EPIPHANY 7, A – February 19, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Lev. 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Cor. 3:10-23; Matt. 5:38-48

Old Testament Reading                                                                  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

            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…

            “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

            “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.

            “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.

            “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.

            “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

Epistle                                                                                            1 Corinthians 3:10-23

            According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

            Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

            Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Holy Gospel                                                                                                Matthew 5:38-48

(A continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount)

            [Jesus said:] “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

            “You have heard that it was 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 sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” 

“You have heard that it was 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 sons of your Father who is in heaven… You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matt. 7

 

Tomorrow is Presidents’ Day. There have been 45 different Presidents of the United States, and of these 45:

Ø  Some are acknowledged by nearly everyone to have been great. Washington and Lincoln especially come to mind.

Ø  Some were military leaders and heroes before they became President; Grant and Eisenhower lead that list.

Ø  Some were highly intelligent and influential in many different fields, perhaps none more so than Thomas Jefferson.

And then, there’s our 13th President: Millard Fillmore. Do you know anything about him? Well, there’s one thing you know: he served as President of the U.S., and so he had great authority and great responsibility. We give much authority to our Presidents, and we expect much in return.

How true this is of you, also! In Leviticus God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Echoing this, Jesus says, “You must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” You. God is saying this to you! The oh so very important thing for you to realize is that He isn’t telling you what to become, what you are to make yourself to be. No, He is telling you what you are, what He has made you to be. God has given greatness to you in His Son! This is why He expects greatness from you. Be what God has made you to be!

Let’s start there. What has God made you to be? When you look at yourself, you may be tempted to think, “Not much.” For, although we live in a very egalitarian society in these United States, we are quite good at making comparisons. We compare ourselves with others on the basis of such things as income; clothing; the cars we drive; the towns we live in; and even the cell phones and apps we have. Who you know is also important; and always has been. “I follow Paul.” “I follow Apollos.” “I heard and met Peter, whom Jesus Himself chose.” The Christians in Corinth were saying such things to one another 2,000 years ago. To this day parishioners rate and compare Pastors, and Pastors compare their congregations. Enough of this! This focus on ourselves only lessens and divides. You see your own failings – we each have many to see! – and think less of yourself. We see faults and failings in others and think less of them; and wrongly elevate ourselves. Enough of this!

Here’s the standard you have: God Himself. He is your measuring line. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Jesus says, “be sons of your Father who is in heaven… be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God and His holiness is what you are to emulate! How do you measure up in comparison to Him? How far short we fall is seen when we understand holiness.

“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” What is holiness? Like most people, I’ll bet you think of it as cleanliness and purity. Being holy means avoiding and separating yourself from sin and evil. It is avoiding dirt. Well, our holy God comes down into our dirt and gets very dirty Himself! He has always done this. Jesus tells us: “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” God serves the evil along with the good! We see this especially in Jesus. He was accused of making Himself unclean by welcoming to Himself the likes of prostitutes and tax collectors, as well as by calling obviously sinful men as His closest disciples.

To understand holiness, look to Christ. In Him we see that holiness is not looking inward and at yourself to keep yourself clean. It is looking outward to see the dirt and uncleanliness and need of others, and then reaching out with help. The Lord told Moses (Lev. 19) that being holy not only meant not stealing or making fun of others or speaking falsely about them. It also meant such things as seeing their hunger and poverty, and providing for them. Jesus intensifies this by pointing out that, since God in His holiness even provides good things to those who are evil, you are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Holiness is love in the heart and the desire that all others, even evil people and those who are your enemies, know God and rejoice in His blessing. When in your heart, then, you make comparisons, and so look down upon others and separate yourself from them, it is then that your unholiness is most evident to God. No matter what others may see, and even we ourselves, God sees and knows us within and without. We cannot hide our unholiness from Him.

Thank God!! Yes, thank your God. When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven,” He wasn’t just telling you what to do. He was reminding you what you are in Him, what He has done for you and made of you in Himself. You who believe that Jesus bore your sins and paid the penalty for them on the cross are not lowly and unholy sinners. God has cleansed you within by forgiving all of your sins in Christ! They do not stain you. You are now Christ’s, for He has taken you to Himself. This means you are also God’s children, for He is God’s Son. All things are yours, then! “You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you,” 1 Cor. 3 declares. This means you are holy, “for God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Jesus has given you the privilege of being God’s children. God has given His name to you in your Baptism, and you can now call Him your Father.

So much has been given to you! – much more than has been given to any President of the United States, or to any other ruler. This is why so much is now expected of you. Let the name and the nature you have been given in Jesus – that of being children of God, members of His household and bearers of His name – be evident in how you deal with people, and especially in how you respond to sin and opposition and even hatred. As Jesus says, “if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Show yourself to be a holy child of Jesus’ Father by forgiving sins and reaching out in love to those who hate you and mistreat you. This holy work which God the Father gave to His Son He entrusts to all of His children.

Strengthen us, dear Father, in this and in all good works, to the glory of Your name! We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen.