Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
February 23, 2014
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
I Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
Today’s readings invite us to consider the nature of divine – and human – holiness and perfection. As persons and communities, we are called to lives of stature and wholeness, embodying in our day-to-day lives and actions God’s own quest for wholeness. Those who claim to be God’s people – the Hebraic nation and the church – are challenged to live by a higher set of values than the surrounding world. We are not “better” or “set apart” as the apple of God’s eye, but are called to be mindful of the well-being of others, especially the marginalized and dispossessed.
Leviticus challenges God’s people to be holy as God is holy. God has a preferential care for all people, rich and poor. God seeks justice in every aspect of life and asks us to act justly toward all people as well. All are embraced by God’s everlasting love, regardless of their social position. God’s care for all persons gives equal treatment to the wealthy and powerful, and the citizen or immigrant. However, the quest for equality among all people is ultimately an affirmation of the importance of the powerless as subjects of divine and human care, since it is the powerless who usually receive short shrift economically, legally, and politically in relationship to those who have power.Leviticus’ counsel to “do no harm” does not, at first glance, carry the weight of the ethical admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Still, it is an ethic that transforms any social order. This preventative ethic implicitly supports a more positive vision of seeking the well-being of all. The poor are fed, the homeless housed, and the vulnerable receive care, not as an option but as mandate. The wealthy are counseled to be generous in considering the poor in their economic decision-making; this consideration is a mandate for those who claim to be both wealthy and faithful to God.
The congregation I pastor, South Congregational Church, UCC, in Centerville, Massachusetts, has as its motto, “Learning, Loving, and Living the Word of God.” The Psalmist would have shared our congregation’s spiritual and behavioral affirmation. Psalm 119 invites us to align our hearts with God’s heart. God’s law is written on our hearts and when we meditate on God’s law, God vision shapes our moment by moment decision-making. The divine law embraces the laws of societies; it also reflects the laws of our deepest nature as self-affirming and interdependent creatures. The Psalm invites us to consider the “beauty of holiness,” lived out in daily life.
The heart of the Corinthians passage is found in the twin affirmations: you are “the temple of God” and “God’s Spirit dwells in you.” Moreover, God is the source of every good gift and our ability to share God’s good news. As Christians, we receive all the resources we need, individually and communally. Our relationship with God liberates and empowers us to do great things. As Paul proclaims, “all things are yours.” Paul advocates a gospel of stature, inclusion, and abundant life.
The Gospel of Matthew counsels us to be perfect as God is perfect. Divine perfection is all-embracing. God cares for all and supports all. God’s enlivening energies embrace the righteous and unrighteous alike. God’s love is not preferential, but affirmative of all humanity. Conversely, God does not purposely harm either the good or evil. God’s power is relational in nature, and not coercive. The tragedies of life do not come from God’s hand: they emerge through the interplay of human decisions, natural accidents, and the sheer randomness of life. Recognizing that the interdependence of life includes both intentionality and randomness challenges us to be compassionate to persons who go astray, experience poverty, and struggle with illnesses of mind, body, and spirit. Compassion as well as confrontation emerges from the recognition that we are neither impotent nor omnipotent in responding to the crises of life.
Following God’s way calls us to become persons of stature or, as Patricia Adams Farmer says, “fat souls.” (See Patricia Adams Farmer, The Metaphor Maker and Fat Soul Fridays.) As persons of stature, we look beyond our own self-interest to embrace family, friend, and stranger alike.