Last Sunday, I preached about the deeply theological, but sometimes difficult ways to do two things Jesus tells us to do: to love and to abide. This morning, during my prayers, I read these two passages from Scripture: Leviticus 19:1-18 and 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 which give us even more practical examples of how to do these things.
First, in Leviticus, as the Lord is giving the people of Israel more instruction on how to be holy, through Moses the Lord lays out a few practical examples:
- You shall each revere your mother and father, and you shall keep my sabbaths. This means holding your parents with respect and caring for their needs, especially when they are unable to care for themselves. Also, remember that sabbath means regularly taking a day of rest to worship, gather with family, and recharge your batteries. When was the last time you did that?
- Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves. In other words, make God the focus of all that you do, not yourself, not money, not any other thing that we hold as “idols.”
- 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. You may not be a farmer with land, but this commandment can refer to all that God has given us. Especially considering the way immigrants are treated these days, this is something to think about.
- 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…You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. We may not be shoplifters, but what other things do we take that do not belong to us?
- You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God. How do we treat people with disabilities? Do you make offhand jokes or comments?
- 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. It’s hard not to give preferential treatment to our friends and family, and it’s also hard not to treat everyone equally. This commandment sets up a parity between rich and poor.
- 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. Families can sometimes hurt us more than strangers, yet this commandment asks us to not hate them, yet at the same time setting appropriate boundaries so that people don’t take advantage of us.
- All of these commandments end with the mantra, I am the Lord your God. We do these things because it is God who is our head, not ourselves, not our own priorities, not our own needs. God’s will supersedes all other’s wills.
St. Paul gives the Christians of Thessalonica some really great practical actions in the conclusion of his first letter to them:
- Respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Look around where you work, whether at your job, home, church, or somewhere else and see where you are offering your respect. Sometimes we don’t give respect because respect is not given to us first, but that’s not our call. We are called to dole out respect even when it’s not deserved.
- Be at peace among yourselves. Is there a storm raging inside of you? How can Christ calm those waves? How can you invite peace during circumstances that are out of your control? What about your relationships? Are you at peace with everyone?
- Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint hearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. It’s easy to get frustrated when you see others not pulling their weight. Can you encourage them and help them in a way that motivates and doesn’t belittle?
- See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Boy, this is tough, isn’t it? How can you repay evil with a dose of goodness?
- Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Considering these early Christians were being killed and persecuted because of their faith, it seems like quite a stretch to ask them to rejoice and give thanks. But the key here is “pray without ceasing.” Without that, the other two are indeed impossible.
- Do not quench the Spirit. The Spirit sometimes seems to ask impossible things of us. It’s easy to swat down an idea that is “outside the box,” but what impossible thing might the Spirit be pushing you towards?
- Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil. We tend to want to only be “New Testament” Christians, but Paul reminds us to remember the words of the prophets and with the Spirit as our guide, to try new thoughts and ideas and hold on to the good ones.
- Pray for us. Are you praying? Are you spending some time talking to God? Is it just at the red lights or just before a test? How can you pray more?
- Greet all the brothers and sisters with a holy kiss. Before you go smooching everyone in sight, consider the importance of showing appropriate affection for one another, be it a holy kiss or a hug or a pat on the back or a solid handshake.
So take a minute and reflect on where you are with some of these things. What things need some work? What things are you doing well already?
Yesterday, I went with a parishioner to Macon to go visit a family member who is in the hospital and I watched how this family has loved and abided in God and with one another. Despite the great amount of hard circumstances, this family continues to pray and pull together. It’s really quite remarkable.
When I returned from Macon, I had coffee with another parishioner who has been sick, yet continues to serve her community. She’s had to cut back a little, but her love and passion for what she does just bursts from her pores, no matter what her circumstances may be.
I continue to be inspired by our people. You make it easier to do the hard work God has called us all to do. May we continue to bear this work together, leaning on the Scriptures as our guide, as the Kingdom continues to come closer.