The Weekly Word for February 19, 2017

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Matthew 5:38-48

Sermon: “Leviticus?! You Don’t Even Know Us!”

Ever since Kristen and I have been together, there is one question that I get asked daily from my wonderful wife.
No its not “Do you love me?”
Or “How was your day?”
It’s this:
“Did you wash your hands?”

That is the number one question I am asked by my wife every single day.
Now let me assure all of you that I DO wash my hands.
Quite often.
But there are times that I forget.
And that’s when I get in trouble.
If Kristen asks, “Did you wash your hands?” and I pause for…let’s say…TWO seconds, she knows I am about to stretch the truth.
(Others would call it lying, but anyway…)
So now if I forget, and when the question is asked, I don’t even say anything.
I just got back to the sink and wash my hands.
For at least 20 seconds, of course.
So why am I sharing this information with you?
I can explain it in one word:
That’s right.
The third book in the Old Testament.
And the book from where our first lesson is found.
In preparing for this week’s sermon, I wanted to concentrate on Leviticus because as a congregation we do not get to hear from this book on a regular basis.
In fact, our first lesson today is one of only two times in the entire lectionary that we get Leviticus.
So I wanted to make sure we spent some time on this lesson and the book as a whole.

The title “Leviticus” comes from the Greek and Latin meaning “the book of the Levites.”
The Levites were a tribe of Israel assigned to be priests.
The first priest, or Levite, was Aaron, Moses’ brother.

These men were called to help Moses carry out the rules and laws given by God.
These rules and laws were given by God to help Israel live together and in harmony.
And these rules were given so that Israel would know how to serve God.

And as I was reading Leviticus, I started to run across a certain theme: “clean hands.”
Because Leviticus is filled with topics that no one really wants to hear about on a Sunday morning:
Animal sacrifice
Blood sprinkling
Moldy walls,
Damaged flesh
And bodily emissions.
Topics that would make any Christian run to the sink and grab the soap or dive into a pool of sanitizing solution.

And as I read I could not help but see God as a big germaphobe!
“Ah! Wash those hands!”
“Eek! Clean that animal”
“Whoa! Jump in the showers, people!”

I can picture Kristen quoting Leviticus the next time I don’t wash my hands for 20 seconds!

But why are “clean hands” so important to God?
The answer is God is NOT a germphobe!
He is a SIN-aphobe!

Sin makes us dirty.
Sin makes us unclean and open to bad things.
And God wants something better for his people, be it Israel back or Grace Lutheran today.
God wants us to be clean.
God wants to set us apart so that we can live good lives with clean hands, clean minds, and clean hearts.

And to be set apart,
To really get our hands clean,
God wants us to focus on our relationships.

To me, that is the reason Leviticus still matters.
Because this book focuses on relationships.
And I am not talking about the relationship an individual has with God.
I am talking about the relationship people have with one another.
In Chapter 19, verse 2, God says, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
This “you” is not “you” in the singular.
This “you” is “you all” or the better word is “Y’all.”
God is addressing the entire community.
And the rest of our passage sounds like it came directly from the Ten Commandments.
You shall not steal.
You shall not deal falsely.
You shall not lie.
You shall not defraud.
You shall not revile.
You shall not be a stumbling block.
You shall not judge unfairly.
You shall not hate.
You shall not take vengeance.
All of these “shall nots” are to protect the neighbor.
To take these “shall nots” and turn them into “shalls”
We will treat your neighbor justly.
We will speak the truth.
We will support.
We will seek reconciliation.
We will love.
For much of Leviticus God talks about cleaning oneself to get ready to properly praise Him.
But there is another reason we clean ourselves.

God is telling us to clean up our messes when it comes to relationships with our neighbors.
And you can see this message of clean hands in the Gospel.
By the time Jesus makes his appearance, the laws of Leviticus have been skewed.
“You shall not take revenge or bear a grudge” has been overtaken with “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” and “hate your enemy.”
The laws had become dirty.
And it was time for Jesus to bring out the soap and do some washing.
And by that I mean washing the slate clean.
To do this:
Jesus calls us as his disciples to take our service up a level.
And that new level is to “love” our enemies.
The word Jesus uses for “love” is agape.
There were three words used for love at the time of Jesus.
There was love as in love for a brother/sister. Philo.
It’s where “Philadelphia” the city of Brotherly love comes from.
There was Eros, which is a sensual love.
And then there was “agape.”
“Agape” was and is the deepest love someone can have for another person.
It is the love one feels for his or spouse, or child, or grandchildren, or neice, or nephew
It is the love that stirs the soul, makes the heart skip a beat.
It’s the love that makes all the love songs and love poems make sense.
It is the same love God has for us.
For God so loved the world, and yes, there’s that agape word again.
God’s love for us is so deep, we cannot fully understand it.
But we can appreciate it.
We can be awed by it.
And we can be moved by it.
Moved to love others the same way.
Even our enemies.

And what Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel is NOT a suggestion, it is not an option, it is a commandment.
We are called to love those who only hate us.
We are called to love those WE hate.
And that is very hard for us.
For many it’s impossible.
But that is where the words of Leviticus and Matthew really need to hit home.

By saying to ourselves, convincing ourselves that “I cannot love that person for what He or she did,” we are saying that OUR HATE is more important to us than God’s love.
And that is dangerous because that goes back to breaking the very first commandment:
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
When we make exceptions to Jesus’ commandment, we have placed another god before Jesus.
We have place ourselves, our thoughts, our beliefs, our rules, over Jesus.

Hate and revenge are very powerful emotions.
But they are evil emotions.
They cloud our judgment and distract us from our call as Christians.
They make our actions dirty.

But today God is calling us to come clean.
To come and wash our hands and start over.
By washing our hands, not just with soap and water, but by remembering our baptisms, to the promise of everlasting love (everlasting agape) that God has given us.
By making the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we remember the apape love God HAS For us,
And the agape love we are to show all neighbors.

The other day I was taking Paul home from school.
He was telling me about his day.
And he mentioned that one of his friends, Ben, was pushing people that day.
All the kids felt his wrath.
Even Paul.
Of course, I was like, “Oh I’m gonna get that Ben!” (shaking fist in air)
But then Paul said something that literally had my heart and soul captive:
He said, “Ben played rough. But we still love him, daddy.”

We still love him.

Sometimes that is the hardest thing for us to do.
Still it has to be done.
Again, it is not an option.
It is a commandment.

This morning, God is asking us some important questions.
“Did you love your enemy today?”
“Did you forgive”
“Did you make things better or worse”
“Did you wash your hands today?”

And now it’s time for us to answer.
It’s time for us to come clean.

Thankfully, we have a God who brings a lot of soap.

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