First Congregational Church
February 26, 2017
8th Sunday after Epiphany
Leviticus 19:1-2, Leviticus 19:9-18, Psalm 119:33-40,
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 1 Corinthians 3:16-23, Matthew 5:38-48
“How to Love with Integrity”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
To get your minds thinking collectively, what do rocks eat? Pom-a-granites. Which reminds me to just put it out there that geologists always sleep like rocks, and that we shouldn’t take life for granite. During an investigation, Dr. Watson said, Holmes! What kind of rock is this! Sherlock replied, “Sedimentary, my dear Watson.” We should perhaps heed the reminder to not lend a geologist money because they think a short term loan is a million years. I know that while these jokes would have been funnier during the stone age, I think many will agree with the epiphany that a volcano is a mountain with hiccups.
We may forget that life during Jesus’ time was quite cosmopolitan, in that languages and cultures had a way of integrating with each other. So it makes sense that in the book of Matthew, while it was intended for a Jewish audience, there would be “connectors” to other cultures. For instance, his given, Jewish name was Simon. His Greek name, given to him by Jesus, was Peter. His Aramaic name, Jesus’ own native language, was Cephas, and regardless of the language, the name means “rock.”
The other introductory comment this morning deals with the fact that we have not one, not two, but four scripture passages. And, they were last week’s lectionary passages. When I first read them, they really struck a chord, and so I stashed them for this week, giving over to a rather wonderful sermon on water last week.
For those still getting used to this lectionary thing, not only is it a prescribed list of Bible readings, designed to listeners to hear - in church - most of the Bible read aloud over the course of three years, it is also broken down into sections: the First Reading coming from the Old Testament, the Psalm generally coming from a Psalm, the Second Reading coming from the New Testament - outside of the Gospels, and the Gospel Reading - is obviously from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Each Sunday, in fact, each day of the week, there is a designated passage that falls under each of these categories.
Generally, I skim over the First, Second and Psalm Readings. But for whatever reason, nearly two weeks ago, all four passages jumped out and seemed to connect to each other and us in - what I felt were - significant ways.
If you don’t remember the last time you heard a sermon that involved the book of Leviticus, you’re not alone. While many think Leviticus to be a book about rules and rules and rules, it is really meant to be a kind of charter for the sort of community that takes seriously God’s gracious presence among her, that stems from God’s holiness, through the “chosen ones” to those around them.
Denis’ reading today is a small part of a much larger Psalm that describes how the Law of God - the rules, so-to-speak - are a source of joy and delight, because it gives life and light. I don’t think that is true when shellfish is forbidden, but there were probably other reasons for that. Anyway, Leviticus is a call to trust and submission to God, not a call to works righteousness. Like the rules of Leviticus, if we focus too much on the minutia, we can get stuck - not seeing the forest of love for all the trees of law, even though that forest and those tress didn’t really fill the bill.
The passage from 1 Corinthians reminds us that as reflections of God, we are like mini-tents of God, reminiscent of the time when God “lived” in the tent that traveled with the people as they made their way through the desert. It’s the reminder that we are holy beings, including people that dress differently, people with spikes through nostrils and ear cartilage and tattoos galore, with nice complexions and acne-pocked ones, blue-eyed, blonds, brown-eyed, brunettes, hazel-eyed red heads, suntans, freckles, bushy haired and bald headed, hearing aided and glassed . . . everybody is a graced temple of God’s Holy Spirit.
The readings may end with the last part of Jesus’ historic Sermon on the Mount, but the lessons and connections and relevances will continue to challenge and stymie and confound and bring humility - probably until the cows come home or the Vikings win the Super Bowl. Or maybe longer.
Leviticus 19:1-2 (Jean)
The Lord said to Moses,“Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy …. “‘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. 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.
“‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord. “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Psalm 119:33-40 (Denis)
Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end. Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life.
1 Corinthians 3:10-11 (Jean H.)
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.
Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”[a]; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
Matthew 5:38-48 (Dale)
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, all. For whatever reasons, it seems that God has been wapping me upside the back of my head like Jethro Gibbs used to do to Special Agent Tony Denozo on NCIS - the idea of working at being a good Christian. Even that term can bring a little shiver to the heart when one thinks of the detrimental things that have been done in the name of religion - Jesus’ name, even.
