Archbishop Loren Thomas Hines
Seventh Sunday of Epiphany
February 19, 2017
Readings: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 71:16-24
1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23
The plans of God work and do not fail, yet we still have a tendency not to believe that the things of God will work for us. Today’s lesson is about tough obedience. This obedience is tough, not because God intends it to be difficult for us, but because we’ve become so used to the ways of the world that we find it hard to believe that obeying God and His ways will work and produce the best results in our lives.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us that we are to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). The Old Testament reading tells us the same thing: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). Perfection means making no mistakes; no failures. Even in the Old Testament, God spoke perfection into our lives. We might think that perfection is impossible, but Genesis tells us that we were created in God’s image and likeness. The model and form of our lives is founded and based on His life. He created us to be like Him. There are portions of the Old Testament which talks about “an eye for an eye” or revenge, and this has been what we see as a basic principle. But God gives us a different standard in the New Testament. And even in the Old Testament, God talks about being mindful of and kind to others, especially the needy. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy, and for the stranger” (Leviticus 19:9). I grew up that way. If a fruit fell off a tree, we didn’t touch it but left it for others. This is an Old Testament principle – that we are to be like God in the life we live. People will know who we are by what we do, not by what we say. Christ became flesh to show us the way.
On this seventh Sunday of Epiphany, we are being told to be like God. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we were created in the image and likeness of God, to rule over all creation. Exodus 19:6 “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Leviticus 11:44 “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefor, and be holy, for I am holy.” Leviticus 27 talks about consecrating ourselves to God. All these principles are from the Old Testament. God created us to be holy just as He is. Leviticus 20:26 “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” God has set us apart so we can belong to Him, yet we probably see ourselves as belonging with the world. We can’t see ourselves as being like God because we think we cannot possibly attain His perfection. A Ferrari is created for one purpose – for show. In a similar way, God created us to be like Him so that we can demonstrate to the world who He is and show His character.
Ephesians 1:4 “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” Before we were created, He programmed us to be holy. This doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes, but when we do, we correct them. 1 Peter 1:16 “It is written, ‘You shall be holy for I am holy’.” To become holy requires tough obedience because for so long, we have been listening to a different set of rules. We wonder, “If God is God, why do I have these problems?” It’s because we don’t keep the rules. God’s heart is for us to be holy and perfect, and He gave us the potential to be that way. To be holy means to be separated for God. It is to be different or peculiar as far as the world is concerned. This “peculiarity” brings into our lives joy and peace because our conduct is befitting to Him. This state of life is predetermined for those who will choose Him. He looks at the potential in us to be like Him. We just sang “You are a chosen generation”. This means not living in the ways of the world. We often hear it being said, “I have my rights”. The world tells us we can do whatever we want, never mind who gets hurt in the process, because we have rights. But Scriptures tell us that we must die to self, to give up our rights the way the world defines rights, and live the way God intends for us to live. It should be our goal to be like Him. He commands us to be holy that we can be a witness of His excellencies in the world. People will see us as peculiar, weird even, when we don’t hit back. They will ask, “Why do you allow them to do this to you? You have rights!” Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek. “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” Think about it – how can a right-handed person slap you on the right cheek? You then make it easier for him when you give him your left cheek. (In olden times, they use a glove to whack you on the face.) We got this idea from the world that we have to get even because it’s our right. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” This takes a lot from you because when this was written, the coat kept you warm, especially at night when it protects you from the cold. Here Jesus commands us not to get even at the one who sues us and takes our shirt, but to also give him the coat that keeps us warm. But the worldly man will say, “No way! I will file a counter suit!”, and will think us out of our mind to give him our coat also.
We should realize that when we make a mistake, no matter how grave, God gives us a blessing instead of a punishment, to show us how we should be to those who fail or hurt us. When we do something to someone to put them down and they don’t react, don’t we feel small? Our silence breaks the evil. “Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.” When on a journey, Roman soldiers in the time of Jesus would take someone to carry the load for them for one mile. Jesus said, “Go the extra mile”. When someone demands something of you, do it with extra effort and ability. In this way, you’ll be telling the person, “Yes, you’re mean; nonetheless, I’ll go the extra mile and bless you”. These are the character traits that God expects of us. Go that extra mile. Calm down and forget your rights. Prove that Christ is in you because that is when God’s blessings will come into fullness in your life. God is in us so they can do anything they want and we will still come out strong and at peace.
It isn’t the law that God is trying to put in us. What He wants is for us to be like Him. Christ came to fulfill the law and summarized it in two laws: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. We are to treat each other the way we want to be treated. This is why God is with us – to give us the strength to handle such situations with love, instead of wanting to get even. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Sometimes we think of doing someone harm, but it doesn’t become sin if we don’t meditate on it. Jesus said we can be angry but we must not allow the sun to go down on our anger. We are to die to self that Christ may live in us. This is a tough, very difficult commandment, but it brings peace and joy to our soul. Those who do bad things to us are responsible for their lives, but we are responsible for ours, so we should live it in such a way that it becomes a confrontation to them.
We were created in God’s image and likeness from the very beginning. But because we’re human, it’s harder for us to unlearn the bad ways we’ve picked up from the world than to learn new ones. We have to renew our mind and prove the will of God because it is His will that will bring us hope, peace and joy. If we’re living according to God’s ways, according to what Scriptures tell us, sickness and disease will flee because we would have harmony between our heart and mind.
One more Sunday then we will be in Lent, and then Easter after that. He is with us – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The obedience that God requires of us is tough, but if we want to have the life He has given us, we have to proclaim His excellencies. There should always be something in our heart to thank God for.