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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
24 Pentecost - Proper 25
October 26, 2008
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
our  history  one-hundred  and  seventy-five  years  ago.  We  have  written  out  the  
names  and  the  dates  of  each  Rector  who  has  served  here,  on  sheets  of  poster-
board  with  a  red  timeline  through  the  middle.   Various  groups  and  individuals  from  
the  congregation  are  gathering  stories,  information  about  what  life  was  like  in  the  
world,  in  the  neighborhood,  in  the  culture  -  style,  fashion,  the  arts -  and  especially  
at  Calvary  during  the  tenure  of  these  rectors.  Then,  on  Saturday,  November  22nd,  
at  1pm  we  will  gather  for  a  meal  and  a  review  of  the  timeline  -  hear  what  each  
group  discovered,  share  stories  about  the  old  times,  try  to  out-do  one  another,  
laugh,  maybe  shed  a  few  tears…  and  finally  thank  God  for  those  who  have  
served  us,  ask  for  healing  if  any  wounds  remain  from  the  past,  and  pray  God  will  
make  us  fully  ready  to  receive  our  next  Rector.     As  we  do  this,  we  should  
gather  a  good  view  of  our  identity  as  a  people,  a  congregation  --  who  we  are,  
what  we  do  well,  what  we  have  to  offer  the  world  around  us.

In  this  morning’s  first  reading  there  was  no  timeline,  but  God  instructed  Moses  to  
gather  the  congregation  anyway  so  they  could  hear  and  understand  the  foundation  
of  their  identity.    Yahweh /God  said  to  Moses,  “speak  to  the  whole  congregation  
of  God’s  house   and  say  to  them:  You  shall  be  holy,  for  I  Yahweh,  your  God,  am  
holy.”      God  didn’t  use  charts  or  poster-board;  God  just  got  right  to  the  point  --  
“you  shall  be  holy,  because  I,  the  LORD  your  God,  am  holy.”     That’s  a  remarkable  
thing  to  ask  of  us,  isn’t  it? – that  we  be  holy?    We  know    God  is  holy…  but  to  
expect  us  to  be  “holy…”  is  that  wise?   If  we  are  to  be  “holy”  then  apparently  we  
are  to  be  like  God,  not  exactly  like  God,  of  course,  but  a  reflection  of  God,  an  
image  of  God  (after  all,  we  were  created  in  God’s  image).   When  God  says  “be  
holy  for  I  am  holy”  we  are  called  to  think  on  God,  to  remember  God,  and  seek  to  
pattern  ourselves  after  God.    That’s  a  huge  undertaking.     Making  it  more  
complicated  is  that   it  is  hard  to  define  what  “holy”  is.      God  is  holy.   We  could  
point  to  certain  people  or  situations  where  holiness  has  appeared,  but  to  
articulate  what  is  “holy”…   that’s  not  easy.   

We  can  also  identify  what  is  not  holy  when  we  see  it.  There  have  been  troubling  
headlines  in  the  news  recently.  As  home  foreclosures  increase  around  the  country  
a  frightening  trend  has  begun  to  emerge  --  something  called  “foreclosure  
suicides.”   In  Ohio  a  90-year-old  woman  shot  herself  in  the  chest  when  authorities  
came  to  evict  her  from  her  home  of  38  years.  In  Massachusetts  a  housewife  who  
paid  all  the  bills,  hid  from  her  husband  the  fact  that  they  had  not  made  the  
mortgage  payment  in  months.  The  day  their  house  was  to  be  seized  she  faxed  a  
note  to  the  sheriff’s  office  saying:  “by  the  time  you  foreclose  on  my  house,  I’ll  be  
dead.”   Authorities  arrived  at  her  house  to  find  her  body.    A  former  money-
manager  in  Los  Angeles  killed  himself,  his  wife  and  two  children  because  he  
could  see  no  way  out  of  his  financial  difficulties.  In  Tennessee  a  woman  fatally  
shot  herself  as  sheriff’s  deputies  arrived  to  evict  her;  unbeknownst  to  her,  she  
and  her  husband  had  just  been  granted  an  extra  10  days  to  appeal  the  eviction.  
Something  deeply  unholy  is  present  in  our  world  when  so  many  people  - working  
people -  suddenly  face  the  possibility  of  losing  their  homes,  and  when  that  fact  
makes  some  of  them  desperate  enough  to  consider  taking  their  own  lives.   

