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Sermon for 5th Sunday after Pentecost 2022

First Reading: Leviticus 18:1-5, 19:9-18

1The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. 3You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. 4You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. 5You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

9“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. 11You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 13You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. 15You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord. 17You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”

Psalm 41

1Happy are they who consider the poor and needy! the Lord will deliver them in the time of trouble. 2The Lord preserves them and keeps them alive, so that they may be happy in the land; he does not hand them over to the will of their enemies. 3The Lord sustains them on their sickbed and ministers to them in their illness. 4I said, “Lord, be merciful to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you.” 5My enemies are saying wicked things about me: “When will he die, and his name perish?” 6Even if they come to see me, they speak empty words; their heart collects false rumors; they go outside and spread them.  7All my enemies whisper together about me* and devise evil against me. 8“A deadly thing,” they say, “has fastened on him; he has taken to his bed and will never get up again.” 9Even my best friend, whom I trusted, who broke bread with me, has lifted up his heel and turned against me. 10But you, O Lord, be merciful to me and raise me up, and I shall repay them. 11By this I know you are pleased with me, that my enemy does not triumph over me. 12In my integrity you hold me fast, and shall set me before your face forever. 13Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, from age to age. Amen. Amen.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

1Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing — as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, 7just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf 8and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. 9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37

25Behold, a lawyer stood up to put {Jesus} to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Be Holy, Just and Loving

I would venture to say, that most of you haven’t taken the time lately to consider why the season of Pentecost takes up half the church year.  The answer, of course, is simple.  We need to spend this time learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  We study His life, actions, and teachings to learn how to be like Him.  And when you stop and consider our readings for today, the commands and example contained here, are key components to understanding what’s expected of us as Christians.  In the next chapter of Leviticus, we encounter a vital phrase that for me, should have been read first.

In Leviticus chapter 20 verse 26, The Lord said to Moses, “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.”  For me this verse contains the first of three characteristics God is calling us to be, holy.  As I remind you from time to time, to be holy means to be set apart.  For us to be holy, we’re to think differently, to act differently and to live differently than the rest of the world around us. 

As Jesus reminds us, when He prayed for the disciples, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth (John 15:17).  Oftentimes the commands in the Bible and the message of love of God and neighbor are in direct conflict with the message of the world.  The world says look out for yourself, love yourself, do what’s best for yourself.  The Bible says, we’re to be different from the world; we’re to be Christ-like examples of how to live and love God and our neighbors. 

What I really like about this passage is that it gets to the heart of how were to be holy.  Jumping back to chapter 18, God, through Moses, tells us, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt…you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan…You shall not walk in their statutes.  You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them.  Here we have the summary of the 10 Commandments, the basis for all our laws.

A good place to start our journey to becoming holy starts in chapter 19 verse 9, God says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.”  The first step to becoming set apart is to guard against greed.  The world would tell you that you tilled, planted, cultivated, and harvested your field, you deserve every grape and grain of wheat.  God, on the other hand, says you can thrive on the 90+ percent from the center of your field.  Leave the edges for those who need help.  St. Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:2, we’re to “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” 

Next, starting in verse 11, God instructs us to refrain from deceit and theft: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.  If we were to put our heads together, I’m sure we could name a dozen or more ways that society encourages us to take advantage of those around us.  Sadly, there are too many cases where society encourages us to deal unscrupulously with our neighbor.  Oftentimes it’s hidden under the phrase “supply and demand.”

Now I don’t want to start a rant against oil companies, Real Estate brokers, building goods suppliers or Auto repair places, just to name a few, but isn’t part of the inflation problem we’re experiencing today due in part to greed?  I understand that the free-market system is very complex, and simply pointing at one or two of the symptoms isn’t a complete answer to the problem.  But you must ask, when a corporation is making record profits amid a shortage, what does this tell me?  If we’re truly concerned about the poor, then why are we allowing the greed of these industries to take advantage of those who can least afford it.  As Christians, we’re commanded not to glean to the edges of the field, nor gather the grapes that have fallen to the ground, we’re to help bear the burdens of those less fortunate. 

I did a quick Google search for proverbs that speak against greed and what I found was interesting.  One unknown person said, “Greed is like filling a cup with a hole at the bottom, it will never fill.”  According to Andy Stanly, “Greed is not a financial issue.  It’s a heart issue.”  Horace said, “He who is greedy is always in want,” and Jonathan Gash is noted for saying, “Fraud is the daughter of greed.”  I think you get the gist.  In total I found a list of 62 quotations warning against greed.  The Bible also speaks against avarice. 

