1 Peter 2:11-17
Here is a diagram to illustrate today’s Give Us This Day, illuminating the fact that through the good works Jesus Christ does through us, we are the light of the world.
The writer Gertrude Stein coined the term “The Lost Generation” for the generation of Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s. But perhaps every generation is a lost generation. Many people today – even those who call themselves Christians – have no sense or real purpose or meaning. 20th century philosophers and thinkers have convinced us that there is no meaning to life and that everything comes from chance. And so the blind are leading the blind.
A few years ago a very successful rock star from the band Radiohead was interviewed and asked about his ambitions. He said:
“Ambitions? What for? I thought when I got to where I wanted to be everything would be different. I’d be somewhere else. I thought it’d be all white fluffy clouds. And then I got there. And I’m still here.”
People are looking for someone to show them a better way. But who will show them the way? Who will be a light for them in the darkness? It must be someone who has seen the light and can show it to those in darkness.
There are, therefore, 2 questions related to being the Light of the World.
- How can I be the light of the world?
- Am I being the light of the world?
God is glorious, and those who have been in His presence should shine like a light.
You are witnesses to Jesus Christ
You are the evidence that people will use to judge Christ and Christianity.
In Matthew 5:14,16, Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Here, in today’s lesson, through the mouth of St. Peter, He tells us that we should live in such a way that those in darkness will, by our good works which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (verse 12).
But because this may be rather vague to us, Peter tells us that our good works are all about our relationships with others and that through these our light will shine. When we live in right relationships with everyone, we sanctify the world, unbelievers will be able to see God, and God will be glorified.
Therefore, Peter says, in I Peter 2:17 “Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” If you live as light in these 4 kinds of relationships, then God promises that you will be the light of the world and unbelievers will come to Him and give Him glory.
First, we are to fear God. Of course, there is fearing God, as in the way we generally mean to respect God. There’s a second kind of fear of God that Jesus Himself commands. “Don’t be afraid of those who can kill the body, but be afraid of one who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Most Christians I talk to back away very quickly from fear of God as being, well, fear. Maybe they’re afraid of fear, or a God who is so glorious that we can’t bear His presence without being undone. There is, therefore, also a fear that is a whole-being response to being in the presence of God. If we really saw God and really understood who He was, our response would be fear.
Do we have a holy fear based on seeing who God really is? Are we willing to devote our entire life to God? To obey all that He commands us? How well we obey God is a sign of how much we fear Him and love Him. And so all of our good works, done in obedience and love, are reflections to the world and the Lord Himself of the degree of fear we have of the Lord.
Second, we are to love the brotherhood. We know that we are supposed to love all people. But we are to especially love those who are brothers and sisters in the Lord. God has brought us together. He has made us His holy family, and together we share the most profound and mysterious union with the Father through Jesus Christ.
Therefore, whenever you see other Christians you are supposed to love them with a special love. We have those among us who are sick or weak. We have those among us who need to be encouraged in various ways. We have those with whom we should be rejoicing and celebrating. And sometimes, we just need to hang out together.
The people who walk in darkness are looking for a community of light. One of the things that people are most looking for in this postmodern society is true, authentic community. They are looking for a place that gives them an identity, a place, a home where they belong. Because most of the places that used to provide a community – family, church, school, neighborhood – aren’t acting as a true community for people anymore, the church has an opportunity to stand out as a true community.
We don’t have a common life but simply have moments where our lives happen to intersect. We don’t have an identity but a supermarket of personal choices from which we choose and stitch together a Frankensteinian person for ourselves.
A recent study in Canada of why people join gangs found that one of the reasons was the financial gain that comes from drugs and prostitution. They also found that young men were joining gangs for the offer of recognition, self-esteem and a sense of protection. Gangs offer relief from boredom and heroes and authority figures to submit to. Most of all, gangs offer a sense of group identity, or “family.”
Third, we should honor the king, or those whom God has placed in authority. The seemingly strange thing is, that we are to do this for the Lord’s sake (verse 13). It is the Lord who has put them in power to punish evil and praise good (verse 14). St. Paul reminds us that, “Whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God” (Romans 13:2).
People are looking for integrity. They’re looking for children of light who stand for something and really live by it. It’s gotten to the point that even the relative integrity of the Mafia earns a lot of respect. Deep down, people know the standard of obedience as well as Christians, and they’re looking to see if we will fear God, love each other, and submit to proper authority. When we don’t do these things they rejoice because it lets them off the hook.
Ed Fashbaugh, a Director of Youth Ministry in the Methodist Church says that, “Integrity in a person, as I understand it, is the quality of having the same values in private and public life. Integrity is important in all of our lives and it happens to be one of the qualities that teenagers pick up on very quickly. If you lack integrity, teenagers will find you out and then shut you out.”
In all my years of teaching, I found that to be very true. But not just for teenagers. There is a cross to bear in submitting to authorities we disagree with or ones that may even truly be in error or sinful. And yet we are called to submit, with rare exceptions.
If we obey only when we agree with the authorities God has instituted, then we aren’t really submitted, are we? The world has a lot to learn about submission and integrity. I wish the Church could teach them.
Finally, we are to honor all men. Every human who was ever born, and now those that will shortly be cloned, is someone who was made in the image of God. Though that image is scarred and marred and defaced by our sin, we are all made in the image of God. And therefore, we honor all men, we give them respect as a person. We are to treat them with fairness and justice and treat them as we would expect to be treated ourselves.
The people who walk in darkness are looking for respect and dignity. How we live in our relationships will show God to the world: fearing God, loving the brotherhood, honoring the king – and honoring all men. How do we relate to unbelievers? What does it mean to honor them?
We don’t have to condone their lifestyles or beliefs, and sometimes if we ignore them, we are implicitly saying we agree and that God doesn’t care. I found that with teenagers, if they knew I was a Christian and didn’t challenge them in some way, they were actually quietly disappointed. They expected that my fear of God – if I really meant it – would be something I would express to them, even if they rejected it.
But I had to earn the right, in a way, to be able to tell them this. If this were the first thing they heard from me, they might rightly suspect that I was after them as a disembodied collection of propositions and behaviors to argue with and rebuke. But they, too, are made in the image of God. They, too, learn and see by the relationships God has put in their lives.
The truth is, Jesus spent time with sinners. Sometimes He openly corrected them, but other times He ate and drank with them until they were ready to hear what He had to say.
God is calling each of you to be His light in the world to those who are perishing in darkness. How you live in relationship to God, your brothers and sisters in Christ, authorities, and people in general has everything to do with how people look at God and Christianity.
“You are the light of the world. . .” Jesus says. Therefore, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Prayer: O blessed Lord, who hast commanded us to love one another, grant us grace that having received thine undeserved bound, we may love everyone in thee and for thee. We implore thy clemency for all; but especially for the friends whom thy love has given to us. Love thou them, – O thou fountain of love, and make them to love thee with all their heart, that they may will, and speak, and do those things only which are pleasing to thee. (St. Anselm)
Point for Meditation:
- How brightly has the light of my good works been shining? How have I been hiding my light?
- Which of these relationships am I doing the best at, and which the worst?
Resolution: I resolve to listen for one way God is telling me to become a greater light in the world.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson