As Paul tells us, [The Message by Eugene Peterson] “What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It’s written in Scripture, He exposes the chicanery of the chic. The Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls. … Everything is already yours as a gift--Paul, Apollos, Peter, the world, life, death, the present, the future--all of it yours, and you are privileged to be in union with Christ, who is in union with God.” We have some hard lessons here--hopeful lessons. We have struggled with this Sermon on the Mount series and I hope we have some insights into how Christ would have us live.
Leviticus and the laws described there were given to the people before they entered the Promised Land. Much of today’s reading is about grace, something for which we assume Christians have the full claim, and here it is in the Pentateuch. Note that it is the Decalogue--the Ten Commandments in reverse.
What is the message in that? Is it that being kind and honest with our fellow humans makes us holy? Is sharing our harvest with the poor and the immigrant a holy response to a God who has provided for us with abundance? When you really stop to think about it, leaving the edges of the fields for the poor and the immigrants is a promise that harvests will be abundant. And, that we should never forget the poor and the immigrant in our daily lives. God is telling the Hebrews that they will live in a land of plenty--a land of grace. They will plant the crops, care for them, and harvest them but there will be extra so they can afford to leave the edges of the field for those who do not have crops to harvest:
The poor and those who do not own land, we can learn from this, too. Do we spend every dime that comes in on ourselves or do we share with those who need it? God said--no smoke screens--I can see through them all. God reminded the people “I, God, your God, am Holy.” And the way for the people and for us to be holy is to share what we have with those who need it. Surprise the immigrant with a land that makes sure he or she has what is needed to survive.
Injustice can bring out all kinds of negative emotions. And, it should. Jesus said, Love your enemies. Some see the poor and the foreigner as enemies--that just because they exist, they steal from those who work hard. Jesus had a different idea. If someone asks for something, don’t refuse to provide it. In fact, give them more than they asked. We struggle with this when we are making decisions about who to help from the benevolence fund the ministerial association administers. We often discuss people we are helping once who have ongoing needs and we know we can’t help them every month.
Recently the ministerial association helped a young family. They asked for help to get their only vehicle towed into town. They couldn’t afford the fee. We arranged to get the vehicle into town with a AAA card so there was no cost. But we didn’t stop there. Though they didn’t ask, we found out more about them and decided to repair the car, too. While the car was in the shop, one of us loaned them a vehicle to drive. I don’t know if the young couple will ever attend any of our churches, but we hope that our town can retain this family and their children can grow up here. I think this family felt surrounded by grace--they certainly expressed their gratitude and were a bit overwhelmed at the outpouring of care. And a couple of us spent time with them--getting to know them. People give money to the benevolence fund--it is the community’s way of leaving the edges of the fields packed with grain and leaving bunches of grapes on the vines.
In Matthew 5, Jesus seems to be asking us to keep our emotions in check. Well, to make a choice, to love instead of hate. Sometimes it is hard to find a good quality in someone we don’t particularly like. And, what I have found personally, once I go down the road of disliking someone, it is easy to keep piling faults on top of faults. It is easy to assume the worst motives for everything that person does. It is best to stop up front when someone brings up these feelings and remind myself that God loves that person just as much as anyone else, including me. The person deserves to be treated with kindness and honesty because he or she is made in the image of God and there must be something there I could find that would allow me to see God in them. And, if I listen, I might learn something.
So, I could look down on the immigrant or the person who is poor; but I choose to do otherwise. I choose to see someone who is different but also the same: Someone who deserves to be loved. Jesus reminded his disciples that good things like rain and sunshine happen to the just and the unjust. And bad things do, too. So, even if someone has had a run of bad luck, it doesn’t mean God is punishing him or her.
The world says stick with people like yourself: your family, friends, or anyone who thinks like you do. But do we throw away the people who have the wrong politics, the people who abuse drugs and alcohol, the people who work for a minimum wage and have no health insurance, the homeless, or our own children who have lifestyles that are different from ours? Can we stop being Internet trolls? Can we practice kindness and honesty even on social media?
Paul was right, we have a good deal--God loves us and we are united in Christ--the future IS ours. If we can set aside the idea that we know it all or that what we have is ours for our own use, I think we can make a go of it. We could actually become holy people who are honest and kind.