Despite the fact that I “live with” the scriptures for any given up-coming Sunday as I do my morning devotions, there are times when a phrase or a sentence grabs my attention on Sunday as I hear it read.
This morning was one of those times. As I listened to lay readers at both services read the epistle, one sentence grabbed my attention, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
1 Peter 3:13
“But in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”
“Where righteousness is at home.” I checked my Greek-English interlinear Bible and found that this translation also says “where righteousness dwells.” Okay, that’s “at home” for me.
We don’t talk much about righteousness in the 21st century. Sometimes you will hear someone called “self-righteous.” That, of course, is not a positive moniker. But I think that we have no clue what “righteous” really means.
The writer of this epistle addresses a community of faith that 1. wonders if the Lord really is coming back, since the original group of disciples thought Christ would return before they died, and 2. seems to be wandering into ways of living that are not healthy or good for them. Likely the Christian community is being derided for believing in some “day of the Lord” that really won’t happen. Yet the writer tells the believers that “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.” Those who profess the Christian faith are encouraged to wait patiently, to trust that there really will be a day of the Lord, and to live lives “where righteousness is at home.”
What is righteousness? It is related to law–a construct with which the classical and hellenistic Greek world was familiar. It involved religion, politics and ethics. Yet righteousness was also deeply engrained in the Jewish people’s (then, by extension, early Christian’s) hearts, stretching back to Moses and the Ten Commandments. If you kept God’s laws, God’s commandments, you were considered righteous. And the thought was that Jesus–who kept God’s laws most perfectly and in his whole nature–was the most perfect example of righteousness.
Yet being righteous also related to being JUST. And that involved every person keeping God’s commandments to the best of his/her ability, striving to be like Jesus of Nazareth.
“Where righteousness is at home.” I have been wondering this afternoon what that might look like in today’s world. At the moment, our culture is in the midst of a frenetic, jingle-belled shopping binge. Of course after the New Year, some of us will regret our spending. Yet what has been done, will have been done, and the cold reality of that credit card bill will sit on the dining room table.
Keeping God’s laws–which I believe can be summed up in “love God and love your neighbor”–is pushed to the back burner as we get into the “spirit of Christmas.” Yes, we probably do some charitable giving this time of the year, and my own parish is currently collecting food and money so we can fill over 40 boxes with food for families of elementary school students over the holidays. That is a good thing, to give to others.
But I wonder whether we give righteousness a temporary lodging or whether we give it a home. I want to be the kind of faithful person who–in the cold of mid-January–thinks about how I will live out the love of God as often as I might in mid-December. To live according to the way God really calls us to live might mean that we live intentionally in odd ways.
For example, in this time of polarizing politics, of extreme rhetoric, of some who profess to know exactly what God wants or thinks, how can we–as faithful Christians–respond? In my own well-loved (and yes, adopted) tradition of the Episcopal Church, how can we join John the Baptist and cry out in the wilderness of people’s lives? How can we live the gospel with our lives? How can we invite others into the home of Christ’s love in real ways that make a difference in people’s lives?
I wish I had all the answers. I do not. In fact, I find that the longer I live a life of faith, the more questions I have. Yet I remain hopeful. I want to be more faithful in loving God and in loving others the way I want to be loved. Totally. Unconditionally. Without judgment. That is so difficult. And that probably means that I will have to move the furniture in the home of my soul, to make room for another. Maybe today, I have moved a chair a quarter of an inch. It’s not much, but it’s a start.