All of our texts this week had a common theme that isn’t at first evident.
We begin with Leviticus 19. We don’t like Leviticus. We struggle to work with it as it is THE legal code and our passage was from the Holiness Code. We all cherry-pick the law based on our own understanding of what is right and what is wrong and what we can justify. Our passage today was about not stripping the vineyard or the fields empty, in order that the poor, the alien, the immigrant in our community would be able to eat from it; thus, serving those in need. The passage left out was about animal sacrifice and we cut it short before it addressed not cutting our hair, not wearing fabric made of mixed materials, body modifications like piercings and tattoos.
At coffee hour, one of my members asked how many sets of piercings do I have; the answer is four. They jokingly said ‘I am not going to ask how many tattoos you have’; well, that answer is also four.
The Holiness Code can also be translated as the Wholeness Code, The wholeness of what it means to be individuals and a community of faith, which brings us to our 1 Corinthians 3 text.
Paul is addressing a community that is in strife and division over proper human authority. Paul says “you are the temple of God”. We read this and we think that we, as individuals, are the temple of God. Therefore eat healthy, exercise, avoid alcohol and tobacco, [and] avoid body modifications, but the text is [better] translated as “ya’ll are the temple of God”. As a community, you are the temple of God and you need to be whole, which is difficult when you are in strife and division rather than united in Christ.
Then, we get to Matthew 5. This is the last part of the Sermon on the Mount, which begun with the Beatitudes. Once again, Christ is taking the law and moving beyond it. If one smacks you, turn the other cheek. If one takes your coat also given them your cloak. If a Roman Soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it also a second.
But, Christ is also doing something significantly powerful in this passage, not only is he going beyond the letter of the law but he is suggesting what some might call being passive-aggressive, or being passive or peacefully resistant.
If one smacks you and you turn the other cheek, they would have to back-hand you to smack you again bringing shame upon themselves. If they took your cloak, by law they had to return it to you, because they would be in the wrong. They would be in a shameful spot and in a shame culture the worse thing you could do is bring shame upon yourself or your family.
If a Roman Soldier required you to carry his pack for one mile, that was legal. If you went more than one mile, he would be in trouble with his commanders.
I came across a passage I saw on Facebook. I wish I had this before I preached on the Beatitudes last month or before these texts. It comes from Common Prayer: a Liturgy for the Ordinary Radicals by Shane Clariborne.
Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity.
It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice,
the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer,
the act of finding a third way that is neither fight or flight but
careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
Christ ends his sermon with the statement ‘be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect’. As a perfectionist, I struggle with those texts because I have come to the realization that perfection is out of reach. But again, our translation fails us ‘be complete, be whole because your Father in heaven is complete, is whole’.
All these texts are calling for us to be whole as individuals, as a community of faith, as a society, as a nation, as a world.
My prayer is that we each walk a path of peacekeeping that leads to wholeness for ourselves, for our community, for our world. Amen.
The Scriptures were Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-8; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; & Matthew 5:38-48.
The sermon was originally preached 19 Feb. 2017.