The  nineteenth  chapter  of  Leviticus  is  all  about  holiness.  In  fact,  this  portion  of  
Leviticus  is  part  of what  is  known  as  “the  holiness  code,”  one  portion  of  the  Law  
of  the  Old  Testament.   The  holiness  code  explains  what  the  people  of  Israel  need  
to  do  to  be  holy,  acceptable,  before  God.  Leviticus  gives  us  a  good  idea  of  what  
is  meant  by   “holiness.”   However,  as  Christians  we  do  not  follow  all  the  laws  in  
the  holiness  code.   Many  of  these  regulations  are  still  valid  for  us,  but  some  are  
not.    What  makes  the  difference?    The  difference  is  the  message  of  Jesus  Christ,  
through  which  we  read  the  whole  Bible.    Christians  understand  everything  in  
scripture  through  the  lens  of  the  gospel  - that  Jesus  is  our  salvation,  freely  given  
through  God’s  generous  love  and  grace.   

From  that  vantage  point,  and  because  we  no  longer  live  as  pre-industrial  farmers  
in  the   Mid-East,  Christians  accept  some  of  the  laws  of  Leviticus  and  ignore  others
– like  chpt.  19  verses  5  through  8  which  explain  when  you  can  and  when  you  
cannot  consume  a  sacrifice;  or  chapter 19  verse  19  which  prohibits  sowing  two  
kinds  of   seeds  in  the  same  field  (hybrid  seeds  would  be  out),  and  forbids  
wearing  clothes  made  from  two  kinds  of  material  (there  goes  polyester  or  any  
blended  material).  We  gave  up  those  laws  a  long  time  ago.   Other  parts  of  the  
holiness  code  are  trickier  and  Christians  still  disagree  about  whether  or  not  we  
should  follow  them,  but  we’re  not  dealing  with  those  today.  The  regulations  in  our  
reading  are  clear  and  they  apply  to  all  of  us.

This  is  the  message  God  gives  to  Moses…  ‘say  to  the  people  “You  shall  be  holy,  
as  I  Yahweh  your  God,  am  holy.”’   Every  law  or  rule  that  God  gives  hereafter  is  
underscored  with  God’s  signature,  with  the  stamp  of  God’s  name,  with  the  official  
seal  of  God’s  reign.    After  stating  each  set  of  statutes  for  the  people  to  follow,  
God  gives  this  weighty  reminder:  “I  am  Yahweh,  your  God,”  lest  anyone  forget  
who  they  are  dealing  with,  who  demands  this  level  of  allegiance.     So,  we  hear  
the  LORD  God  say  “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… (nor)  profit  by  the  blood  of  
your  neighbor.  I  am  the  LORD.”   

We  see  two  things  in  these  verses.  The  first  is  that  holiness  is  not  an  individual  
quality  you  or  I  can  achieve  alone.   This  standard  of  holiness  is  directed  at  our  
community.  It  is  something  we  as  a  people,  together,  are  expected  to  uphold.   We  
cannot  shift  the  blame  and  say  “well,  you  didn’t  do  it”  or  point  the  finger  and  say  
“it’s  their  fault.”  The  Newspapers  last  week  were  wanting  to  blame  Alan  
Greenspan  for  the  economic  woes  and  the  bank  failings;  well,  maybe…  but   -   this  
word  in Leviticus  is  given  to  us  and  it  is  for  us,  as  neighbors,  as  a  community,  to  
live  in  holiness.      The  second  thing  is  that,  if  we  are  to  be  holy  we  must  be  
just.  All  legal  decisions  must  be  impartial.  There  can  be  no  favoritism  in  our  
courts,  or  in  our  politics,  or  in  our  governing,  or  in  our  laws  --  no  favoritism  that  
leans  toward  the  rich,  that  prefers  one  race  to  another,  that  elevates  one  
ethnicity  or  one  religious  group  over  another.   Not  when  it  comes  to  being  just.  
Justice  must  be  given  fairly,  equally  to  all  because  that  is  the  only  way  to  reflect  
Yahweh,  our  God.  Any  other  response  is  idolatry  --    the  image  of   some  other  god.

