Archive for February 23rd, 2014

You Will Be Holy

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany (A), February 23, 2014
Rev. Brian HendersonPastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

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“And 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.” [Leviticus 19:1, 2]

Does that bit of scripture from our Old Testament lesson make you nervous?  It could if you read it with a sinful heart, or if you didn’t understand what new life in Christ really means.  If that was the case, you would read it more like this: “You will be holy… or else!”  Now that can be terrifying because of who is speaking… the Holy God of the universe!   But as we said last week, that is not God’s will for you Christians.  He has given you a new heart; a heart that will hear those words in a different way; a way like this: “You will be holy because I who am holy, am with you always.  I am holy for you, so… be Holy!

The gospel song we just heard by the Highway QC’s encouraged us to live holy, or to be “Working on the Building.”  Or to paraphrase St. Paul in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-23), discover how God gives us both warning and hope as we take caution in how we build upon the foundation of our lives, that is the source of our holiness, Jesus Christ! [1 Cor. 3:10, 11]

This morning, before I speak one Word about our Old Testament lesson, I want to assure that you little ones who belong to Jesus Christ receive these Words within the proper context; so I share with you this reminder from St. Paul: “You were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.” [1 Cor. 6:20]  The price of your salvation was the very lifeblood of Jesus, the Son of God.  The way you glorify God in your body is to be holy, that is you will live out the freedom that Christ’s sacrifice has brought you.

In verses 9 through 16 God shows us what holiness looks like in three places: The field; the community; and the courts.  It was meant to cover all aspects of life for the young nation of Israel as they prepared to enter the land promised them by God.  The Law of God represented the hedge of protection so to speak that He had set up for them so that they would not become enslaved again by the world, but instead remain holy as they lived to please Him.  Within each directive were two major premises that summed up all of God’s law: You shall love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, body, and soul, and you shall love your neighbor as your self.  In other words, God was teaching them how to “work on their building” or, he was teaching them how to maintain their relationship of holiness with Him and each other.

In all of these prohibitions for the field, the community, and the courts, what God is saying is that people matter to Him, especially the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the down trodden.  And since they matter to Him, they must matter to us!  They were the ones that had neither land nor meaningful employment, which forced them to labor at the will of others as they attempted to scratch out just enough to provide for the basics of life.  To ensure that they were provided for, God’s Word established rules for those who had farms and vineyards; God established a simple way for those who had much to provide for those who had little; they must leave some of the bounty of their harvest for the poor.  When I lived in Louisiana many years ago, I observed this practice still being followed, as the poor went out with their large cloth bags to pick the cotton growing at the edge of the fields and at the fence lines so that they could then sell it and have money to care for their families.  What we Christians know today, is the very thing that Moses and his flock knew then, God cares about the poor and so should we!  But God also cares about those folks who can easily fall prey to others who are more cunning and self-centered.  These are the ones that trust that God will protect them through the holiness and love of others.  And that is where God’s Word takes us next…

The community!  Perhaps one of the most despicable things you will witness in our community is when others take advantage of those who can’t protect themselves.  I remember one incident where I witnessed children teasing and taking advantage of another child with Down’s Syndrome.  My natural reaction was to rush over to that child and protect him.  My second response was to scold the other children and teach them what it meant to fear and love God and love each other.  This is precisely what God is doing for us and to us in this portion of our reading, where He insists that living out His holiness will protect those who are deaf and the blind.  If we take this as a metaphor, then, God is directing us to apply His holiness to anyone who is weak and vulnerable.  This gives a whole new appreciation to the old illustration of the Boy Scout helping the old lady cross the street, while also carrying her groceries.

And Jesus says to us this morning: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” [Matt. 26:40]  So… “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.  Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him.  Do not hold back the wages of a hired man (or someone who is living hand to mouth) over night.  Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God.  I am the LORD.”

Well the final area of life addressed in our Old Testament lesson is ready for us to examine, and it is represented by the place where justice is found.  For the Israelites, that place was the council of the Elders.  They were both the municipal government and the court system.

