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Leviticus 19:1-2; 9-18
Since I’ve come to the Kirk, there is a song our youth learned) that I also enjoy. We’ll sing it later. You know it:
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true
With Thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.
The writer of Leviticus would love that song. For that song in a way, sums up the whole message of Leviticus:
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregations of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
That is Leviticus in a nutshell.
Leviticus is a book that speaks to Israel in their early stages of becoming the people of God… They are adolescents so to speak: still trying to understand who they are and who God is calling them to be.So Leviticus is a book of instructions Moses where the Lord tells them of his hopes and expectations for his children:
And what he expects is clear: he wants them to be living sanctuaries!
When describing our text today, my friend Richard Boyce tells me:
“The drive for holiness in all parts of Israel’s life now gathers speed and overflows….Moses instructions now break the bonds of sacrifice and food and sex, to bounce around and off every aspect of Israel’s existence. The concern is truly no longer just a holy sanctuary, but also a holy people. The goal moves beyond mere preservation toward the overflow of God’s goodness to neighbor and alien… [God has chosen Israel to be a holy and distinct people] The only way to make this chosenness visible to others is through the glory lived out in this people’s lives (a kind of ‘reflected’ light if you will)…
In other words, God has chosen us to be a living sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true.
The question we might ask from today’s text is this: What does this living Sanctuary look like? What are the foundations? What are the blueprints for a holy life?
Today’s text gives me a hint. If you were listening, you heard a long list of examples of what it looks like:
They are clear: Farmers leave crops behind for the poor and alien… You have heard people talk about teaching a person to fish. Leviticus wants to make sure there are still fish left in the pond. You do not lie, steal, defraud your neighbor…You pay your workers fairly and promptly- maintain good ethics in the workplace…. You don’t spread lies about people or gossip or slander anyone…
You care for the handicapped: the most vulnerable in their society… the blind and the deaf. Don’t leave them behind. You treat everyone fairly and justly—poor and rich alike.
If you want to know what a living sanctuary looks like: it looks like that.
And it is summed up in one of the most famous passages of scripture:
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Have you heard that before? “You shall love your neighbor… you shall treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes?”
Sure you have.
Jesus made it a cornerstone of his life. It was one reason people looked at Jesus and said he was a holy person. When pressed to say which commandments were greatest of all by lawyers and Pharisees, he was quick to say, you shall love your God with all your heart, soul and mind,… then he quoted this law: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:35-39)
Paul wrote to the Galatians: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.
James wrote to his congregation about the life they were to lead:
“You would do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
So this is more than just another Bible saying ready for a cross-stitch hanging or for your refrigerator magnet… these are serious words and instructions. This is an expectation of God. This is the sign and substance of someone living the holy life that is pleasing to God… this is what you will see when a person or a community becomes a living sanctuary… pure and holy, tried and true.
You will see it in their love for neighbor.
I want to offer two examples of what this looks like so you’ll know it when you see it. (Though I bet you already know it when you see it)
When I was in Tampa a couple of weeks ago worshipping at my friend John’s church, I made a point to seek my friend Sylvia Campbell out. She became a dear friend during Anna’s battle with cancer. We are now good Facebook friends.
Sylvia is a surgeon in Tampa who took the time to answer those medical questions that confused us and to care for us during those fearful and hard early days.
Her surgery practice focuses on the care of breast cancer patients and her work with them doesn’t end at the doors of the operating room. This will be the 6thyear that Sylvia will walk 60 miles over three days as a participant in the Komen 3-day for the Cure event. Why does she do it? She posted her reasons on Facebook:
“I walk for my patients, many who cannot walk for themselves…
I walk for my friends, many who may face this at some time…
I walk for those who walk each step beside me, their courage and strength an inspiration…
I walk in the hope that a cure will be found, and I will never have to tell another that they have breast cancer.”
Moses instructed his people to live a holy life… to love your neighbor as yourself.
Well, Sylvia is doing this with both her hands and her feet.
And that’s not all. In addition, Sylvia has served as the president of the Judeo Christian Health Clinic in Tampa, providing care and coordinating the work of a ministry dedicated to serving those who are poor.
And even that effort has not exhausted the heart God has given Sylvia to love her neighbor as she would love herself. Five times in the last year she has traveled to Haiti to provide care to earthquake victims and cholera patients.
When you meet Sylvia, you are immediately impressed with the fact that this is a humble, graceful person with a beautiful spirit who is fully alive. She is a living sanctuary. She is gentle and soft spoken and at the same time is full to overflowing with life. You feel more alive in her presence.
As one of my friends said of her, “Folks, you’ve got to love a person who quotes both Mother Teresa and Jimi Hendrix on her Facebook page.
Ponder this: Mother Teresa said, ‘We can do no great things… only small things with great love.” Jimi Hendrix said, ‘When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
She also quotes Brian Andreas- who writes about the story people;
‘How many people can you love before it is too much?’ she said.
And I said, ‘I didn’t think… there was any real limit as long as you didn’t care if they loved you back’.
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself” said Moses, Jesus, Paul and James.
Sylvia knows what a living sanctuary looks like.
So do our Stephen Ministers. Every one of them have met week in and week out for 50 hours of training… That is more training than you need to get a pilot’s license according to David Cole! They have done this for one reason really: to learn how to most effectively love their neighbor who is hurting.
They have learned to love people – to love all of us who have to live through some very difficult times in our lives. They have learned to listen and to listen well.
Everyone has to face hard times. No one is exempt in my experience. Stressful times. And they are eager and ready to offer their loving care. All 18 of them.
They are ready to care for people who stressed out with the birth of a child or caring for an elderly parent… they trained and ready to care for people who have lost jobs… or are in a long recovery from illness… or in the midst of a terminal illness…they want to sit down with you and listen with love.
These Stephen ministers are ready to walk with you through the valley of darkness so you know you are not alone… They can walk you through a time of separation or divorce… the death of a spouse or child… through surgery or illness… At any point when you are under strain or stress or overwhelmed… they are ready to be their with you and for you… They have felt called to love their neighbors who are hurting… and to do so in very tangible ways. They are called to be a living sanctuary of the presence of God in your midst.
And they are ready. After this class is commissioned, there will be 13 Stephen ministers in our congregation without care receivers.
Leviticus 19:1-2; 9-18
All you need to do is call Kathy White who will make a good match for you. If you are uncomfortable sharing your story with a member of the church… guess what – we network with other Stephen ministers in other congregations. They are all ready to love and care because that is what holy people do you know.
It is really what we are all called to do… to love your neighbor as yourself… to love one another… as we would want to be loved. That is what will set us apart according to Moses, Jesus, Paul and James…
God’s deep desire from the very beginning was to create a community where we would bear one another’s burdens… and we would bear the burdens of those who are hurting in our community and world. In God’s dream for us, we would become a distinct community, a holy community… a holy people … a people who would be a living sanctuary… for God…
[Congregation invited to sing:]
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true,
With Thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you.
Commentary by Richard Boyce on Leviticus and Numbers p 71-72
Section on Sylvia adapted from comments my friend Matt Brown made in a sermon at South Mecklenburg Presbyterian church, Feb 13, 2011