Year A, Seventh Sunday in Epiphany
Moses speaks for God in Leviticus 19, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” How amazing that God wants this kind of intimate relationship with God’s people! God wants us to imitate, to share in God’s holiness. The Hebrew word here for “holy” is “qadosh”. Yes, it can mean “pure and sanctified” but more importantly it means “separate, set aside” and has connotations of “to prepare.” We can only understand why God and why we as God’s people need to be “set aside”, need “to prepare “ in light of the instructions for living in God’s ways that come after God’s pronouncement of holiness. We are set aside to be accountable to God through
- sharing with the poor and the stranger,
- through dealing fairly and honestly with one another, no stealing or lying,
- through paying fair wages to those who work for us,
- through helping – not hindering – those with disabilities,
- no playing favorites in matters of justice,
- no slandering, no profiting from others oppression
“You shall not hate in your heart” or with your words or you will be guilty in the sight of God. This is how we are holy and accountable to God.
These words take on fresh meaning in the context of current global, as well as national, politics. As Christians with this rich heritage of scripture from our Jewish brothers and sisters we are called to be accountable to God and in doing so we are accountable to all our fellow human beings. We heed the call of the psalmist in Psalm 119, “Teach me your ways, O God…give me understanding…I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness, your right ways of living, you give life.” Paul exhorts the church in Corinth to build well the temple of God, the holiness of individual and of the church collective. “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. … Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (I Corinthians 3:11, 16-17).
Standing in the tradition of the ancient prophets, Jesus preaches with new insights to those gathered on the mountainside in Matthew 5. With an irony that we do not understand at first read he is advising his followers to follow a path of non-violent resistance to the oppression of the Romans. AND in doing so to also offer love to an enemy. To pray for their persecutors. Far from advising them to be God’s doormats for abuse, Jesus is teaching the people to resist evil but not with evil or hate. The late Biblical scholar, Walter Wink, brilliantly opened this text for the 21st century in his chapter, “Jesus’ Third Way” in The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millennium . I encourage you to read his exegesis on Matthew 5 if you are not familiar with it. Jesus teachings to the crowd continue God’s commandment to crowd gathered before Moses in Leviticus 19 to hear God’s instructions , “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
Our stories this week hold images from our Leviticus list of right actions for living holy as God is holy. The first is a story from Scottish folklore, The Wounded Seal. In this story a seal hunter wounds a seal without capturing him. The next day he is confronted by another seal and taken to the kingdom of the seals under the sea. The wounded seal is the king and the father of the messenger seal. The hunter is commanded to lay his hands upon the wound and in doing so discovers the deep feelings of the seal. He learns first hand of the fear of persecution and of being hunted. As he shares the seal’s feelings the wound is healed. The hunter is returned to his word when he swears never to take the life of another seal. This version of the story also comes with suggestions for participatory actions in telling the story to children (and I would invite the adults as well!).
The second story is a favorite of mine, “Water, Not Wine.” I first found this tale in Elisa Davy Pearmain’s book Doorways to the Soul. The story begins with a chief who invites the whole community is invited to a feast. Each of the village elders is to bring is wine. It will all be poured into one large pot. One of the elders reasons that if he contributes only water no one will notice. Unfortunately, many others have the same plan. This is a delightful and humorous story about choices and accountability to the community. You can find worship ideas for using this story in a Unitarian- Universalist multigenerational service from the book, Story, Song and Spirit, by Erika Hewitt.
Two other stories from the website, WisdomCommons.org, are worth consideration this week. They both deal with accountability and responsibility. The first is titled “Nobody Rides While Others Push.” This is a personal story written by Steven Lance about an experience that he and his wife, Dee, had while helping a man push his car out of a muddy ditch. It has a delightful twist on helping others who could perhaps help you while you are helping them. The second story is a familiar folktale, “Donkey in a Well.” In this tale the donkey who is stuck in a well quickly figures out how to help himself as others work to help him.
Blessings on your Epiphany story journey,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2017 and beyond. Commentary and photos may be reprinted by permission only. Please find and tell the stories!