Solomon in Proverbs warns, “Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household” (15:27).  And in Ecclesiastes we read, “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.  This too is meaningless (5:10).  God was warning His people then, and He warns us today, we must guard ourselves against greed, it consumes.  We’re called to be holy, set apart, different from the world around us.

We’re called to deal fairly with our neighbor and take care of the poor.  In doing so, we will live in peace with God and our neighbor.  What it really boils down to is, to whom do you serve, God or mammon?  I grew up with the saying, “there are straps on your boots for a reason, pull on them.  However, there are times when your neighbor needs a little help, so grab one of the straps and pull with them.” 

God continues, “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.  You shall not unjustly treat or do violence to your neighbor neither should you extort or cheat them.  The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning.  Here God is addressing the issue of the misuse of power.  Society teaches us that those who can, do, and even lauds and fawns over those who have risen to a place of influence.  Far too many people use their positions of influence not for the betterment of their neighbors, but to plunder and pander to those who can give them more; reality says, greed and power very often go hand in hand.

I love the way Luther explained the 7th and 8th Commandments.  In the 7th Commandment, Luther said, “You shall fear and love God so that we do not rob our neighbors of their money or property or take from them by unfair dealing or fraud, [instead we’re] to help them to improve and protect their property and means of making a living.”  And for the 8th Commandment, Luther explained, “We should fear and love God so that we do not betray, slander, lie, or gossip about our neighbors.  [Instead, we’re to] defend them, speak well of them, and put the most charitable construction on all that they do.”  Consider Luther’s words here; if we were to deal with our neighbors in this way, would we ever spread gossip about them, take advantage of them, or allow them to fall onto hard times?  I often wonder if Luther had this week’s readings in mind when he wrote his explanation of the 10 Commandments.

Then God sums up this passage by saying, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”  Jesus would later reinforce this command as the greatest, second only to that of, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, mind and strength.”  Consider also Jesus’ comment in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, [that is, what you desire the most,] there your heart will be also.

Once upon a time a prince was born with a physical deformity.  He was known as the hunchback prince.  His physical posture troubled him because he knew a prince should stand tall and straight.  One day he commissioned a sculptor to make a statue of him, not as he was, but as he wanted to be.  When the statue was completed, the prince had it placed in his private garden.  Every day thereafter, he would stand before his statue and try to pull back his shoulders and stand erect.  After some years, his physique matched the statue!  The moral of the story is that what we admire, adore, respect, even worship, we will eventually become.  

While stationed in Alaska, I had the opportunity to fish in several areas where eagles thrived.  One day, as we sat fishing on the boat, a young eagle suddenly swooped down and caught a two-foot-long salmon in its talons.  Slowly, the bird rose with its ten-pound catch, but when it reached one hundred or so feet, it began to descend, until it splashed into the water.  Later, both the bird and fish were found dead.  Apparently, the fish was too heavy for the eagle, but it couldn’t let go, its talons were embedded in the flesh and bones of the fish.  This is also a lesson in life, too often what we grab, grabs us.

The prophet Jeremiah tells about the people of Judah who “went after worthlessness, [they] became worthless” (2:5).  If we go after the bad, we become bad.  If we seek the good, we become good.  This is the point of our text.  If we seek, love, worship, and serve God, we will, day by day, become more like God.  In the chapter from which our text is taken, the phrase, “I am the Lord,” occurs fifteen times.  We’re called to pattern our lives after that of God.  Deny it if you want, but religion and morality are inseparable: religion constitutes the roots and morality is the fruit of God in us.

God gave us His laws and statutes to show us what is good.  Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be merciful even as your Father is merciful,” and “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Accordingly, in today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells a lawyer that the foremost command of God is to love Him with one’s whole being and then love of neighbor will follow.  In other words, God is to be first in our lives and when that happens, the love of neighbor will naturally flow from that love of God.  We’re called to be holy, set apart.  That’s first.  Second, we’re called to be Just. 

God continues: “You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.  You shall do no injustice in court.  You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not cause your neighbor’s life to be threatened: I am the Lord.  You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”  God requires us to be fair in all our dealings, impartial to all people, whether rich or poor, and truthful with our neighbor.  He expects all of us to be like Him in terms of being good, just, and righteous.  God shows no partiality, He loves everyone alike.  He treats everyone fairly.  Sometimes this can be a hard concept to swallow.

