Sermon Epiphany 7 February 19, 2017
Leviticus 19:1-2. 9-18 Psalm 119:33-40 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23 Matthew 5:38-48
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Our readings continue the theme of the Law and obeying it. Last week we looked at choices under the Law, today it’s charity or communal benevolent love. Leviticus gets right into it, saying God stresses the importance of charity saying that before you even think about obeying the Law, think about and do charity, indeed charity is holiness. Speaking to an agrarian community he says don’t take the entire crop but leave some for the less fortunate. You probably remember Ruth gleaned after the reapers who worked so fast as they harvested that they often left some wheat behind (Ruth 2). The first rule of charity then seems to be don’t take everything for yourself. It’s a nice rule and you know what ? You get a far bigger reward by just sharing with others. The same applies to windfalls, let them lie and someone in need will pick them up. We see photographs of people gleaning, even today, in the streets and in garbage dumps, shamefully in wealthy countries like Canada, let alone the many underdeveloped ones in the world. When that happens you know something is really wrong with society, charity is found to be Missing In Action. Perhaps the first reaction is to blame the victim, but perhaps blame falls at the feet of those who do not leave enough for others and do not practice charity and holiness.
Charity extends to all, but is it charity to be treated fairly ? Surely not ! If someone is less fortunate do they not have a right to justice ? Unfortunately our legal system leaves many out. Crimes against homeless and indigenous people are often overlooked, because, well they are not important enough to society to spend much time on ! And for many, being able to afford a lawyer in a civil suit, forget it ! A poor or marginal or indigenous person should have the same rights and justice as the ‘pillar of society’ no less but no more either, just because they are poor, marginal or indigenous or for any reason – equal rights, equal justice.
It used to be and is still to some extent true that a criminal should be punished to the extent of the harm caused, you know ‘an eye for an eye’ justice. We still do that by taking away someone’s freedom. Last week a Calgary murderer got three life sentences for killing three people, and by levying fines or requiring community service to ‘balance the books’ as it were, which ideally is accompanied by some form of rehabilitation training. Many criminals get themselves into trouble because they got a rough start in life and lack the fortitude to get themselves out of it into a better way of living, others because of problematic mental conditions. Regardless, they all need charity and benevolence from society, just as much as society needs protection. Releasing criminals too early is a danger, and keeping them in too long is unjust.
In our form of justice we do not believe in harming the criminal, no “an eye for an eye” here. Mutilation, torture, corporal punishment and death for wrongdoers do not represent Canadian values so that form of law has no place here or anywhere else for that matter.
How can we love our enemies and the enemies of society if we harm them. We cannot, and that is what Jesus leads to when He says “if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”. It is generally accepted that Jesus in saying do not strike back but be prepared to absorb another blow because your assailant will see the error of his ways and give up. I think we have seen that so many times in life – Good has always overcome Evil.
Now I never thought that I would ever use ‘Rope-a-Dope’ and the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ in a sermon but here goes. Archie Moore the onetime heavyweight boxing champion of the world did it first but Mohammad Ali made it famous in 1974 in his first fight with George Foreman. Foreman was renowned as a heavy hitter but Ali backed away, leant on the ropes and kept his arms in front of him allowing Foreman to pummel him like a punching bag for round after round with minimal effect. The ropes absorbed most of the power of the punches, and after a few rounds Foreman was exhausted, then Ali came out of his defensive stance and finished the fight. Now I am not going to suggest for one moment that we finish our opponents off but it offers an example of the resilience that we need when facing any kind of persecution, ridicule, obstruction or whatever. God is in our corner so put up with wrong behaviour because the field and the day is ours.
Jesus says “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” even as they pummel you, because you will eventually win the battle of the attrition of opposing beliefs.
So many arguments can be made against the existence of God, why bad things happen for instance, why someone died so young, why someone has a particular debilitating condition, if there was a God He would stop it, reverse it, never let it happen. None of those things are a substantial argument against God, they only question God’s actions or seeming lack thereof. None of them overcome the Classic proofs, the Argument from Design for example, whereby it is argued that if left to itself Creation would never have happened the odds are far too long. Or the First Cause argument whereby someone/something had to have started it all, given the Laws of Physics. There are a dozen or more other proofs of the existence of God, so the wise eventually come to realise that they are true and accept them.
How many great leaders of the Church have initially opposed it, how many humble servants of the Church have denied it only to become its backbone. You would not want to hate a person like that, we can never know their true potential until they become Christians. Paul was like that he opposed the Church in just about every way he could, only to become one of its greatest Apostles ! Who do we rely on to show us the way by his writings about Jesus – Paul.
Charity, benevolent love, holiness are at the core of our existence as human beings, universally, socially and personally, let them be your guide in all that you do, there’s no limit to what you can do through them. Amen.