Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. Francis Episcopal Church, Goldsboro, NC; 7th Sunday after Epiphany, 19 Feb. 2017
RCL Year A: Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11,16-23. Matthew 5:38-48
Jesus says: Be perfect.
Be perfect? Be perfect!!
If you are perfect, remain standing for the sermon.
What does Jesus expect of us? He tells us: Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Jesus takes to a whole new level the framework Leviticus gives us for our personal responsibility to live a holy life. AND Leviticus takes to a whole new level how people treat each other. The Jewish Study Bible says about today's reading: God “transforms social legislation into a sacred act.”1
God says how we treat people is holy business, including how we treat the vulnerable: the poor, the alien, special needs persons. Since we are God's beloved children, how we treat others is supposed to reflect God's love & holiness. Our interactions are to be holy & sacred. Leviticus gives us plenty of details about overt acts people can see & inner stuff we stuff inside to keep secret – whether it is cheating an employee of wages or harboring anger. God says: Love your neighbor as yourself.
I find this can be hard sometimes: not because of the neighbor but because of me. I can be so down on myself that treating an irritating neighbor like I treat myself would be easy: I could treat the neighbor with the great disdain I dish out to me!
To love our neighbor as God commands,
we must love ourselves!
How well do you love yourself? How well do you acknowledge you are beloved by God? Try it. Then do the same for the person you have a hard time loving. Acknowledge the person as God's beloved child.
A wise priest taught me this years ago. He also suggested I say one nice thing – something true – to this person I saw every day at work.
What a challenge! But I did it.
I recall not seeing any change in this un-churched person. Over time, I grew to see him as a beloved child of God. Years later, I am dumbfounded to learn he has discovered God AND has joined the church! [We don't always know when the seeds we plant will sprout.]
Living in God's love, we may not know where God's grace will lead us. Leviticus gives us more than a moral compass. The Jewish Study Bible notes2: “holiness does not refer to superior moral qualities. God's holiness is [God's] essential 'otherness'...” We are not holy like God is. We are “holy” because we belong to God & are set apart for God.3
Jesus takes this to a new level. He tells us not just to love neighbors, but to love enemies, turn the other cheek.
I remember a young woman in Sunday school telling us a woman had slapped her. She had offered the other cheek. The woman slapped her again. The “slapee” simply left the room in peace.
She says Jesus doesn't tell us what will be the outcome when we offer grace & peace. We know what happens to Jesus: he dies on the cross for us.
Leviticus gives us rules for holy living. Jesus gives us grace for holy living. In our reading from Corinthians, Paul reminds us we are vehicles of God's grace.
You are God's temple.
You are where the Holy Spirit dwells.
You are a vehicle for God's grace to spill over into hurting lives – including those who
slap you figuratively or literally!
When we/you live intentionally aware of being God's holy temple, aware of our potential as God's grace-givers, then we help the Body of Christ function more fully in love & in spreading God's grace.
God needs each of us to make the Body of Christ whole. God has graced us with many gifts & diversity to enhance our unity. With our diverse gifts, each of us helps complete the whole as God's holy people.
As our work for God's vision grows, please ponder prayerfully the mystery of our unity in diversity.
In his book Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons, Henri Nouwen ponders the mystery of the church's unity in our diversity in his meditation on the 15th century Russian icon “The Descent of the Holy Spirit” by Andrei Rublyov4. Nouwen notes Peter & Paul among the apostles. Peter denies Jesus. Paul persecutes Christians until his blinding encounter with the light of God's love. We ARE diverse.
Nouwen says: “...community is first & foremost a gift of the Holy Spirit, not built upon mutual compatibility, shared affection or common interests, but upon having received the same divine breath, having been given a heart set aflame by the same divine fire & having been embraced by the same divine love.
It is the God-within who brings us into communion with each other & makes us one.”5
God does this for our well-being AND “for the liberation of the world.”6 Nouwen points out the icon's “urgent appeal to action...(for the many) in darkness (who) wait for the light of the word of God.”7
Jesus calls us to work for the liberation of the world.
Beloved Brothers & Sisters, you know there is liberation work to do here to continue Jesus' healing work. Jesus calls us in our diversity to work in unity for the liberation of God's children who are in darkness, living with brokenness.
You know brokenness exists. Jesus knows well our brokenness & our need for each other. A friend from seminary shares this vision of liberating people who live in darkness: “What if we are the church that doesn't confront? What if we become the nurturing people of God? What if we embrace the opportunity for the church to move on the strength of embracing differences?”
Beloved Sisters & Brothers:
What if we are the church that doesn't confront?
What if we become more fully the nurturing people of God?
What if we embrace the opportunity for this church to move on our strength of embracing differences?
How do you, how will you work
to liberate people from darkness?
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Nouwen, Henri J.M. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press. 1987.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1970.
New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha. Eds: Herbert G. May, Bruce M. Metzger. New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 1977.
Westerhoff, Caroline A. Make All Things New: Stories of Healing, Reconciliation, & Peace. Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing. 2006.
1 Jewish Study Bible. P. 253.
4 Nouwen, Henri J.M. Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons. Pp. 65-66.
5 Ibid. P. 65.
6 Ibid. P. 67.
7 Ibid. P. 69.