Sermon, Epiphany 7A (Proper 2) Sunday February 20, 2011.
Living together in God’s wayLeviticus 19:2-18
Friends, I could not go past this first bible reading from Leviticus. It is all about being community. When you put these ancient directives into our current place, it makes for challenging but also enlightening and helpful hearing – a word from the Lord about how we are to be together in every sphere of life.
We hear God shaping his people in their desert wandering community. God speaks his vision of community to his people on the journey so that they can truly live in his land, hi s presence and with others in his world.
So, we do well this morning to hear these very practice directives on how to live together in God’s mission community so that we actually LIVE – TOGETHER with God’s peace and power at our core.
19:2 Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.Sounds impossible! But not if we trust that Jesus makes us holy and acceptable to a perfect God in our baptism into his death and resurrection. So this is really more: Stay in my holiness and be like me in holiness. All that we will be instructed in is about remaining in God’s holiness and life
19:9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.I hear God saying – don’t be takers, but givers. Yes, take what you need from planet earth, from your work, from people’s generosity, but leave other people plenty. Leave food, money, a room, a chair for another – especially those in need. Don’t take everything from what you earn or gain in life. Leave room for generous giving of heart, things and wallet.
19:10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: Why leave room for generosity to others? Because the poor matter and people’s needs matter to God. The ground matters. Plants and animals matter. People matter. We, the holy community of God in the world are called to value the needs of others and our planet and respond accordingly.
19:11 You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. No one likes having their stuff taken. It creates mistrust and suspicion among people. And of course, we know the damage done by hurtful and harmful words spoken by whatever means, be it SMS, email, phone or face to face. So for the community of God, words are a premium gift to be used very carefully and with all wisdom from God. Careful words create community.
19:12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.It is a very serious thing to call down God’s name as the reason or authority for your actions. Have you ever had one of those conversations where you disagree with a person’s attitude or action and they say, “Well, God told me to do that”. The conversation is over and somehow, things were not the same as they used to be between you. We want to be very careful and quite sure of God’s will before claiming we are doing it! Paul says there is no law against loving our neighbour. As we love and give, we are on the right track and in God’s will. On the Name of God; well it is a shame that the Lord’s name is taken so lightly and is so often profaned, but all we can do is use it to do what he intended it for – as Luther says… ”to ask for help in any kind of trouble, and to praise, thank God”. (Small Catechism). That is what God gave us his personal name for.
19:13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; …. and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.I think the message here for us to be open and free in our giving of what we owe people, or, to not tightly hang on to what we owe to someone until we absolutely have to give them. Instead God’s way is to pay what we owe straight away and move on so that all remains well between us, because if there is one thing that causes the community lots of grief, it is money and lack of payment of money! Unpaid debt in money or kind can cause a rift between even the best of friends or between family members, and this is tragic because it so unnecessary.
19:14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.Yes, that is why our school has a support program for all kinds of children and young people and their parents! I think God is affirming us here for our attention to people’s different needs in learning, business, sport.
19:15 You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor.We are not free to judge our neighbour with malice, hatred, or spite but only justice – God’s justice, which is never with only mere punishment in mind, but some punishment and mostly restoration to the community. As for unjust judgment, that is hard to tell sometimes isn’t it? Sometimes there are no winners and everybody loses in a situation, no matter what the judgment has been. I think of the fires a couple of weeks ago and the justice of it all when we found out the off-duty police officer had no intention whatsoever of destroying 60+ homes. He was just carelessly using his angle grinder…. But, even though injustice can be sometimes very hard to discern or judge, we are called to try and find God’s restorative justice in every situation; whether it be in protecting our God-given environment, another person or a whole country.
19:16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.We are not to be “Underbelly” kind of people! Any underhandedness, deceit, dishonesty, intended or unintended hurts the community greatly. When we share this kind of behaviour we exasperates the problem 10 fold. We all know this and yet, we seem to find it hard to say less rather than more. We need to keep learning how to control the tongue which is like a ship’s rudder – small but hugely influential – says James in his letter. We really do need to learn more and more to not get ourselves in what they call “triangulation” where instead of telling another person who may have wronged us or upset us about how we are feeling and what their actions have meant, we actually get used to telling them directly. Sure we can gain support from another friend and maybe even ask that friend to support us in some way as we reach the goal of speaking directly with the person who has wronged us – but in the end our goal is that, and not to share the issue with anyone or everyone.
19:17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. 19:18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.I don’t think any of us want to hate anyone, it is just that we seem to let hatred develop over time. It usually comes from being hurt and not talking about our hurt with the person who hurt us or even a good friend. We hold it too long and then are quite guilty for feeling hatred for another person. God is calling us to “reprove our neighbour”. In other words, tell the person who has hurt you that they have hurt you, as soon as you can – even before the sunset at the Apostle Paul says (Ephesians 4:26). This lessens the likelihood of carrying anger and it turning into bitterness and hatred – which is so destructive for the one carrying it and the whole community. God says we are accountable for the hatred and bitterness we carry – even though it came as a result of someone else’s wrong. We need to take learn how to tell each other when we hurt each other and so, save ourselves a whole lot of guilt and trouble.
So, there it is; God’s practical direction for us here and now.
We might feel overwhelmed with our inability to do any of this and we might view God as having unreasonable expectations! But he says he gives us these directions not because he is some harsh school master waiting to see us fail, but for our good – our life – our well-being. Paul can say that “all is yours” in 1Corinthians 3. All the wisdom, power, gifts, ability, faith and love are already yours in Jesus Christ. You have received him and his community in your baptism and as we actually do these directives on living together, we will actually LIVE – TOGETHER.
Instead of depleting each other, hurting each other we will help each other live – live in God’s grace and peace and be at each with each other more and more.
I am praying we take God’s practical direction into our heart and then try them and see how God uses us to be life bringers in our community so that we actually be the community through which others in this place receive the love and blessing of God in Jesus as their Saviour. Amen