Fr. Bill Carroll – The Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost, October 29, 2023

“You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.”  

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

When he answers the lawyer’s question, Jesus is quoting from today’s lesson from Leviticus.  And I’d like all of us to hear his uncompromising demand for holiness.  For Jesus, holiness is centered on the love of God and the love of neighbor.

We need Good News today.   For today, we ponder yet another act of violence in a public place–shootings in Lewiston, Maine that have killed at least eighteen people and wounded many more.  Today, we also ponder a world at war.   And so, we remember and deplore the evil actions of Hamas in Southern Israel.   We remember the more than fourteen hundred Israelis who’ve died, their grieving families and friends, and those who are still held hostage.   And we pray for peace and justice for every last person. 

At the same time, we remember the thousands of Palestinian civilians killed (and many more injured) by Israeli airstrikes–now by a ground war and artillery bombardment, in neighborhoods where many civilians live. The precise numbers are disputed, but no one doubts that there have been thousands of civilian deaths, including hundreds, if not thousands, of children.  We remember every life lost and every injured body, no matter who it may belong to.   And we meditate on the tanks and troops even now invading Gaza.   We pray for an end to the violence.   We pray for every life in danger.   We pray also, as we always do, for those in positions of public trust.   May their decisions promote peace and justice and the common good.

The Good News that we need today is a message that will turn our hearts back to God–and back to each other.  We need the Good News of Jesus.  Because our world can’t keep on going in the ways that it has been.   Jesus did not call us (nor did he die on a cross), so that we could keep on living in the same old ways.  And so, this morning we listen to the Word of God:

You shall be holy, (God says.) For I, the Lord your God, am holy.  You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.  You shall not hate in your heart (God continues) anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

As we’ve been doing for the last several weeks, we are teaching our youth confirmation class about our Baptismal Covenant today.   We have been preparing them to reaffirm this Covenant together with us when the Bishop is here in a couple of weeks–to make the promises on their own behalf that others once made for them.   We are preparing these young people to renounce the evil powers that “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” And we are preparing them to turn to Jesus as their Savior and Lord.   

This week in particular, we’re emphasizing the promise to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves.”   Jesus commands us to seek him and serve him in absolutely everyone, and especially the least of these.  

As part of our lesson, we’ll be singing a hymn from our hymnal.   It comes to us from the West African nation of Ghana.  Often, we use it on Maundy Thursday, during the Footwashing.   And the chorus goes like this:  “Jesu, Jesu.   Fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”  And then, in the second verse, we go on to sing that  “Neighbors are rich and poor, neighbors are black and white, neighbors are nearby and far away.”  Neighbors are nearby and far away.

Today, we are teaching our youth that ALL means ALL.   Jesus really means “all.”  All means Jews and Muslims and Christians.   All means people of every faith–and of no particular faith.   It means people of every race and tribe and nation–those who are nearby, those who are far away.  It means people from all backgrounds, all experiences, all points of view.  It means people we disagree with–even people who hate us and would do us harm.  

The love of God extends even to our enemies.  Jesus specifically commands us to love them.  And, even though we are permitted to defend ourselves (and to defend the innocent), there are still limits to how we may conduct ourselves in times of war.  Above all, we are not allowed to hate another human being–no matter who that human being is.   Nor are we allowed to use indiscriminate and disproportionate violence–not even when our cause is just.   “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin.   You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Few of us will ever be in a position to decide questions of public policy directly.   But, as citizens of a democracy, God calls us to urge our leaders to work for justice and peace, especially when they are tempted to pursue other goals.   For God has called us to be holy.   God has called us to live in the new and better way of Jesus.    God has called us into partnership with the Prince of Peace–the world’s true King.   Moment by moment, God invites us to share the great love that we’ve been given–ro reclaim the world “an inch at a time” for God.

“You shall be holy.  For I, the Lord your God, am holy…You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”