Friday, February 21, 2014

Sermon for Sunday, Feb 23, 2014; Leviticus 19:1-19

Rev. George Miller
Leviticus 19:1-19
“What Not to Wear”
Feb 23, 2014

Until recently there was a television show called “What Not to Wear”. It was comfort food TV, something to pass the time.

The premise of the show was fairly simple: fashion advisors Stacey and Clinton guided people in ways to dress that impressed and truly reflected who they are or want to be.

Regardless of a person’s height, age or body shape, they showed how using the right cut, color, and pattern made all the difference.

There were basically two kinds of people that Stacey and Clinton assisted: those who didn’t believe in their own self-worth and dressed drab and frumpy.

Then there were those who believed they were special and unique so they dressed loud and inappropriately.

This second group had a hard time letting go of their current clothes, afraid that if they were to dress any other way then they would stop being…special and unique.

What happened during the course of the show is that they learned it was not the clothes that made them special and unique.

What the right clothes did was make them shine in a way they never had before, without losing what made them special and unique…

Today we come to the end of a three-week series in which our scriptures were selected by Debbie Teeters. I believe she did a wonderful job, starting with Isaiah 58, continuing with 1 Corinthians 3.

We’ve discussed how being a Christian shapes who we are, how we act and how we are to worship God.

Today we conclude with a reading from Leviticus. A lot of folk aren’t too familiar with this book; others are afraid of it. This is a text that some use as a weapon to judge or hurt others.

But we should not be so uncomfortable or afraid of this book. It offers insight into the beginning stages of our faith when people were trying to figure out what it means to follow God, what it means to live a holy life.

When this book was written, its audience was the minority group and they were indeed special and unique.

While others worshipped gods of war, gods of royalty, and gods of wealth, the Israelites worshipped another kind of God.

They believed in a God whose every action went against the expected norm.

In Genesis, when God calls forward a couple to become the family through which all families of the world will be blessed, who does God choose?

A young, virile king and queen?

Nope: an older, childless couple who live off the land named Abraham and Sarah. Their family tree was as good as dead and they were at that stage of life in which people think about retiring to Tanglewood for pickleball and aqua aerobics.

Abraham and Sarah were special and unique, yet they were the ones God chose to bring new life into the world.

In Exodus, when God selects the chosen people, who will they be? The Egyptians with their pharaohs, palaces and pyramids?

No. The chosen people are the foreign slaves, oppressed, lowly, poor and despised.

The slaves are special and unique, yet it is for them that God parts the Red Sea waters.

In 1 Samuel when God calls forward a new king to replace Saul, is it Saul’s first born son, raised in royalty with servants on hand?

No, it’s David, the youngest son of a rancher who was raised in the field, watching sheep and playing music.

Young David was special and unique, yet it is he who God calls.

While other nations, other religions claimed to worship gods of war, gods of royalty, and gods of wealth, the Israelites claimed the God they worshipped, the God they believed in, is, was and forever will be a God of the elderly, the childless, the hopeless, the youngest, the forgotten, the enslaved, the despised, the oppressed, and the different.

Because of this understanding of what made them special and unique, it shaped how they believed they were to act as people of faith.

Since God went out of the way to show love and care to the special and unique, they were to also find ways to care for and respect others, being the best dang neighbor one can be and to treat others as one would want to be treated.

With this in mind, let’s look at Leviticus 19. It states that since God is holy, the people are to be holy as well.

Holy is another way to say special and unique.

A list of ways follow. Some may seem puzzling, like the notion of not eating sacrificed food past the third day, although for people with no refrigeration, it must have made sense.

Then there are the things that are timeless: don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat your neighbor or hold back someone’s pay.

Don’t gossip. Don’t give someone special treatment in court just because they are rich or because they are poor.

Respect your parents, don’t be mean to your kin, or someone deaf or blind.

Socio-economic justice exists in the instruction to leave the edges of land and all fallen fruit for the poor and alien to gather.

(Imagine if everyone with an orange tree or orange grove actually did that?)

Do not act on vengeance or bear a grudge, but love your neighbor as yourself? Why?

Because God is our Lord.

Can you hear just how special and unique these notions are?

But then we go to verse 19 about not interbreeding animals, or sowing a field with two kinds of seeds or wearing clothes made of two fabrics.

What? Why?? Let me share two thoughts-

First, here’s a notion of our God being so special, so unique, so holy that care isn’t just extended to humans, but it goes beyond to animals, the earth, and even to what we wear.

A God so special that it matters how we treat other living creatures. A God so unique that even seeds are to be given a chance to grow and thrive with their own share of soil and sun.

Here’s the second thought: the Israelites religious life focused on the Temple. It was where they worshipped God; where they brought their thanksgiving offerings; where they received forgiveness of their sins; where they gathered as a people, forging and maintaining their cultural identity.

They also believed the Temple is where God lived.

Then, one day they are attacked. Their homes are destroyed, the people are kidnapped and the Temple is burned to the ground.

The people, the priests and even God are literally homeless.

They are devastated and left with a theological dilemma: how can you worship God with no Temple?

With no temple, where would God dwell?

With no temple, how could they hold onto their identity as special, unique, holy people???

…That, dear friends, is part of what makes today’s reading so powerful. It helps to offer a solution to the theological dilemma.

Being holy, being special and unique was not just about a building of brick and stone; it involved every aspect of their life.

Even with the Temple gone, they could experience God’s holiness in the ways in which they lived in relationship with one another and with their environment:

-Being nice to your momma.

-Not lying, cheating or engaging in gossip.

-Paying what is right; charging what is fair.

-Looking out for the deaf, the blind, the poor, the alien.

-Treating others as you’d want to be treated.

All those ways are holy, ways one can still experience God; to know God has not deserted you, to discover that God indeed has a dwelling: within your heart.

But it goes even a step further: care for your animals; plant a garden. That’s holy.

Even if the only thing you can do is take one day to rest or to be mindful of what you are wearing, that too can be holy.

This is a revolutionary notion that God’s holiness extends out to all aspects of life.

Everything we do can become a holy act infused with the presence of God, no matter how simple, no matter how mundane.

This means that our awareness of and relationship with God is not just tied to a specific building or a religious leader but it can be attached to all the daily things we do.

Though Leviticus is often seen as a set of constricting rules, there are elements of freedom because it lets us know that no matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey, no matter what happens to us, there are ways we can experience God, there are still ways we can share God.

There are still ways in which we can be holy, there are still ways we can be special and unique, even if all we have are a song to sing, kind words to say or a packet of seeds.

Reach out to another: God is there.

Be honest and just: God is there.

Pay attention to what we wear, the animals we care for, the gardens we tend: God is there.

In God we can all be holy; in God we are all special and unique.

In God we can all shine, shine, shine.

Amen and amen.

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