Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5:38-48
We live in a world of arrogance, where we either judge one another with impunity and self-righteousness or we refuse to properly discern or judge between right and wrong as if there was no real right and wrong. We use our tendency toward sin as an excuse for it. And in so doing we make a mockery of the Grace of God…
Our scripture passages this morning begin with a command to be holy and conclude with the admonition that we are to be perfect, just as God our heavenly Father is holy and perfect. So what does it mean to be holy? Or Perfect?
Ga-do’-shim: Holy; set apart; saintly or sanctified; belonging to; sacrifice; an act of consecration.
Telios: Perfect; complete in all its parts; full grown or of full age; mature in or completeness of, Christian character; fulfilling the necessary process; to function at full-strength, capacity, or effectiveness. It is the same word from which we get the word telescope which implies an unfolding to full length in order to fulfill its purpose, not to look closely, but the action of unfolding or extending in order to be useful.
The words are synonymous. To be holy is to be perfect, in perfection we become holy. And if we are commanded, not encouraged but commanded to be perfect and holy how is it that we dare say we cannot attain to it?
To be holy and to be perfect is a simple task, perhaps not always easy but certainly very simple. God’s word lays it out for us.
revere your mother and father, keep the Sabbath, judge your neighbor justly, reprove or correct your neighbor, love your neighbor as yourself, keep God’s commands, rise before the aged, and defer to the old; Fear God, love the alien that lives in your land as yourself; turn the other cheek; give more than is asked; go further than you are forced to go, Give to everyone who begs from you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..
Do not turn to idols or make cast images; don’t reap to the very edges of your field; don’t gather the gleanings; don’t strip your vineyard bare; don’t gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; don’t steal; don’t deal dishonestly; don’t lie; don’t swear by God’s name; don’t defraud your neighbor; don’t revile the deaf; don’t put a stumbling block before the blind; don’t be partial to the poor and don’t defer to the great; don’t hate any of your kin; don’t oppress the alien; don’t resist an evildoer; don’t refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you…
Seven BASIC things to do…
- Respect and love your family…all of them.
- Keep the Sabbath, do not neglect worship…
- Correct your neighbor’s behavior and love them
- Keep God’s commandments
- Respect the elderly, Love the immigrants
- Give more than is asked or demanded
- Love your enemies and those who persecute you
Seven basic things to avoid…
- Don’t idolize anything
- Don’t be greedy with your gain
- Don’t ever be dishonest in your dealings with others
- Don’t steal
- Don’t reject those who struggle to hear or to see, spiritually and physically
- Don’t be partial to anyone for any reason – rich or poor, alien or evil person
- Don’t refuse anyone in need
So simple and yet so difficult…apparently. It’s easy if we treat them all individually. But when they overlap it seems to become much more complex. When we look at how they intersect with one another we realize the difficulty of this simple task…to be holy and to be perfect.
We may feel like we respect our family members but how often do we approach the idolization of family when we put our biological family ahead of our church family? When we put vacation with them ahead of attendance at worship even though a church is close by, when family visits and we avoid coming to church because they don’t want to or when we don’t even deal honestly with our parents shortcomings…
Reproving our neighbors may be easy if their sin affects us, but what about when it affects their relationship with the Lord, when they are clearly living outside of God’s will, behaving in ways that dishonor God, that reject his command to be holy, maybe even when fellow church members miss church just because they are a little upset with the members of the church? Or the pastor of the Church? Do we correct them? Do we challenge them to get back to church? Do we encourage those living together outside of marriage to get married? When we fail to correct our friends and our neighbors we become dishonest in our dealings with them, we are being partial to them because they are our friends or neighbors and we value the relationship with them above our own standing and/or their standing with God. Remember that the scripture says we are to reprove our neighbors or we will share in their guilt. And what does it say if we fear correcting them more than sharing in their guilt? God makes it clear that a part of our job as Christians is to act as the conscience of culture. It is our job to correct those who err.
We may think that we give more than is demanded or asked of us but how is it that we can always seem to afford a trip to Disneyland but not a more generous contribution to the church, we can often afford to eat out but we aren’t willing to give something up in order to give something to the homeless or the hurting. We’ll come to church on the Sunday’s it is convenient but we can’t find time to show up for the church wide clean up? These are important questions. Self-criticism is a necessary work of the Holy Spirit to which we must open ourselves.
We don’t feel we are partial but what about the alien in our land? How do we treat the well-dressed wealthy banker versus the t-shirt bedraggled bum on the street corner? What about those around us who commit acts of atrocity? Can we say we love them as ourselves, which we are commanded by God so to do? And how does that love bring itself about in such situations? How do we as Christians open ourselves to the hungry, the hurting, the homeless, the hurting, the refugee? Do we reject them just because they don’t follow American law? How does the church speak prophetically to our government about the immigrant situation remembering that our families were also immigrants even as Israel was in Egypt?
I said these are simple but they certainly are not easy. And yet God calls us to be fools for Christ… Paul, in discussing the role of the apostles versus the regular church going pretenders, the pretentious, and the proud says this:
We are fools for the sake of Christ, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we are hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clothed and beaten and homeless, and we grow weary from the work of our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we speak kindly. We have become like the rubbish (the skubala) of the world, the dregs of all things, to this very day. (I Corinthians 4). This is the same letter which he began, by saying the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Can we say with Paul “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead? Can we see ourselves as unfitting as Peter is reported to have been in asking that he be crucified upside down since we was unworthy of being crucified in the same fashion as the Lord?
I fear that we too often think more highly of ourselves than we should. I adjure you to run the race. To beat your bodies into submission. God’s word encourages us to forsake all…
“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”
In an age and a situation that so wants to use scripture to justify the activities of the governing authorities, that seeks to put personal safety ahead of trust and faith in God scripture admonishes us not to:
“store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I adjure you, I dare, as your pastor, to reprove you and to beseech you to begin to risk your life, to risk your financial well-being, to risk your reputation, to stand for the things of the Lord. To put your trust in him. To live the perfect life, the life that is pleasing to him, the life which may cost you friends, family, your reputation and your well-being.
Begin to live the perfect live. To be holy even as your heavenly Father is holy.
Respect and love your family…all of them; but so too Keep the Sabbath; Love your neighbor and do that by being willing to reprove or correct them; Keep all of God’s commandments; Respect the elderly and love the immigrant; Give more than is asked or demanded and in so doing show our love for your enemies, blessing those who persecute you.
Don’t idolize anything including your financial gain; Don’t ever be dishonest in your dealings with others and in so doing you won’t steal; Don’t reject those who struggle to hear or to see, spiritually and physically; Don’t be partial to anyone for any reason – don’t elevate the rich, or look down on the poor, love the immigrant as yourself and be a blessing to the evil person; Don’t refuse anyone in need.
The Grace of God is given to us that we might rise above our sins. It is given to us in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we might grow to full maturity in the faith. That our faith might be perfected. That we might be holy, set apart to stand as a model for what the people of God should look like. It is not easy, to be sure. It cost Jesus, his life. How much moreso should we be willing to sacrifice everything we have to attain to the glorious crown of victory. Holiness is calling. Perfection is waiting those who will struggle with the work of the Spirit in their lives.
As Paul addressed his favorite church family “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”