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Loving the Hard to Love

Leviticus 19:1-2,9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

The Gospel

Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

The Sermon

Leviticus is problematic for me. There are passages in it that simply run counter to what are my core beliefs and what I believe Jesus preached. And yet, the words of Leviticus make sense when the author says. You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Jesus gives us the same message when he says “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Before Jesus tells us to be perfect he gives us a pretty good outline of what God expects of us. He has been giving us these outlines from the Sermon on the Mount and with today's message of love. Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. He tells us to go the extra mile. He tells us to not just love those who are easy to love but to love those who are difficult to love.

Several years ago when we were living in Wyoming and attending Christ Episcopal Church I got into a disagreement with a fellow parishioner about a cedar tree that was growing too close to the church's foundation. It became obvious to me that he was going to be very upset if we removed the tree so I just let it go. Unfortunately, he couldn't and he would do little things to let me know that I was not in his favor. If I was assisting with communion on any given Sunday, he would stay in his pew during communion. One time when I was to be the reader, he got up from his pew and left the church. He was really mad at me. I could go on and on but I think you get the picture.

I never gave up. When we would say the peace, I would always make a point to shake his hand and say God's peace. He never let go of his anger and I truly felt sorry for him. Yes, he was a man who was hard to love but that is our task. We are to be generous, and kind and loving even when it is inconvenient.

We also have to be all those things for the right reasons. Jesus wants us to be holy as he is holy and his father is holy. We should turn that other cheek because of our love for God and our fellow man and not because of some reward we might receive in heaven.

A few Sunday's we read that Jesus said he did not come to get rid of the law. He came to fulfill it. He gave a deeper meaning to the law. Jesus reminded his followers that not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery is not enough. Being a Christian is not expressed just by our actions but by what is in our hearts. Love is the key and our challenge is to love even those who are hard to love.

God's Peace,
Fr. Fred 

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