Have you ever seen the statue that represents our legal system?  It is the image of the Roman goddess Justitia.  She stands blindfolded with weight scales in one hand and a sword resting in the other.  It is suppose to represent both our government and our legal system.  It is suppose to remind us that government and justice must serve and hand out justice equally; they are blind to status and influence, and empowered by God Himself to both protect and take vengeance against those who act contrary to the law.  But ask any victim of a crime who has not had justice served, and they will paint a different picture of lady Justice for you.  Their idea of that old Lady is a picture where she is peaking out of the blindfold, with scales tipped to favor the fortunate and influential, and a sword not at rest but poised to strike anyone who disagrees with her.

But God is not blind; He sees all things, and today He declares to those of us who go to the government or the courts for help, and to those who would misuse our system: “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.”

Well, following the theme of building our lives and our community upon God’s holiness, we could say that it is time for the building inspector to come along and evaluate our building process thus far.

If your roof is leaking and the walls are caving in, it is a good bet that you have not been building according to God’s plan.  But conversely, if your roof appears water tight, and the walls are intact, it means nothing if your foundation is cracked!  And that takes us to the final area, which our Old Testament lesson addresses…

Our Hearts!  When God spoke the words of our Old Testament lesson to His people through Moses, it was a foretaste of the very Words Jesus would speak to the church, listen: “I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” [John 15:5]  And, “Everyone who hears these Words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” [Matt. 7:24]  You see God always ties His people’s holiness to His Word that turns His people back to Him; back to His promise to save them through His Son, Jesus Christ!  Jesus alone is our foundation, our source of holiness, life, and salvation.  God attaches Himself to us through His means of grace.  The Word of God and the Sacraments feed and nourish us as surely as a vine feeds and nourishes the branches and as strong as a solid foundation supports the building!

Do you want to live a holy life?  Good then look to Jesus!  Look to Jesus upon the cross between two thieves, hear those who He came to save and die for hurl insults at Him and mock Him, and then hear Him say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  And then look within your own heart and find those corrupt, sinful things that do not belong in the vine and allow God’s Spirit to pluck them out.  Find any thing that will corrupt the foundation of Christ alone, and allow God to remove them.

Do you struggle with anger and the desire to take revenge?  Are you at times overwhelmed with the apparent unfairness of life?  Then again, look to Jesus.  Look to Jesus and remember that it is God alone who pays back evildoers.  Cyprian, one of the early church fathers in the 3rd Century said: “When a wrong is received, patience is to be maintained, and vengeance is to be left to God.”  Today, on the Sunday that we are about to gather for our potluck in remembrance of Black History Month, we remember also the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who lived out that same belief.  Within the crucible of pain and the path of the cross of Jesus, Dr. King also worked on his building as he continued by faith to follow His Lord.  He saw a day when all of God’s children regardless of their race or condition in life would be able to praise God in one voice saying… “Free at last; free at last.  Thank God almighty, free at last!”

For us dear Christians that time has already come upon us; we have been freed, but we still live in a world that is held in bondage to sin.  We still experience the sinfulness and unfairness of this fallen world, but we know that this is the very reason that we are still here!  We are here to display God’s holiness; to be salt and light in a dying world.  We are blessed for this moment and for this generation.  We are the baptized; we are the church, that great city on a hill that can not be hidden.  We are not under the Law but we follow the One who fulfilled it, Jesus Christ.  We are under His Law and that is the Law of love.  He is our very foundation and that foundation is love; love for God and mutual law for each other.  Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you.”  And “By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” [Jn. 13:34, 35]  To love does not mean to simply wish well for others, but instead it means that we bear each others burdens, that is to bear what is burdensome to you, something you would rather not carry.  So as our sainted Dr. Martin Luther said, “A Christian must have broad shoulders and husky bones to carry the flesh, that is the weakness of the brethren.”  In other words, we need God’s holiness to be holy for each other; we need Jesus Christ!

Do you by the work of God have Jesus?  Will you with the help of God confess your need for Him always in your life?  Will you, also with the help of God value His Word and Sacraments as your very source of life and strength?  Do you long to hear His Word speak forgiveness to your heart, and do you see His church as the very embodiment of His presence in this dying world?  Good, then you are holy.  Now in Jesus name, go out and be holy!  AMEN!