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February 22, 2017, 7:50 AM

Holy ~ Complete


Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
The Lord said to Moses, Say to the whole community of the Israelites: You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
When you harvest your land’s produce, you must not harvest all the way to the edge of your field; and don’t gather up every remaining bit of your harvest. 10 Also do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the Lord your God.
11 You must not steal nor deceive nor lie to each other. 12 You must not swear falsely by my name, desecrating your God’s name in doing so; I am the Lord. 13 You must not oppress your neighbors or rob them. Do not withhold a hired laborer’s pay overnight. 14 You must not insult a deaf person or put some obstacle in front of a blind person that would cause them to trip. Instead, fear your God; I am the Lord.
15 You must not act unjustly in a legal case. Do not show favoritism to the poor or deference to the great; you must judge your fellow Israelites fairly. 16 Do not go around slandering your people.[a] Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed;[b] I am the Lord. 17 You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your fellow Israelite strongly, so you don’t become responsible for their sin.[c] 18 You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people; instead, you must love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
 
Matthew 5:38-48
38 “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.[a] 39 But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. 40 When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. 41 When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. 42 Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor[b] and hate your enemy. 44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you 45 so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same?48 Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
 
“Holy ~ Complete”
Here we are once again, the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ great teaching from Matthew’s Gospel, spanning three full chapters-chapters five, six, and seven. Whether Jesus delivered these teachings all at once or Matthew compiled several sermons into one place, Jesus instructed God’s people with some tough teachings. Gathered around Jesus on this mountain are his disciples and a large, mixed crowd—peasants, day  laborers, beggars, villagers, shepherds, the ill and infirm…even some scribes, Pharisees, legal experts, and perhaps a few ruling Saducees and some Roman Gentiles. Jesus begins this great instruction by declaring happy and blessed those who are normally NOT considered happy and blessed: the poor in spirit, the meek, the mournful, peacemakers. He does Not declare blessed the usual suspects—the wealthy, the powerful, the strong, the self-confident. From there, as we heard last week, Jesus declares that those who truly follow his way of life, God’s way of life, are the spice of life—salt. They are the light of life—the lamp on the stand.
 
Then, Jesus begins to interpret the holy Law of God, the Torah, in ways that must have blown the people’s minds. How I wish I could have been a fly on that mountainside and see the reaction of that mixed crowd. I imagine that for a rare moment, that mixed crowd was united in their shock at Jesus’ teaching. “Keeping God’s law is about more than not killing someone? It is about more than not committing adultery or coveting my neighbor’s donkey?” As we heard last week, Jesus says it is about how we live with our anger for another person. It is about how we wrestle with lust and desire in our hearts. It is about the tiny little pieces of our everyday lives, not just the great, big actions that most everyone agrees are wrong.
 
In today’s reading, as continue to hear his sermon, Jesus pushes the Law even further. The crowd’s shock must have turned a bit to horror, and even anger, as Jesus moves from the ten commandments into the Holiness Codes of Leviticus—‘eye for an eye’ and ‘loving one’s neighbor.’ Leviticus declares that God’s people must embody holiness because their God is holy, and then the codebook spends a great deal of time outlining how one lives with the people one encounters in their daily lives: leaving food for the poor, being a person of truth and integrity, a person who seeks goodness and fairness. Jesus knows his listeners are intimately familiar with the Torah, the commandments and the codes. So, first, he negates a popular code, and then he completely refocus a beloved command. No more will you punish, an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. No more violent response at all. Respond in love. Jesus is not saying we stand by and let someone beat us up. This is not a code given to individuals, but codes to be lived out in a community. Leviticus is clear that we stand up for one another. We care for one another. We don’t just stand by when someone is being mistreated. But Jesus is serious about what that response looks like, and it is love, not violence. Generosity, not legalism.
 
And then Jesus takes a beloved code, a command that Jesus and many other teachers see as part of the summation of the Law, the Torah—you must love your neighbor as yourself—and he tells them they must do the same and more for their enemies! Leviticus commands—be holy for your God is holy. Jesus demands==love completely for your God loves everyone completely. Holy? Complete? How?
 
This is a teaching that we ALL must confess sounds pretty impossible and outrageous. If we are honest, our response is probably not all that different from the crowd on the mountainside. Love our enemies? Pray for our persecutors? Really? That is ridiculous!
 
In response to our belief we cannot live this way, I simply want to tell you about a community that is seeking to do just that, and about the response of the hundreds of thousands of people to their example. Let me tell you about Brother Roger and the brothers and sisters of Taize.
 