Yahweh  isn’t  done  yet,  but  tells  Moses  to  say  to  the  people:  “You  shall  not  hate  
your  brother  or  sister  in  your  heart;  but  you  shall  reprove  your  neighbor  so  that  
you  do  not  incur  guilt  yourself.    Do  not  take  vengeance  or  bear  a  grudge  against  
your  people,  but  love  your  neighbor  as  yourself.  I  am  Yahweh,  your  God.”    This  is
holiness.    It  has  to  do  with  how  we  live  amongst  each  other.  It  has  to  do  with  
how  we  build  and  tend  our  relationships  with  one  another.   I  cannot  be  holy  
without  reference  to  how  you  are  doing,  to  how  this  community  is  doing,  to  how  
our  neighbors  are  doing.      None  of  this  is  easy.  Striving  for  holiness  is  not  easy.  
I  don’t  think  we  are  so  much  expected  to-succeed-without-a-hitch  as  to  keep  
going,  to  set  our  sights  on  the  goal  of  holiness  and  then  pursue  it,  be  committed  
to  living  this  way.  

First  we  heard  about  justice,  now  we  hear  about  neighborliness.  If  we  are  to  be  
holy  we  must  be  good  neighbors  to  each  other,  and  that  entails  more  than  just  
saying  hello  and  picking  up  the  mail  when  somebody  is  out  of  town.   We  must  
keep  our  hearts  clear  of  hatred  regardless  how  aggravating  that  guy  across  the  
street  is.  And  if  he  is  really  out  of  line,  then  it  is  your  duty,  my  duty,  to  reprove  
him  so  that  we  will  not  sin.  That’s  tough,  finding  a  constructive  way  to  approach  
a  neighbor  with  a  problem.   But  if  the  alternative  is  harboring  a  grudge,  or  road  
rage,  or  plotting  vengeance,  well…   clearly  the  only  “holy”  option  is  to speak  
directly  to  one’s  neighbor.    The  standard   for  those  who  would  be  holy  is  to  love  
their  neighbors  as  they  love  themselves.   What  is  good  for  me  is  what  my  
neighbor  needs  also.

This  sounds  like  an  impossible  assignment – to  be  holy – and  it  would  be  if  we  
were  expected  to  do  it  on  our  own.   If  we  were  supposed  to  make  ourselves  holy  
before  God  so  that  God  might  then  approve  of  us,  that  would  be  impossible.  But  
the  key  is  in  the  first  verse  of  the  lesson  “you  are  to  be  holy  for  I,  the  LORD  
your  God  am  holy.”  This  is  not  some  distant,  unknown  God  making  demands,  this  
is  God  who  has  come  to  live  as  our  brother,  Jesus,  who  has  taken  the  time  to  
know  us,  to  embody  our  sorrows  and  troubles,  to  experience  our  joys,  our  
dreams,  our  frustrations  and  our  hopes.   This  God,  who  is,  indeed  our  God  -  a  
God  for  us  and  with  us,   calls  us  to  be  holy  alongside  God’s  self.  And  because  
God  has  claimed  us  first  as  God’s  own,  we  have  been  blessed  by  holiness,  we  
have  been  welcomed  into  the  household  of  the  holy.   This  is  our  home,  here  with  
God,  the  Holy  One.   That  is  how  we  can  be  holy – by  remaining  with  God.

Holiness  is a matter of being  just and being neighborly. We live in a nation that is built
on the idea of justice, a nation that allows us freedom to create communities with true
neighborliness.  There is already a basis for the building blocks of holiness in our
society.  As people of God, it is our privilege and our joy to pursue holiness, to tend our
communities so that justice is uninhibited and neighbors have the means to get through
difficult times together. When some in our society suffer greatly, we all suffer.  You and I
may not have a solution to the rash of home foreclosures or the suicides it has prompted,
but we are reminded that God has called us to holiness, to living as a people of justice, a
people who help and care for one another.   

“Be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”  It is wonderful to be claimed by God, to be
loved and known by God so much so that God will challenge  us to be holy, too.  We can
respond to the challenge because God is  with  us, making us holy by his presence and
encouraging us ever  to walk with him in holiness.