Sermon preached by Archdeacon Trevor Harrison at the Midnight Mass of the Nativity 25 December 2019 It’s a marvellous, wonderful,... read more
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
We’ve heard three extremely challenging readings this morning, all of them guidelines or instructions so as to become more the kind of people God wants us to be. Let’s briefly go back to the opening verse in our first reading Leviticus 19:1-2
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.”
The OT reading is part of a section I call: “Godly Rules for living”, by following these instructions are created wholesome communities. Five times these instructions are interspersed with the statement “I am the Lord”. Also note the importance on making provisions for the needs of the poor included here.
There is a story of a bridge that was damaged by heavy floods, workmen were working on repairing it. Several people had arrived, wanting to cross over. As an alternative crossing was quite some distance away, people simply camped around the bridge head and waited. The person recounting the story said that there was a person there from his church. She had brought a sandwich along and was toying with the idea of eating it, but seeing a father with three children nearby decided not to pull it out as she felt that there would not be enough for all of them. A moment later the father taps on her shoulder and offers her some bread.
This story is a common one, how many times have we been intimidated to share. be it food or faith? The law in Leviticus is given to the people of Israel precisely so as not to forget to share, to help the needy, not to be egoists to the point of harvesting the last grain in the fields. Leaving some grains back in the field was the way to help the needy then. Today the commandment does not change. God's command continues to be: to think about the needs of others, although we do it in different ways nowadays.
Moving on to Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth he wrote: “We are God’s Temple”, through baptism we are washed clean, we are made a new being. Here Paul is using the illustration of building a foundation. I guess we all know about good foundations for buildings. Earthquake’s make quick work with buildings that have no good foundations. So likewise he instructs the people to work on the foundations of their personhood, instructing them to build with great care. For that will decide what kind of person they are and will be in the future.
We are only 1½ weeks away from the beginning of the season of Lent. The church ranks this period of time leading up to the celebration of Easter of extreme significance, the last week being called “Holy Week”. It is a time to focus on the foundation of our faith, and how to build on it. It is a call to perfect ourselves in our Christian journey. It is also a reminder that we are a people called to holiness. Be holy as I am holy says the Lord, remember my guidelines for living your life.
However, the Gospel reading seems to make an impossible demand, an eye for an eye is not acceptable, on the contrary it tells us if someone slaps us on our cheek, offer him the other cheek as well. What to do in the case of humiliation, injuries, border crossings, personal attacks? Does Jesus really tell us to take them without contradiction? Does he ask us not to resist? 'You have heard that is said: eye for eye, tooth for tooth. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Not resisting evil is not the same as to accept everything. Jesus gives some examples of retribution and love of the enemy. They do not say that those to whom injustice was added should remain on the defensive. Not to resist is to not reward the like with like. Do not resist evil by the same method, but by other means. We do this as we listen to the spirit. By offering the other cheek is not meant to let the evil action go on. It is meant to make it clear to the attacker “what you do to me is not OK, so stop it. By not reacting likewise in return for an evil action is like offering the other cheek. In all the examples Jesus gives, he is concerned with the protection of the fragile community.
If someone exercises violence, misusing his power, and ignoring the welfare of others, every wholesome community is destroyed. On the contrary an intact and healthy community also includes generosity and willingness to help, as well as to exercise forgiveness. To live together in peace, one must not behave in the same manner as the opponent does. Violence leads to counter-violence. The situation can easily escalate. Thus Jesus calls us to love our enemy and to pray for them. Jesus knows that should we begin to hate our enemy; hate will become like a poisoned arrow shot right into the middle of our heart. Even the enemy is a person loved by God, just as I am. The love which God has towards me should be the guidelines of my actions towards others. Therefore, not like you did to me, so I treat you, rather like God unto me thus will I do unto you.
"May the grace of our Lord Jesus be with you! And may my love be with you all, for we are united with Christ Jesus! ".
So is the Word of the Lord: it does not return empty. It is designed that its people may live united and holy, as God is holy. It corrects us and makes us think so we can live our life well and know God’s peace in our hearts.