Roger Schutz, a Reformed Protestant from Switzerland, questioned and wrestled with these same hard teachings of Jesus as he watched the Nazi invasion in neighboring France during World War II. He could see the poverty and the suffering of those now occupied by the German forces. So Roger decided to do something. He moved from his neutral and safe homeland and purchased a tiny house in the remote village of Taize in the Burgundy region of France, just a short distance outside of the occupied zone. He purchased the house in September of 1940 and began offering sanctuary to war refugees fleeing for their life, most of whom were Jewish. Other men began to hear of his work and came to join his cause. On Easter Sunday in 1949, Roger became Brother Roger and was joined by seven other men in a new form of monastery life—a monastery of people from different Christian traditions—Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox. They committed together to live life as salt and light, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, returning violence with love, offering forgiveness and love to all. They sought to create a place of discipleship and true Christian unity.
 
Like any monastic order, they developed a rule of life and a daily schedule. Their rules were centered on devotion and service, and their days ordered around the same. The brothers developed a very special form a worship—simple, with long periods of silence, lots of candles and visuals, and unique music that was part hymn, part chant. We know today many of those songs—“Ubi Caritas (Live in Charity),” “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” “Jesus, Remember Me.” Three times every day, more on Friday nights and Sundays, the brothers gathered in this time of worship to center their devotion on God, to feed their souls, and to prepare themselves to return to serving the world. The Taize brothers dedicated themselves to living side-by-side with the poor and marginalized. They traveled the world in service, to areas of great need. They attracted more brothers. The order grew, and they started satellite monasteries in regions of need around the world, including Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan, New York City. They grew large enough that they had to vacate their little house in the village and build a new church and monastery—the Church of Reconciliation, with a simple bell tower that calls the monastery to worship.
 
In the midst of all this, something amazing began to happen. Youth and young adults began to show up at the monastery in Taize to spend time worshiping and learning with the brothers. This was no small feat in the beginning because public transit in France did not go to Taize. These young people from across the world would journey to Taize, even hiking the last few miles to reach the monastery. Holy pilgrimage like the church of ancient days, in 20th and 21st century France! So, the brothers welcomed these pilgrims and accommodated to their needs, including these visitors in their daily work and prayers. And it grew, and it grew, and it grew. Now, around 100,000 young people journey to Taize every year to spend time in retreat with the brothers, and now, the Taize sisters. At any given time, Five Thousand young people are camped at Taize to worship, study, and serve alongside the brothers and sisters!
 
The Taize monastics built bunkhouses and facilities to accommodate these numbers. Three times each day they feed 5,000 hungry souls. They organized the visitors into small groups for bible study and discussion, and for work teams to feed, care for, and house these thousands of visitors. Everyone serves the community. Young people from all over the world journey to Taize because they are hungry to see these teachings of Jesus lived out and to learn how to embody this themselves. They travel to Taize and camp in bunkhouses or tents with strangers, most of whom do not speak their language, and they worship on the floor in the Church of Reconciliation, whose back wall was taken down so the space could be extended with a circus tent.
 
And then, as if the embodiment of salt-hood and light-hood wasn’t wondrous enough in this community and its pilgrims, something heart-wrenching and amazing happened in Taize in August of 2005. While in their evening worship, a homeless and mentally ill woman who was being cared for by the brothers and sisters, murdered Brother Roger as he led the prayers, stabbing him to death before the worshipers could react. Despite their horror and grief, the brothers and sisters advocated for the woman, worked with police and the legal courts to ensure she received treatment, and prayed forgiveness upon her at Brother Roger’s funeral. Brother Roger’s funeral was attended by 10,000 mourners. And, as he dreamed would be possible, his funeral was officiated by a Catholic Cardinal, an Anglican Bishop, a Bishop from the German Evangelical Church, and the President of the European Conference of Churches. Church of Reconciliation indeed.
 
In community, these men and women in the remote village of Taize, France, and scattered throughout the world in places of great need, embody Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and they teach others to return to their homes and to do the same. The hundreds of thousands of young people who journey to Taize, and to the other monastic locations around the world, do not become monks or nuns of this new order. But they do learn, day-by-day, to embody these same teachings in the communities to which they belong. They promise to walk with their communities as those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and strive to be peacemakers in their corner of the world. They promise to live as salt and light. They promise to release anger, to embrace integrity, and to not respond to violence with violence. Within a supportive community, they pray for their enemies, offer forgiveness, certainly walk the extra mile, and seek to demonstrate God’s love for everyone. Their lives are holy, and their love grows more complete each day. May we, as the wonderful community of First United Methodist Church, promise and commit to the same. To be holy, to be complete in our love. Amen.

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