1st Scripture Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 & Psalm 119 (part 3)
Leviticus is the 3rd book of the Pentateuch – or the Torah – the first five books of the Hebrew scripture. Leviticus is mainly concerned with “teaching” (for that is what Torah actually means) the people how to live as God’s people. The very first verse of our reading this morning says these amazing words:
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 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.”
God wants the people to be “holy” because God is holy. God wants us to be like God? or maybe to be as God because there is some causal relationship?
And what does holy mean exactly? I looked it up in my Concise English Dictionary. It can mean a whole bunch of things. It can mean “set apart for the service of God or other sacred use”, “morally pure”, “free from sin”, or even “of high spiritual excellence”.
What is fairly clear is that it would please God if the people became more God-like in the way they live together, and this is born out in the rest of the reading.
Verses 9 to 18 are a series of “laws” or requirements of the Godly or holy life: always leave something of your harvest for the poor, do not lie to each other, or steal from or defraud one another. Deal fairly with those who come to you for justice. Don’t slander or defame each other. Banish all hate and need for vengeance from you hearts. Speak truth to power when necessary or you become accessories to the crime and you will suffer guilt. Which is all summed up in verse 18: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
If you were ever looking for a definition of the “Golden Rule” friends, there it is! “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”. And when we practise this very deep spiritual practice, we raise our own vibration, we become more God-like, and there is more consciousness of the Holy Spirit’s dwelling within us.
Hymn #18 VU “Lord, Prepare Me to be a Sanctuary”
2nd Scripture Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 & Matthew 5:38-48
So hundreds of years after Leviticus, we hear the Apostle Paul telling the early Christians of the church at Corinth, that not only are we to be “holy because God is holy”, but these amazing words: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells within you?....For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Are you beginning to see a progression here? The early Hebrews perceived God as very “other” and frightening. I doubt that many of them could have seen themselves as “God’s temple”. God’s temple was a building, or a tent of meeting – someplace separate from themselves – a place only the very special servants of God could go. They could be taught to practice being “holy as God is holy”, building up some spiritual muscle for the next leg of the journey. But thinking about Paul’s words would almost surely have elicited cries of “Blasphemy!”. Paul clearly understands the danger of this revelation to those spiritually not ready to hear it. He immediately inserts some words of warning to his readers: “Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.” I hear him saying we must remain humble, for the journey is not over, we have not, even with this knowledge, reached the goal or the pinnacle of spiritual wisdom – and only false teachers will tell you so.
And in the Gospel reading this morning from Matthew 5, we hear Jesus taking it another step further, but still on the same path of becoming more and more aware of the truth of our relationship with God.
At first glance, this reading looks like more prescriptions on how to live the holy life. But how can we do this? How do we love our enemies and do good to those who hate us? This teaching is very hard! Turn the other cheek if someone strikes you, Jesus says. Do not resist the evildoer – turn your love light on him!
Here is the clue: “For he (God) makes his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous....Be perfect, therefore, as God is perfect.”
If we are to be holy as God is holy, we must see this world as God sees it. Remember the words in the gospel of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes on him may not perish but may have eternal life.” And he goes on: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Children of God, we are not called to judge or condemn or hate in this world that Jesus tells us God loves. We are simply called to love what God loves. As Jesus’ love heals us, so our love is drawn forth to heal this beautiful world. In the words of Francis of Assissi, “Where there is hatred, let us bring love, where there is doubt, faith, where there is despair, hope. Where there is sadness let us bring joy, where there is darkness let us bring light.” As we are in Christ, and Christ is in us, as he is in God and God is in us, let us accept our high calling to be Lights of the World as branches of Christ who is the True Vine.
The journey of increasingly conscious awareness is not over. There will be more epiphanies, more revelations to come. God is with us. The Spirit will guide us. We are held in the heart of Jesus.
Hymn # 595 VU “We are Pilgrims”