Seventh Sunday after Epiphany A - February 20, 2011

Tony Abeyta - Holy People

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18, Matthew 5:38-48

    “You shall be holy because I, the Lord am holy”

    “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect.

       Throughout history, throughout great literature, even in our own experience, what is it that gets human beings into trouble?  Is it not our desire to be like God?  Well, today we are given the chance to be like God.  In fact we are given a command to be like God.  Be holy like God.  Be perfect like God.

       Of course that’s not really what we have in mind when we think we want to be like God.  But that is because we don’t know God.  That is the ultimate problem in our desire to be our own God.  The problem isn’t just that we are denying our proper role as the creature and not the creature but it is also that when we aspire to be God in order to judge and be in control, we are showing that we have no idea what it even means to be God.

       To be God is to be holy.  To be God is to be perfect.  Holy in goodness.  Perfect in love.  You want to be like God?  Do not strive for power.  Strive for love and kindness and justice.
What does it mean to be holy?  In Hebrew, holy means to be separate, distinct, set aside.  God is holy because God is separate, distinct from the world he created.

       God’s people are holy, chosen, set apart to be distinct in God’s world.  Note that holy people are not taken out of this world.  To be holy does not mean that you get to escape from this world or that you isolate yourself from the world.

       It is not how we withdraw from the world that makes us holy, but how we interact with the world.  To be holy is to live in the word, among the world, reflecting who God is in how we act and live in the world.   It is how we treat other that sets us apart.  It is how we treat others with love and compassion that makes us distinct, set apart, and holy in the world.

       The world says, love yourself first, take care of yourselves first.  Holiness says love your neighbor as yourself.  Perfections says put others before yourself.  When God gave up his own son for the sake of the world, he put humanity before himself.  You want to be like God?  Be like that.

       Leviticus says “… You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”   You want to be like God?  Love your neighbor.  And not just your neighbor.  Leviticus 33-34 goes on to say we are to love the stranger and the sojourner as ourselves as well. 

       And Jesus ramps it up even more.

       You have heard it said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

       Just as there are no boundaries to God’s love, there are to be no boundaries to our love.  You want to be like God?  Love like that.  You want to be perfect like God?  Then love those who are not perfect.

       Often we speak of the Old Testament law “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth as a very vengeful and harsh law” At the time however, it was a law to reduce violence.  Among other people in the area the law said that if someone broke your finger, you could break their arm.  If someone killed your brother, you were justified and in going back and killing their whole family. The law allowed for two and three fold revenge.    Even now we can see that law playing out in many regions of the world.  The eye for an eye law actually reduced violence and limited revenge.  It was really an advanced law.  It was a law based on justice, an eye for an eye, not revenge.

       But now Jesus calls us to even go beyond even revenge but beyond justice.  Not an eye for an eye but forgiveness.  Love.  Do not get back at your enemy.  Instead love your enemy.

       You want to be like God?  What did Jesus say as they were pounding the nails through his hands?  Did he pray for justice on those who crucified him?  No.  “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  You want to be like God?  Be like that.  Love your enemy.

       Forgive your enemy.  Turn the other check.  Hand over your cloak.  Go an extra mile.  This is not about becoming a victim.  This is about being like God.  God is no victim.

       If you are God’s servant, God’s child, you have an identity that cannot be taken away.  You are holy.  You are different because you belong to God.  Your loyalty is to God, not another human being.  In that we are like God.  We are free.  We are not in the control of those who would force us to do things or submit to violence or oppression.  By turning our cheek, by going the extra mile, we show who is really in control.

       That freedom and control we seek when we reject God and try to take on our own power can be found only in submitting to God.  Jesus gave up his power to make us children of God.  Because we are children of God we can do more than any human can require of us.  Our perfection has nothing to do with our personality, our abilities or our moral character.  Our perfection comes from God. 

       The Hebrew meaning of perfect is whole, compel, total and undivided.  God is whole and undivided.  We are called to live lives wholly and undividedly faithful to God. 

       Our righteousness, our holiness is the whole way we live our lives.  Our love is God’s love, consistent and without partiality.  Our standard of behavior is set not by human standards but by our relationships with a perfect and holy God.

       God’s perfection and holiness is what saves us.  Our holiness is how we live out that salvation in the world. 

       You want to be like God?   Love like God loves.  You want to be like God?  Forgive like God forgives.  You want to be like God?  Do for others the way Jesus gave up being like God in order to serve us. 

       You want to be like God?  You are like God.  You are God’s child.  You are perfect because God has made you perfectly.  You are holy because your God is holy.


kellbell said...

I love your sermons. I read one just about everyday. But I'm going to run out if you don't post any new ones! Please tell me you haven't stopped.

Pastor Joelle said...

You know I was just thinking I should start posting them again. Thanks!