Rev. Judy’s Homily for the Seventh Sunday 2/23/14-Love Who? Be What?
Be what? Love who? Be what? Are the questions that may rise to our lips as we consider the texts for Sunday. With an air of incredulity and a sense of “you have got to be kidding” we shudder as we consider our daily lives and the struggles of our world with what is asked of us in the Law of Moses and the spirit of the Law that Jesus preached. What does God want of us? What did Jesus ask of us after all?
In the readings for Sunday we are told, as the Israelites were, to “be holy”, not to hate or exact vengeance, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Leviticus 19: 1-2, 17-18). The Epistle reading (I Cor. 3:16-23) tells us that we are holy temples of God. And Jesus takes the Law one step farther in asking that we love not only our neighbors but our enemies. He sums it up by asking us to be perfect as our God is perfect.
Living the life that Jesus taught is hard! Now, as then, it is counter cultural and sometimes counter intuitive. Our readings today go to the heart of the Gospel Jesus preached and once again we are challenged by them.
Let’s make it real. Last week our News-Press ran an article about sexual offenders being dropped off in the woods to live in primitive make-shift camps because of the laws which prohibit them from living so many feet from schools and children. The truth is that once convicted, employment and housing are equally major problems. Editorials were quickly written and some allowed that despite despicable acts even sexual offenders deserved to live indoors (I very much agree) others said that they deserved to live nowhere. I have worked and ministered to some of the sex offenders who live in the woods, and more often with those whose lives have been forever stunted and altered by sexual offenders and predators. Sometimes I have had to pray hard for the grace to treat the offenders with Christ’s love. It was not easy. If they do come to church on Sunday, the church leaders and I welcome them then watch like hawks so they are nowhere near our beloved children. I only had to intervene on one occasion, but I fully understood the editorials that wanted them run out of town entirely (to someone else’s town). Of course the Church actually did that in repeatedly passing along and not stopping priests who sexually abused children. Only now are the victims heard and the Church is asking forgiveness and dealing with recompense. But there is no real recompense for such hurt caused by those who were trusted with the spiritual and actual lives of God’s children.
On the larger scale, as a diaspora New Yorker who viewed those Twin Towers on a daily basis at one time, and a US citizen I am still working on forgiving the suicide bombers who caused the World Trade Towers to fall on 9/11, and forgiving is a precursor to love for those who are our enemies. Never mind how our own hatreds perpetuate enmity and how many thousands of innocents our bombs and drones have killed. Jesus is saying if you don’t strike back the hateful actions stop-and that is a revolutionary and perhaps practical understanding. They certainly have not stopped with our striking back.
Another example: I love animals. When a man living in a nearby town tied his little dog to the back of his pickup truck and dragged it through the streets practically skinning it alive, I said “they ought to drag him by that truck!” Miraculously the little dog survived and was adopted but the man only got a fine. I was livid-I wanted justice and maybe I wanted vengeance. There is a fine line, and anger filled my heart. On another occasion I worked with a down and out couple where the man was abusive of the woman. We were able to help them both get incomes and housing. She repeatedly returned to him even when she finally received her own income and housing. I found it hard not to lose patience with her, but by the Grace of God, I didn’t. Once she was in our food pantry getting food and he appeared at the door yelling and drunk. He attempted to push past our co-Pastor Judy Beaumont to get in, grabbing her shoulder. I confess, I literally pushed him out of the doorway so that he landed on the ground. I then shut the door and the woman stayed with us until he left. Yes, I was angry and confess again, the woman got still another lecture that she probably would or could not heed. I am in no way perfected in love! And, that is my understanding of what Jesus means by “Be perfect”. How do we learn to love as God loves?
Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors. This will prove that you are children of God. For God makes the sun to rise on bad and good alike; God’s rain falls on the just and unjust.
If you love those who love you what merit is there in that….Therefore be perfect as Abba God in heaven is perfect.”(Matt. 5:48- The Inclusive Bible).
It is not humanly possible to be perfect in the usual English meanings of the word-flawlessness and infallibility. But Jesus did not speak or think in English. Nor did he speak Greek to the largely peasant masses that gathered at his feet, but many scriptural interpretations relate to Greek words. Jesus spoke Aramaic and lived in the Semitic, Hebrew culture of his times. According to Errico (“And There Was Light…” p.102) the Aramaic word gmeera means perfect in the sense of “complete”, “thorough”, “finished” “full-grown”, “mature”, “accomplished”, “comprehensive”, ”rounded out”, and “all-inclusive”. It is used in the Near East for arriving at maturity. As the context for Jesus’ words about being perfect is loving those who are not your friends or even your countrymen and women, and those who may indeed be your enemies, Jesus is saying love like God loves-the rain falls on all-just and unjust. God’s love is all inclusive, all are God’s children, no one is left out. Wow!
One Peshitta text for Matt 5:48 reads: “therefore be all-inclusive even as your Father who is in heaven is all-inclusive”. Our very purpose in life is to be a non-violent and loving presence. We cannot will this to happen within us, but,thanks be to God, the Spirit enlivens us. God’s presence within us shines through as we love and grow in loving, for we are never finished with this kind of essential growth. When we grow and show the face of Love, God is happening. (Errico, And There Was Light, pp 166-169). Growing maturity in the faith of Christ is demonstrated by our growth in all- inclusive love. I will soon reach my 71st birthday and I am not there yet. But at least I usually know when I am falling short and when it is only God’s grace that enables such love to come from me. And I know because that happens all the time. I think that is what the Epistle (I Cor. 3:23) means when it says “…you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God”-God empowers us to be what God wants us to be-the face of love.
The Message translation is closer to the Aramaic meanings and I like it:
“In a word, what I’m saying is Grow Up….live out your God created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”(Matt 5:48)
Here is a prayer, maybe you will pray it with me: Our loving God, teach me, change me, and breathe love into me and through me. It is too hard for me to “get it” on my own. Help me to grow up in the faith of Jesus the Christ.
Pastor Judy Lee, ARCWP