Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Leviticus 19: 1 – 2, 9 – 18
Ritual and Moral Holiness
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. 10You 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. 12And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.
13 You shall not defraud your neighbour; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a labourer until morning. 14You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling-block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.
15 You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbour. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer* among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood* of your neighbour: I am the Lord.
17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbour, or you will incur guilt yourself. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 11, 16 – 23
10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. 11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.
16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?* 17If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
18 Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. 19For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written,
‘He catches the wise in their craftiness’,
‘The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise,
that they are futile.’
21So let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, 22whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, 23and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
Matthew 5: 38 – 48
38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so 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. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
On the 5th of February I took as my text something very similar: 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
In that sermon I suggested that it was impossible to please God in our own strength and that, that was one reason why Paul exclaimed 2For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
In other words the cross is the instrument that puts to death our well-intentioned but grossly insufficient, even corrupted, efforts to please God; and that opens the way for God’s Spirit to begin creating within us the kind of Kingdom values that lead to the good works that bring light to the world.
So the cross is at once both a painful and an exciting experience. It puts to death the inappropriate, and thereby opens up the way for the resurrection life of Jesus in us.
But the cross has a prior and just as important a function. It is the place where Jesus spilt his blood as a sacrifice that brought us life. In a technical sense he bridged the gap between sinful humankind and God. He makes it possible for us to be perfect before God on his ticket.
There is a story (merely to illustrate a theological point) that when our sins are read out before the Father, God will say, “But all I can see is the blood of my Son.”
But there is more to it than that. Repentance (turning to Christ) and asking for his forgiveness and committing to following him (acknowledging him as Lord) is merely the beginning of a journey.
Following him (discipleship) has a banner flying over it that reads, 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Is this possible and what does it mean?
Well, yes, there is an interpretive “out”. This is not a reference to perfectionism. The word is better translated as ‘mature’ rather than ‘perfect’.
But let’s look at the context of this saying of Jesus. Jesus is in full flight, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. He has just been telling his disciples to love their enemies 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven;
He sums up this section of the Sermon with an exhortation not to take a punitive view of one’s enemies but to imitate his heavenly Father.
N.T Wright tells a story of a father who had to go away from his young family for three or four days on business. Anxious that his wife should be properly looked after in his absence, he had a word with his oldest son, who was nine at the time.
‘When I’m away,’ he said, ‘I want you to think what I would normally do around the house, and you do it for me.’ He had in mind, of course, clearing up in the kitchen, washing up dishes, putting out the garbage, and similar tasks.
On his return, he asked his wife what he had done. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it was very strange. Straight after breakfast he made himself another cup of coffee, went into the living room, put on some loud music, and read the newspaper for half an hour.’ The father was left wondering whether his son had obeyed him a bit too accurately.
But here’s the thing. The Sermon on the Mount isn’t simply about us. If it were we’d admire it as a bit of idealism and move on to ignore it as an impossible standard. It’s about Jesus and a description of the life he led. It shows him setting an example of being like God the Father.
It shows him taking on a whole new ethic – one of love.
The Old Testament laws had often been designed to protect from lawlessness. And the laws were designed to form the guidelines by which the commonwealth of Israel should function. Therefore 9 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. There is a concern for the poor.
The guidelines nonetheless are laws and come in the form of you shall do this and not do the other.
The New Testament takes that to the next level: be proactive in your life – mature – grow into depicting an example in how you treat people that is not laying down the law regarding how people should behave, but that expresses a loving family relationship between Father and Son.
48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect then, means Be mature therefore, as your heavenly Father is mature. Grow up spiritually. Move beyond a desire to order the universe to a desire to heal it. Associate yourself with a new ethic, the loving Kingdom of God ethic, one that is relational, that has as its touchstone the way you would treat someone you love.
Don’t think that this is easy. The enemy has an entrenched desire to prevent you from living like Jesus. We read in Mark 3 of an incident where Jesus heals in the synagogue on the Sabbath and where he gets angry with the Pharisees for their unloving ways. Mark 3: 6 reads, 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
That, in common parlance, is heavy, man, heavy!
Now when it comes to living out the values of the Kingdom of God – mature New Testament values – the church over time has tended to take one of two approaches. We need both.
- The first approach has tended to focus on the role of the cross in both our salvation and in putting to death our self-sufficiency so that the resurrection power of Christ might fill the void. This is good and necessary.
- The second has tended to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in empowering us to live out the Christian life. This too is good and necessary.
I’m not going to dwell today on how these things are applied. Instead I’d like us to remember, they are more than individualistic spiritual experiences. They take place in a social context. They always involve other people. The kingdom doesn’t consist of one King and one subject. That is one of the reasons the church is so important. It is where we learn to live out our mature values and they should impact on society as a whole. That is why justice is so important.
This has been a rather theological sermon. That’s good. Alister McGrath, the Oxford theologian who is the darling of the Evangelical world, had this to say on his Facebook page on 18 January this year. “To be asked to minister without an informing vision of God (which is what theology is really all about), is like being told to make bricks without straw. What keeps people going in ministry, and what, in my experience, congregations are longing for, is an exciting and empowering vision of God, articulated in a theology that is integrated with worship, prayer, and social action.”
We serve a God who has definite intentions. There is a gleam in his eye. He intends to snatch this world from the grip of Satan and gloriously to fill it with his presence when Jesus comes and restores all things.
My goodness, are there going to be some surprised, some delighted and some terrified people when God steps on the accelerator! When what the Scripture calls the Last Days swing into action. Jesus spent much time talking about them, as does the entire Revelation of St John.
Has it ever occurred to you, given that a loving Creator has set things in motion, rescued things through the death and resurrection of his only Son, that it would be an absolute travesty of all God stands for if God were not to return and finally sort things out. It is a moral imperative that God should do so. If the creation were to continue limping from one degree of misery to another eternally – well simply put: God would not be doing his job.
In the meantime, we are in training, training to live out values that are counter to the World’s values. But don’t confuse the values of the World with the world as God’s creation.
The empowering and exciting vision of God is that whatever we do of a Christian nature prepares us for that amazing day when God says, Enough! The time has come.
In the words of Revelation 11: 15 The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
 France R.T., The Gospel of Matthew – The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (William B Eerdmans: Michigan/Cambridge U.K.: 2007) 228.
Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone Part 1, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky: 2004) 50.
 France R.T., The Gospel of Matthew – The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (William B Eerdmans: Michigan/Cambridge U.K., 2007) 228.
 Wright, N.T., Matthew for Everyone Part 1, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky: 2004) 50.