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Music used for this service:
More Voices 16 “Comfitemini Domino (Come and Fill Our Hearts)”
Words: Taizé Community, 1982.
Music: Jacques Berthier, 1982.
More Voices 1 “Let Us Build a House”
Words and music: Marty Haugen.
Voices United 473 “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”
Words: from the Liturgy of St. James. Translated by Gerard Moultrie. French Translation: G. de Lioncourt.
Music: French traditional carol. Harmony: Used by permission of Oxford University Press.
Voices United 960 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Adapted from a chant by R. Langdon. Public domain.
Voices United 250 “O God of Matchless Glory”
Words: Ruth Duck 1989 © 1992 G.I.A. Publications, Inc.
Music: © 1995 Ruth Watson Henderson.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
You make a place for us, O God, within your home,
and in the courts of love and mercy we dwell.
Better one day there than a thousand anywhere else.
You give us a law of love, not to bind us but to free us,
and you gave us your Word as a human being,
who showed us that the way of love is better
than the way of hatred and greed.
Fill our hearts with your love,
so that, being faithful to you in and above all things,
we may fulfill your promise in Jesus,
that we are not alone, you are with us.
Through our lord, saviour, and best friend, Christ Jesus,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
“You shall be holy as I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
Paul talks about the Law, the laws of the covenant that begin in Exodus 20 and end in Numbers 6, and again in the book of Deuteronomy, and he calls it a curse. “ For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law’,” he says in Galatians 3.
During the earliest days of Christianity, the biggest argument—it’s a church, of course there were arguments—was over whether Christians were still technically Jews, and that any Gentile converts to Christianity had to essentially convert to Judaism first. Namely, did they have to stop eating pork and shellfish, and did the men have to be circumcised?
We can see this argument play out in the Bible. We have Paul on the one hand, who calls it a law of oppression, and opposite James, who in his letter calls the law, “the law of liberty.”
Paul thinks that Christians do not have to follow the law, that they are not also signing on to the “Old Testament,” and James thinks that we do. The only problem is that Paul is thinking of rules such as “don’t eat pork,” and James is thinking of rules such as the one’s we’ve just heard, such as “Love your neighbour.”
And when we think of the Old Testament, especially the “Law,” as just a list of extreme rules about what we’re allowed to wear, what we’re allowed to eat, and who we’re allowed to have sex with; we gloss over the rules that turn us more toward love, rules that if we were to look at on their own, in isolation, we would say, “Of course we should still follow those.”
How do we choose between them? Depending on your printing of the Bible, “Love your neighbour” might be on the same page as the homophobic command, “Do not lie with men as with women.” Reading Leviticus 19, I skipped over “Do not wear garments of mixed fabrics,” and a whole lot about witches and sorcery, as well as “No tattoos.”
It’s important to realize that for many people, strict adherence to a code of conduct is in fact a form of spiritual devotion. It is because the rules are strict and difficult to follow that is the point. That’s the point of rules such as “don’t wear mixed fabrics.” The problem comes when we start forcing others to follow the same code, because for many others, following a strict code does not help them get closer to God.
Leviticus 19 is referred to by scholars as the “holiness” code. It begins with the words, “You shall be holy as I, the Lord your God, am holy.” Every commandment ends with the refrain, “I am the Lord.”
This tells us much more about the nature of God than do rules about circumcision, diet, and sexual morality. “I am the Lord; I love you, so you must love your neighbour.” “I am the Lord; I care about the poor and the oppressed, so must you.” “I am the Lord.”
We were made in the image of God. It is our highest calling to be as like God as possible, despite all our imperfections. So when God reveals something to us, we must listen. If God shows us that he is kind, loving, merciful; then we have to be. If God shows us that she is angry at injustice, then we have to be. This is the law of love. We have to (try to) be holy as God is holy.
So I wanted to read these passages, here in the depths of Leviticus, among all the “thou shalt”s and “thou shalt not”s of the Bible that have led us to think of the Bible and Religion as just a bunch of rules, to show that even here there is something revealing about the nature of a loving God. Compassion for people who are poor, inclusion of people with disabilities, love for people who are different; all of that, and all of which Jesus showed us in the gospels, is all here as well.
So, I have personally no problem looking at what is on the page here, saying “Love your neighbour,” and nodding along to it while ignoring the part about no mixed fabrics or no tattoos (although, as a caveat, if you buy ethical clothes from a seller who made it themselves, it’s probably knitted or sewn from only one type of fabric; and in a world without modern sanitation, there’s a lot of nasty infections you can get from getting a tattoo). Because one rule reveals something of the nature of God, which is eternal, while another was for a specific time and place.
We cannot read the Bible mindlessly, saying that we just have to take everything at face value. That is not a faithful reading; that is a kind of reading for people who don’t want to think too much, who don’t want a real relationship with God, who just want to be told what to think and what to do. And, honestly, to me, a kind of Christianity that is “Red letter only” (referring to Bible printings that have Jesus’ words printed with red ink) and ignores the rich heritage of our faith found in Judaism and in the Hebrew Scriptures is as mindless as a fundamentalist reading that says, “Every word in here is true.”
The love of God is revealed to us in these passages, in these commandments. The holy love of God is shown to us. “Love your neighbour as yourself.” There’s a reason Jesus calls it the greatest commandment, because it is. Amen.