H.A.B.I.T.S. – Serving
Leviticus 19:1-10, 18
Sycamore Creek Church
October 25, 2009
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Note to reader: This is a manuscript and not a transcript. While I prepare a manuscript, I don’t preach from it. All the major points are here, but there are bound to be some small differences from the sermon as it was preached live. Also, expect some “bonus” material that wasn’t in the live sermon.
Today we conclude our series on H.A.B.I.T.S. with serving the community. Let’s take a moment to remember where we’ve traveled thus far. We began by exploring how Jesus practices so that if want to be like Jesus, we can practice like Jesus. Jesus “hung out” with God. He meditated, prayed, and taught confession to God. Then we explored the role of accountability or giving a true account of yourself to others. The third week, Sarah taught about memorizing passages and verses in your Bible and studying your Bible. After that Mark, explored what it means to be involved with the church: being involved in people’s lives. Last week we heard about tithing and the role that plays in the larger issue of how we make and spend our money. I taught that we are to make all we can in ways that don’t hurt others, we are to save all we can by living simply, and then we are to give all we can above and beyond even the tithe or 10% of our income. And today we conclude by looking at serving our community.
Before we get to serving, I’d like to remind you of two things I said when we began this series. First, these habits aren’t a quick fix. They are a process. The change in your life won’t come overnight. There is no money-back-guarantee to fixing all your problems. To say so would be falling into the consumer culture’s fixation with immediate gratification. Change and transformation do sometimes happen instantaneously, but the general rule is that God changes us not in an instant but over time by forming within us habits of more perfectly loving God and our neighbor.
Second, it’s not so much the habits that change us, although they do make some impact in and of themselves. Rather, the habits we’ve been talking about are habits that put one in the presence of God. When we spend time in God’s presence, God’s character begins to rub off on us and we become more like God. When you put God’s character in the flesh, it looks like Jesus. So when we spend time with God, we begin to look more and more like Jesus. God does all the heavy lifting here. It’s not our self-discipline to practice these habits that changes us; it’s our self-discipline that puts us in the presence of God so that God can change us. To think that we are the ones who are doing the changing, is to fall into the trap of mixing up the means with the end. That’s what we call “religion” around here. The end is God. The means are the practices and habits that put us in God’s presence.
So on to serving. Let’s read God’s story for us today found in Leviticus 19:1-10 and verse 18:
1 The LORD also said to Moses,
2 “Say this to the entire community of Israel:
You (y’all) must be holy because I, the LORD your (y’all’s) God, am holy.
3 Each of you (y’all) must show respect for your mother and father,
and you (y’all) must always observe my Sabbath days of rest,
for I, the LORD, am your (y’all’s) God.
4 Do not put your (y’all’s) trust in idols or make gods of metal for yourselves.
I, the LORD, am your (y’all’s) God.
5 “When you (y’all) sacrifice a peace offering to the LORD, offer it properly so it will be accepted on your (y’all’s) behalf. 6 You (y’all) must eat it on the same day you (y’all) offer it or on the next day at the latest. Any leftovers that remain until the third day must be burned. 7 If any of the offering is eaten on the third day, it will be contaminated, and I will not accept it. 8 If you eat it on the third day, you will answer for the sin of profaning what is holy to the LORD and must be cut off from the community.
9 “When you (y’all) harvest your (y’all’s) crops, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. 10 It is the same with your grape crop — do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners who live among you, for I, the LORD, am your (y’all’s) God…
18 “Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone,
but love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD.
This is God’s story for us today!
We’re going to be doing some Bible study today. So we’d better begin with a prayer.
God, what do you have to teach us today? May your Holy Spirit bring light to our eyes, hearing to our ears, understanding to our minds and love in our hearts so that we might come away from this time of preaching having truly encountered you, and transformed a little more into the likeness of your son, Jesus Christ. In the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of your Holy Spirit, may it be true. Amen.
Today I’d actually like to talk about holiness. “Ummm…,” you think, “I thought we were talking about service.” Hang in there. Let’s begin with holiness.
What does it mean to be holy? Usually when we hear the word “holy” we tend to think of it in negative terms: no cussin, no drinkin, no smokin, no dancin, and absolutely no fornicatin (although if you’re married you can have sex as long as you don’t enjoy it too much). That’s our popular idea of what the word “holy” means, but what does it mean here in Leviticus? Holiness is a central theme of the book of Leviticus. It might even be said that the major theme of the book is to define what it means to be holy. In fact, in Leviticus “holiness is…to be understood, not as one attribute among other attributes, but as the innermost reality to which all others are related” (Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Holiness” by J. Muilenburg). If it’s that central to this major book of the Bible, we should probably have an idea of what holiness is all about. So let’s take a look and see.
