The man said, “I wish I had some tools I could use to better handle myself in these situations and be able to correct my friends and business associates as well as the construction workers when they engage in conversation that is not appropriate.” Other men at the table agreed that would be good to have such tools. After a moment, I said, “As a person of faith, I am equipped with the tools you are seeking, and I am empowered to use them appropriately by God. In the simplest of terms, God only requires me to do three things: To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Because I try to live my life this way, I only live my life in one way, regardless of my setting, be it adjacent to a construction site or on the golf course. In the case you mentioned, what you are asking to do is to act justly in all circumstances; meaning that you are equipped to do the next right thing always. With God, we are empowered to do so, not out of fear that God will punish us if we do not do so, but God empowers us to move past the human emotions that might constrain us in acting justly. As a person of faith, I do not have to live a life of many standards or a life of no standards.” I said what I said because that meeting was a religious activity, if only for me. There are no non-religious activities for people of faith. I did not expect nor did not receive anything more than a few seconds of reflection on what I had said by the other men before the subject of conversation moved on to something else. But that is OK. We are called to be the salt of the earth and season conversations, activities, and meetings with the presence of God and let the Holy Spirit work on the hearts of the hearers. I guess I will also have to wait and see if I am invited to the third meeting.
Now, I want us to consider what has been said thus far as we take a quick look at our New Testament reading today from a letter the Apostle Peter wrote to Christians throughout the Roman Empire, some of who were being persecuted for believing in God and Jesus Christ. We will be reading from 1 Peter 1:13-16. Peter wrote:
“13 Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. 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.’”
Peter’s powerful words began with a simple appeal that those reading his words would get their minds alert and fully sober. Other translations of the Bible express Peter’s words this way, “Get your mind ready for action.” “Roll up the sleeves of your mind.” There is a sense that we must always make ourselves ready for action. But ready for what sort of action? Peter said, be ready and receive the hope that comes in and through Jesus Christ. Peter was reminding Christians that they changed people when they receive Jesus because they have hope within them. Hope in living life now well, hope in heaven when our bodies give out, and hope in a resurrected life when Jesus’ returns. Hope equips the Christian, gives them the tools, to live a life pleasing to God and helpful and loving toward others. But Christians must be ready mentally, emotionally, and spiritually to do the work of God’s plan. We must be sober and not impaired by substances and we must be self-controlled and not impaired by wild and selfish emotions.
Peter continued, “14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” Meaning, “14 In the past you did not have the understanding you have now. [You did not have the tools you have now], so you did the evil things you wanted to do. But now you are children of God, so you should obey him and not live the way you did before” (ERV). Peter was acknowledging that before becoming Christians and receiving grace from God, his readers, you and I as well lived compartmented lives. People did what they wanted to do, the way they wanted to do it. Sometimes they might act in a good and noble manner and at other times they would have acted dumb, drunk, or in immoral ways; perhaps adopting the attitude and belief, “What Happened in Rome, Stayed in Rome.” Peter was saying Christians have been empowered to walk away from their prior behavior and must now act as God’s children regardless of their setting. There is no non-religious activity. We can only act in a religious manner or in the irreligious manner of our previous life.
Peter then finished up the thought saying, “be holy in all you do,” and then Peter quoted God, “Be Holy, because I am Holy.” Be holy in all you do. We no longer live a conflicted life with one set of standards for work, another for home, another for sports, and another for socializing. We are not conflicted because God is present in all that we do. God is holy so we must be holy. If you struggle with understanding what God means by being holy, might I suggest you adopt the standard I spoke of earlier. It came from God so I am sure it is appropriate. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” That is a good working model of begin holy.
Now our time together for a religious observance is coming to a completion. But our time to be religious has not ended. Let us leave here being as religious outside this building as we have been within and follow what God says, “Be Holy, because I am Holy.” Amen and Amen.