But why turn the other check when it would feel much better to either deck the person or turn and run away? Why, as Mr. Rudyard Kipling asked, “If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating?
It is, as Mr. Kipling said, not only that ours is then the Earth and everything that’s in it,” but more than that, “you’ll be a Man, my son!,” he said. Or a woman. Or an adult. Or mature. Or as God seems to be saying, a holy abode that recognizes the holy in the one next to you, next to the next one, next to the next one, and on out, to the ends of the earth.
Karoline Lewis of Calvin Seminary commented on the passage from Matthew. “Jesus now helps his disciples realize that following him will mean meeting up with those with whom you would rather not come in contact, with whom you might consider your enemy. Love your enemies. You will come across those outside of your immediate circles with whom the principles you learned from Jesus you’d rather not share. You will meet others for whom you’d rather the Kingdom of Heaven need not apply.”
She went on, “Loving your enemies will not sit well with most. It may not even sit well with you. First, you have to determine just who those enemies are. They are often not the obvious suspects. Ms. Lewis suggested that “we might be tempted to interpret such a plea as dated. As something that belongs in Jesus’ time and not ours.”
But then Ms. Lewis ended her commentary with this: “Our enemies are not always those we deem our opposites, our detractors, our challengers, or resisters. Our enemies are all too often those whom we do indeed love.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that made me sit there for a minute and think.
Scott Hoezee, also from Calvin Seminary, threw this even more poignant thought out there. “My “enemies” (such as I’ve had them) have not exactly risen to headline-grabbing people who kidnap children, rape women, or kill other people. Still, I’ve been hurt by others and even harder to take, I’ve seen people hurt those whom I love.
I remember an argument that happened on Christmas Eve, standing in the entryway to leave for church. I think it was in 1971 or 72, during my college days. My family was discussing the ‘after church’ plans, and my sister wanted to stay overnight at her finance’s sister’s house, with him, along with a lot of other cousins. My sister was in tears and I was like a mother goose with a gosling under attack. Actually, I was probably much more of a maniac than anything else. It was really my step-father saying it wasn’t right, and right or not, he was “attacking” my sister - who was 21 and old enough to make her own decisions. Just to make my point loud and clear, I gathered whatever I had brought with me and drove back to my apartment 30 some miles away, never making it to church that Christmas Eve. Not my best cheek-turning moment.
Regardless of the fact that my stepfather has been dead some 30 years, why should I now turn my other cheek? Because I am to be holy, as God is holy. You are to be holy as God is holy. We all are to be holy as God is holy. And that’s fine. But how, regardless of the emotion, or even years dead, do we then love those who hurt us and/or those we love?
I think we do that by going back to the passages read this morning and doing the things that we know are right to do and loving others as we love ourselves. We don’t have to like someone to love them by being honest. We don’t have to like someone to be mindful that they are as holy as we are, even though our opinions may be vastly different. We don’t have to be super humans to wish the same things for others that we would wish for ourselves; to pray for them the things we pray for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong; we are to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And God values us too much to allow other people to continually diminish the holiness in us, and so sometimes loving others as ourselves is to put some space between.
But what really matters in this life are things that are already yours, so you can be steady and strong, like a rock, the foundation of your faith laid in Christ, knowing that God loves you enough to set the course of the world on a different track, in raising Jesus from the dead, so that you know of God’s sacrificial love for you. Compared to that kind of love, turning the other cheek, giving your coat, going the second mile, loving the one hard to love, righting a wrong, apologizing, walking away, isn’t really that big a deal. So we should pray.
Loving and Gracious God, thank you for all the ways you reach out to us, to help us see the holiness of life, the holiness of our lives and the holiness of all those who share this globe with us. It’s hard sometimes, God, to include our love to all those we think don’t deserve it. So forgive us when we forget that, and remind us of our humanity, that while we can fail you, you will not fail us, that despite our frailties, you are our strength, our Lover of Souls When We Can’t, the One who forgave us, on a cross, in agony we will never know, so that we might enjoy an eternal life with you. For such a challenge, such a life, such a world, your beloved people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.