First Congregational Church
February 23, 2020
Leviticus 19:1-2, Leviticus 19:9-18 & Matthew 5:38-48
“Worship and Rules”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
What do you call a place of religious worship for Tesla cars? An Elon Mosque. What do you call the misguided act of worshipping mediocre products at rock-bottom prices? I-Dollar-Tree What do you call people who worship cheese? Brielievers
Lately, my brain has been visiting the topic of worship. We come to church as often as we can, we call this thing we do worship, or we have a worship service, the ancient Israelites and even other cultures have forms of worship. But what is it - exactly? Is there a form or a pattern with a list we can check off so we can know if we’ve done it right?
As usual, and as with most things, the answer to those questions is yes, no, maybe and I don’t know. Obviously that’s an inadequate answer, but I think you get the drift that worship is not so easy to describe or that it’s deeper than we might think.
That being said, there are some people who worship at the race track, some at the bar, and some in front of their television. There are others who meditate on mountaintops in silence, and others who twirl themselves into abandonment of ego to focus on God. Some worship through singing and some through silence, some who set aside particular time and others who worship throughout the moments of the day.
I can still remember something one of my seminary professors said about God’s commands. I think it was some theology class or apologetics, which is how to make a case for Christianity, and Dr. David Clark said something to the effect that God gave us the commandments not because God loved rules and being strict, but so that we humans would know how to show God that we love God.
If you think about that, he makes sense, because isn’t one of the most uncomfortable things - not knowing what to do? When you go into someone’s home, do you take off your shoes or not? You generally don’t know until you enter the door, but at this time of year, it can be a thing.
I was once visiting a friend from Japan, and I walked into her house, with whatever other thing on my mind, and almost walked into the kitchen with my shoes on. I’d been to her house before, so I knew there was a pile of shoes at the door, and I know it’s the Japanese custom to remove shoes at the door, but I forgot that second time, and then felt so dumb, because I knew better, not that the removal of shoes - or not - would make or break the world. Taking my shoes off in Nozomi’s house was one way to let her know that I respected her, in abiding by her rules/tradition.
If a person is unaccustomed to attending classical music concerts, that person may not know that it is not considered “proper” to clap between the movements of a larger work, like a symphony. And should you do the clapping when no one else is doing it, it can feel right awkward.
Lately I’ve become more aware of how people do funerals and memorials differently. Some gatherings, the leader leads and the gathered people respond when asked. Other groups take it more as an exchange, like a group conversation, so there is no compunction about offering a remark at any point during the time. Neither way is right. But they are different, and if you’re unaccustomed to them, they might feel awkward.
Dr. Clark’s point was that humans - far newer on the scene than God - and being God’s offspring - come into existence needing to learn a lot - as individuals and as a whole. We aren’t born knowing how to tell God how we love God in return for God’s love for us. So God gave us “house” rules, guidelines and ways to communicate with God, what God means to us.
As our readers come forward, I’ll give you a heads up and ask you to pay particular attention to the first verse read by Myra and the last verse read by Chuck. After that, pay attention to the particular command that pops out to you, the one that takes your mind away from the rest of that paragraph, so to speak.
Leviticus 19:1-2 Various Laws
19 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
9 “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
11 “‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. 12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. 13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. 14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. 15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. 16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. 17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. 18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Matthew 5:38-48 New International Version (NIV)
Eye for Eye
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Thank you, Myra and Chuck. If you missed those two sentences, they were “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” and “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” They aren’t exactly the same, but they are perfect bookends for those two passages. The beauty of the pairing of these two passages is that between the books’ ends, we have scads ways to be holy and perfect - as much as we can be on this side of eternity.
And there is certainly a mountain of ways to reflect our love for God back to God within these verses. Offering the dignity of work in the gathering of food is important. And we offer dignity when we walk the thin line between helping and allowing people to make their own mistakes, which is not about being poor. Most of us might get that offering dignity and help for widows and orphans is necessary because sometimes people can’t physically go out and gather their own food. Adhering to God’s instructions on demonstrating our love for God includes offering dignity - to foreigners - whether they be Minnesotans or outside our county and beyond.
Justice and fairness seem like rather fluid terms these days, but justice is still about something being “just as” it is for one person, so is it for each other person, including ourselves. And fairness has nothing to do with winners or losers, but what is right and honest.
We worship God in our actions not when we stop with the bare minimum, but go above and beyond - loving neighbor as our self and our enemies and praying for those who persecute, giving the coat along with the shirt, so to speak. God doesn’t say we have to become poor door mats, but when we feel the nudges on our consciences and hearts, those become opportunities to demonstrate our love for God, rather than doing this or that because the Bible says so.
Most all of us have come to deeply understand “but by the grace of God, there go I.” And although it may not always look like it or feel like it, the sun really does rise on the evil and the good, the rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike. God doesn’t play favorites, and from what I’ve been able to figure out, we’re not supposed to play favorites either, except when it comes to your favorite pastor. ;)
I would guess that so many of us - maybe even all of us - think about God’s commands, guides and suggestions as one thing, and worship as another. But aren’t they really reflections of each other as we endeavor to show God how we love God - at least in ways that make sense to us? It’s not at all about God keeping a list of measuring up - like Santa’s list. This worship thing we do is very personal, very much about our relationship to God, a relationship with a large impact to and with those around us - so large - we best set to praying right away.
Holy God of Love and Light, thank you for loving us, each one of us, from the beginning of time, to this very moment, and on into eternity. Other gods are worshiped, but there are no other gods that love - especially in the way that you do. So help us to reflect that love more purely and wholly. Help us to see how our souls and spirits are so much more than what we do for an hour on Sunday mornings, how our actions are really the way we show you our love and reflect your goodness back to you. We are well aware that we fail in this endeavor, more times than we’d like to admit. But we begin again, from this moment, mindful of that which we do in response to your love. For all the love you have bestowed on us, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.