Sunday, February 19, 2017

Special, Separate, and Sacred; Leviticus 19:1-10

Rev. George Miller
Date: Feb 19, 2017
Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-10

Worship is an odd thing, if you allow yourself to actually stop and think about it.

Why do we have an altar? Why do we light candles? Why does the pastor wear a robe?

We may think that in order to correctly worship God we must have an altar, we must light candles, and a robe must be worn, otherwise God is not being properly admired.

And if we are not really careful, we may actually begin to think that an altar is God, a candle is God, and a robe is God.

I believe that we can worship God with all these things, but we can also worship God with none of them.

So why do we use them? Why do we do what we do?

To answer, allow me to share a once-in-a-lifetime event I experienced last week: a 7-Course Meal at the home of Robert and Roger.

And it was exquisite.

My friends and I were greeted with hors d’oeuvres and cosmos. We dined on Foire Gras and crab bisque, shrimp remoulade and Caesar Salad, beef tornados and mixed berries in a Sabayon Sauce, each course lovingly paired with an appropriate wine.

The table was set perfectly; out of a page from Emily Post…except none of my friends are Emily Post kinda people.

We’re more like Publix brand boxed wine and pulled pork kinda people.

So when everyone sat down and saw all the different types of forks there was a moment of “What do we do?”

So I recalled an episode from the TV show “Designing Women” which explained that you start from the outside fork and work your way in.

So that’s what we did; and we had a wonderful time. We joked, we laughed, we spent 6 hours eating 7 courses plus an intermezzo and a digestif.

Following the proper table etiquette of using our forks from the outside in made so much sense. As each course ended, a fork was removed, we had more space, the table stayed organized, and in its organization we were comfortable and free to be fun loving guests.

I was reminded again of “Designing Women” and how one character stated that manners were never meant to be used as a weapon, but as a way to make your guests feel welcome and comfortable.

That’s how I feel about the book of Leviticus.

Now, Leviticus gets a bad rap with its collection of laws and ordinances. Some of them seem odd, some archaic, some culturally cruel.

But in the end, the reason for the laws is so that the people can welcome God, welcome one another, and be more comfortable in what they do.

Today’s reading contains what we call the Holiness Codes, with numerous references to God being Holy.

Holy, meaning that God is separate, God is set apart, God is different.

Now this may seem to contradict the last 6 weeks of sermons, in which we talked about viewing our relationship with God as being horizontal and close by as opposed to vertical and far away.

But I don’t think it does. Holy may mean separate, but it does not mean aloof.

Holy may mean set apart, but it doesn’t have to mean far off.

Holy may mean different, but it doesn’t have to mean distant.

To say God is holy is to mean that God is sacred, separate, and special. As such, it means the relationship and the time we have with God can be special, different and sacred.

Our recent sermon series shone a light on how we’ve been blessed. We’re blessed with a Creator who has given us what we need: air to breathe, soil to plant, water to live.

With all that God has given, what does God ask? That we set aside some of what we have and to mark it as sacred.

Take a look at today’s reading.

Holiness is applied to the land and how it is to be treated. That when collecting crops, leave the outer perimeter alone and leave the things that fall to the floor.

Doing so gives the land owner a bit of rest; they don’t have to do it all or worry about picking up what falls; they don’t have to bend their backs any more than they already are.

Rest for the owner gives the poor and the alien a chance to care for themselves in a way that equals more of a hand up than a handout.

Holiness applies to animal welfare and sacrifice. If you’re going to take the life of an animal, have the respect to eat all of it before it goes bad.

Holiness applies to time, which is the great equalizer.

No matter how old or young, no matter how rich or poor any of us may be, we are sharing the same exact time at this moment. We are all experiencing the same seconds, same minutes, same hour.

We all share the same time, but God says that time can be a sanctuary; set aside some time that is sacred, that is separate from all you do.

Go ahead and work, work 5 or 6 days a week; but for God give yourself one day of rest.

Trust that the world will still turn, trust that God has got this, trust that you can enjoy a second, a minute, an hour, a day in which nothing is done yet everything is accomplished.

Holy- to claim something as sacred, as separate, as special.

God says “I am holy, so you should be holy too.”

God says “I made you out of holy earth, I filled with my holy breathe, I placed inside you my holy waters, so embrace how holy you are.”

God says “You are the spice of life and you are the light to the world, so set things aside so you can regain your flavor, set things aside so you can rekindle your inner flame.”

God says “I am holy, so you should be holy too.”

There are so many ways to experience holiness. For some it is setting aside time to pray or time to read or to create.

For some it is setting aside time to do acts of justice and compassion.

For some it is that time in the garden, time in the woods, or time in the waves.

Church helps us to be hosts of holiness.

We set aside time when we come to worship. Of all the things we could be doing, we choose to say from 9:30-10:30 we are going to be here celebrating God.

We set aside resources when we give our offerings. Of all the things we can spend our money on, we choose to give so that we can keep God’s ministry going.

We set aside our bodies and abilities when we volunteer. Of all the ways we can share our talents, we choose to play a role in making God’s Kingdom a little bit more knowable here on earth.

I think that Leviticus is trying to tell us that God wants appreciation; that God want to be loved.

That God wants to know that God matters.

That God is so pleased with us that God wants to spend time with us.

That God loves our spiciness and light, that God wants us to share our seasoning and our radiance with God.

People can get caught up in all that Leviticus says, and how stringent the laws can seem.

But I don’t so much see the laws as God, but as a way to better experience God.

You see- the altar is not God. A candle is not God. A robe is not God.

But they are ways to say “Welcome. This time we are about to spend together is sacred.”

They are symbols that say “Welcome. You are invited to separate yourself, if even for just a moment, from all that is going on, and to feel, act, be, and to treat one differently than how the world wants us to.”

They are a way to say “This place in which we have gathered is unique.”

Today’s reading says “God is special, and so are you. Embrace that specialness. Experience that specialness with your Creator. Share that specialness with the saints around you.”

“Know that just as you are special, others are special too.”

Because when we do that, when we realize there is holiness in all, we are better able to welcome the stranger, be a neighbor, and to do justice, love kindness, and walk with humility.

Amen and amen.

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