There are times when we question God about the fairness of life.  Someone is taken from us too soon.  Someone we love, or we ourselves suffer from a debilitating disease in the prime of life.  Or we might find ourselves in the same situation as Job, we may suffer the loss of possessions and family.  Like Jesus on the cross, we may cry out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).  

When tragedy strikes, we might become angry at God.  We cry to God that the situation is unfair, even cruel, but Jesus reminds us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45).   How could God allow things to happen to us that hurt or deprive us of the basic joys of life?  The answer is in the fact that God is all-knowing and merciful.  We must simply place our faith in a good and just God.   In God’s providence, today’s temporary loss may be a permanent gain, for God is good and God is just.

But even as we remember this, God also expects us to be as good as He is, by being just in all our dealings.  The final thing we need to see from our readings today is that God is not only holy and just, God is also love.  In one of his letters, St. John writes frankly and simply, “God is love” (1 John 4:8).  Because God is love, our text tells us we’re to be like Him in terms of love.  Thus, we’re commanded to not hate our brother nor take revenge.  God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

God has all the virtues, but the greatest of these, as St. Paul reminds us, is love.  God’s nature is love.  This means He cannot help but love us and care about us.  His love was perfectly and dramatically portrayed in Jesus.  “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …”  For love of humanity, Jesus gave Himself for us that we might be forgiven and be made joint heirs with Jesus in God’s kingdom.  On the cross, God’s love can be seen in Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them.”  Then, Jesus even excuses their murderous act: “They know not what they do.”

As God loves, we’re to love Him in return, and love our neighbors.  We’re expected to grow more each day to be like Jesus.  Jesus highlighted this by teaching a lawyer that the first commandment is to love God with our whole being: body, intellect, heart, and soul.  Love God because He first loved us.  This is first.  Then, from this love for God we’re called to love others.  And more than simple love, we’re to love others as much as we love ourselves.  The world keeps telling us we must first love ourselves before we can love God and people.  This isn’t true.  The Bible tells us we should start from the other end: love God first and then God makes it possible for us to love others as well as ourselves.  And the hard part about loving others is to forgive them.  This is the final proof of love.  

When we’re sinned against, our tendency is to hate.  This hatred seeks revenge.  In When Bad Things Happen to Good People, Harold Kushner tells of two shopkeepers who were bitter rivals.  Their stores were across the street from each other.  When a customer came in, the one smiled triumphantly at the other.  One night an angel came to one of the shopkeepers and said that he could have anything he wanted, but his competitor would get twice as much of whatever he requested.  The man frowned, thought a while, and then said, “All right, my request is, strike me blind in one eye.”

To love, means to share with people who are in need, to help people in trouble like the Good Samaritan did.  Love is more than emotion or affection.  It’s deeply caring and being concerned for the welfare of another person.  It was this kind of love that was expressed by two brothers who owned a flour mill.  At the end of each day, they divided the flour into equal parts.  One brother said to himself, “It’s not fair to divide the flour equally because my brother has a wife and three children when I have only myself to look after.”  So, each night he carried several bushels from his warehouse to his brother’s.

The other brother got to thinking, “It is not fair to divide the flour equally, because my brother is single and when he gets old, he will not have, as I do, children to care for him.”  So each night he carried several bags of flour to his brother’s warehouse.  After some nights, the inevitable happened: the brothers ran into each other while going to each other’s warehouse.  Their meeting in mutual concern and love became holy ground, for God was in their love and where God is, there is holy ground.

Why are we to be holy, loving and just?  Because our God is holy, just, and loving.  To be a Christian is to have God’s Spirit in our hearts.  With God in us, we can, day by day grow more and more to be like Him.  This is God’s desire for His children.  He wants us to be like Him, to share his nature.  A certain young lady had a part in the senior play during her college days.  She worked hard on her role to where she became one with the character.

After the performance, a man came backstage and introduced himself as the author of the play.  He explained, “I just wanted to come back to tell you that I have seen this drama produced many times, but tonight you embodied what I envisioned for the heroine better than anybody else ever had.  Tonight, you made a dream of mine come true.  You gave it flesh and blood and I want to thank you.”  Later the actress commented, “Wouldn’t it be great to get to the end of life’s drama, to meet the Author of life, and hear Him say, ‘You made the dream I had for you come true!’”  

You and I live each day as followers, emulators, and examples of Jesus our Master and mentor.  We’ve been called to be holy, to act justly in all we say and do, and we’re to love God and others as God loves us.  If we strive each day to live holy, just, and loving lives, we cannot help but to grow to be more and more like Jesus.


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