Twenty fourth Sunday after Pentecost
[19:1] And 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. Leviticus 19:1-2 (ESV)
 "You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.  You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
 "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:15-18 (ESV)
I love how they translate this: you shall be holly, for I the Lord your God am holy. As if this were a mere command we were to follow. They translate it as if holiness is something we have to, or even could, achieve, in our life. Or perhaps it is something we could possibly buy, with our offerings or perhaps a piece of paper, an indulgence, and then we can be like God, holy in and of ourselves, not by gift but by our own merit pride intact. I sure hope we all know better than that. Holiness is strange. Things can be holy, profane, or evil. These are the realms we have. Man used to be holy. We were created holy in the Garden, that is in the image of God. That is what the image of God means. The image of God is holiness, (not manhood as so many around these parts believe). God is holy. So we were created in His image. We were created holy. And we were created to be holy, to live in holiness. But when we sinned, we lost that holiness. Man is no longer holy. We do not retain the image of God. We are not born with it anyway. But we are given it when we are born again of water and the spirit, (John 3:5) when we are sanctified (that is made holy) by the washing of the water and the word, (Ephesians 5:26) that is baptism. In Baptism God gives us His holy name, puts it on us, clothes us with it. So there we are given Holiness. It is not a command Be holy! It is a statement you are Holy. You will be Holy. Holiness is something we cannot achieve on our own. It isn’t even something we can help God achieve in us. Mostly because God doesn’t need our help in making us holy. He is all powerful you know. We may need his help, but he doesn’t need ours. So when he says you are Holy, the fact is you are holy. To tell you the truth, this was at the heart of Luther’s reformation, which we celebrate today, or on Friday, but in Church today. It was at the heart of his reformation that salvation, whether you call it justification or sanctification, was not by works, but by the will of God. God saves us, God justifies us, God sanctifies us, God makes us Holy, and He does it all through His son Jesus Christ on the Cross. There is nothing else for us to do.
But then what is the rest of this stuff, why then if God makes us holy by pronouncing it with His all powerful and creative word, through which He made heaven and earth, does He give us all these commands afterward. What is with all this law? What is with all this stuff about loving our neighbors as ourselves? Well here God is not giving us a way of making ourselves holy. He is telling us how we are to act as Holy people, what we are to do as holy people. As holy people we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Now too many people confuse this word love with a feeling. That is a fairly foolish thing to do. Feelings are an awful hard thing to command. Feelings often have there way with us despite us. I don’t particularly like feelings. Laura doesn’t often catch me being very emotional. At least not sad. Tears don’t often wet my cheeks. (Though I think I’m going soft or something last couple months there have been a couple movies that got to me.) Happy, I can handle. Pride I give into. Choosing between sad and mad, I go with mad. But then I do get sad. I hate it. Don’t like to show it. John Wayne, Rambo, they don’t cry. It is unmanly. Cold, stoic, military bearing in the face of hardship. Take it like a man. That’s what I want. But lets be honest we don’t have much control over our feelings. After my divorce I never wanted to fall in love again. I never wanted to experience the feeling of love again. There is a feeling of love, it just isn’t what God is talking about here. Yet love got the better of me. And Laura has seen the tears wet my cheeks every once in a while. I might not have a sob fest, but tears happen. Feelings often get the best of us.
Hate is one of those feelings. I run into people all the time who say they never hate. Call me skeptical, but I don’t believe them. I tend to think they call hate something else to deceive themselves. Some things we should hate. Evil we should hate. False doctrine we should hate. Satan we should hate. Jesus tells us we should hate even our family members if they get in the way between us and Him. "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26 (ESV) Yet we are not to hate our brother. That’s what it tells us here in Leviticus. Ever hated your brother? No? Perhaps you don’t have a brother then.
I think this will show us here how hard, impossible, it is to attain holiness by these laws. Even when we have been made Holy by the blood of the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we find ourselves desecrating (that is taking the holiness out of it, de-sacredizing) our holiness with hate. Brothers, ever known two brothers to grow up in the same house and not hate each other at one time or another. I have uncles that don’t talk to each other, but maybe once a year. Not surprising I have a brother I hardly talk too but once a year. We grew up together, less than a year apart. I didn’t want to hate him, but near as I could tell the feeling was mutual. To this day we can’t spend five minutes with each other in the same room before we are at each others throat with sarcastic barbs. No I don’t hate him. At least I don’t think I do. Not any more. We get along a thousand miles apart and out of the house. But I have felt hate in my heart for him. Many a time. Couldn’t help it. 17 and a year without my drivers license, he was sixteen offered me a ride to school. To this day I don’t think he knows how close the reenactment of Cain and Able came to being played out in our family. A few years later He almost lost his life in a car accident, tears wetted my cheeks. Fine line between hate, love and jealousy.
Love your neighbor as yourself. God isn’t commanding a giddy feeling, here. He is telling us how we are to act towards our neighbor despite our feelings. Want to know how to love your neighbor? Read the last six of the Ten Commandments. Love your neighbor as yourself. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. I fail do you? Sometimes I even try my hardest and bestest, have you? I failed even then. Holiness is a hard ladder to climb. But we aren’t supposed to climb it. We can’t climb to holiness. It is beyond us. But not beyond God. He uses that ladder. Holiness is His. And He gives it to us. He says not, you shall make yourself holy, but you are holy. For we find holiness not in ourselves, but in Christ. Who climbed down that ladder and became one of us. Died on the cross for us. Showed us what love meant when he gave His life for you. And there with His life with His body, with His blood forgave us our sins, and made us holy. And even here today he offers once again that same body, and that same blood for the forgiveness of sins, a feast of forgiveness that after a week of our emotions getting the best of us, a week in which we have not managed to love out neighbors as ourselves, a week in which we have felt hate for various brothers, and maybe politicians and whole political parties, a feast of forgiveness that restores to us Holiness, as God declares us righteous, and we hear once again your sins are forgiven. And we once again are given His image, our pride may be bruised, but now by gift we are like God, Holy.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.