First, holiness has to do with forming a holy community. In verse two Moses is told to say these things “to the entire community.” Not just a part of the community but the entire community. It has to do with everyone. Not just the priests. Not just the leaders. Not just the old or the young. Holiness is for everyone.
Holiness aims toward building holy communities, not just holy individuals. The whole point of this chapter can be found in verse two when God says, “You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” I’ve explained before how “you” in the Bible is often plural, but English doesn’t have a plural “you.” The closest we have is perhaps the colloquial southern expression “y’all.” So when we read this verse, read it with “y’all” in place of “you” and you’ll get the gist better: “Y’all must be holy because I, the LORD y’all’s God, am holy.”
In the English, it sounds like God is speaking to an individual, but in the Hebrew it’s clear that God is speaking to a community of people. God is calling a community of people to be holy. Why? Because God is holy. This community is to reflect the character and virtue of the God who has called this community of people out from being no people, out from slavery in Egypt, out of the wilderness, out of sin, and set apart to be friends with God and to become like God. Y’all be holy because I, your God, am holy.
So then God goes on to explain how exactly this is to happen. The people of God, Israel, are given specific instructions about what this looks like on the ground. We’re not going to look at the entire chapter today, though I’d encourage you to read through it on your own. I’d like to focus on verses five through ten.
Beginning with verse five we’ve got an instruction to be holy by making a “peace offering.” What exactly is a “peace offering”? It is one among many kinds of offerings prescribed in Leviticus including the guilt offering, sin offering, burnt offering, and grain offering. Each kind of offering has a unique purpose, place, and time. The peace offering’s purpose is “a covenant meal which served to affirm the relationship between the worshipper, God, and the community of believers” (Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, “Peace Offering” by Hemchand Gossai). Notice that this kind of offering reinforces the communal aspect of holiness. In verse six God says, “You (y’all) must eat it.” It’s eaten together. It’s like a big festival. It’s like dessert at the Arthurs. The food is important but the fellowship is the point.
Thus, the peace offering has to do with building holy community, holy friendships. Israel is commanded to sit around and share food with one another. This is what their “offering” is for. To build relationships. Isn’t that really what our offering is about that we give each Sunday morning: to build loving friendships in this family that we call Sycamore Creek Church? An offering has to do with building friendship, not just with God but with one another.
So right after the instruction to give a peace offering is an instruction about how to harvest one’s crop. Notice how the two go together. Strategically placed throughout chapter nineteen are many occurrences of the phrase: “I, the LORD, am your (y’all’s) God.” In the part we’re looking at today, it comes at the end of verse three, four, and ten. This phrase is, I think, shorthand for remembering the point of this chapter: “Y’all be holy, because, I, your God, am holy.”
This phrase also acts as a way of putting things together that go together. In verse three respecting your parents and observing the Sabbath go together. Now, you ask me, why do these go together? Perhaps it is because observing the Sabbath isn’t just a day off for ourselves, but a day to build friendship with our family (more on that in a couple of weeks). Verse four has only one idea: don’t worship idols. But then verses five through ten are put together: instructions about offerings and harvesting. What do these two have to do with each other? Why are they paired together?
Here’s why I think they’re paired together. The offering has to do with friendship with God and one another, and how we handle our food in the “harvest” or in going to the grocery store today, has to do with how we nurture friendships with those around us, especially the poor.
Traditionally what is happening in verses nine and ten is called “gleaning.” Israel is commanded not to harvest every bit of every field. They are commanded to leave some for the poor. We’re talking about one’s “back yard” here. It might be like saying, when you harvest those tomatoes from your backyard garden, leave some for the poor in your neighborhood to come and harvest too. “Not in my back yard,” you say. But God says, “Yes, in your back yard.” Invite the poor to your back yard. What is the inevitable result of this? Certainly it would mean getting to know the poor in your community. Somebody can’t be in your back yard harvesting from your garden and you not know it or know who they are.
I think something that is going on here is that God is telling the Israelites to be friends with the poor around them. Don’t just serve them, but invite them into your back yard and get to know them. And in doing so, you’ll be making an offering to God!
There is a couple in our church who has been serving the poor in just such a way. Deo and Darlene Wells organize the ministry: Great Food for All (www.greatfoodforall.com). GFFA “gleans” what is left over from the restaurant distribution system and makes that food available to everyone in the community, poor and wealthy alike, at incredibly reasonable prices. You order a box of food from them and you get about $70 of food for $30. It is for everyone, and especially for those who are struggling financially. A part of the purchase of every box goes towards buying more boxes that can be given away for free to those especially in need. So the more boxes we buy, the more people we can serve for free. Sarah and I bought two boxes for the first time recently and found it to be a very good experience. In doing this ministry, Deo and Darlene and Great Food for All are living out in a modern way the principles behind Leviticus 19: saving some of the harvest for the poor. Also, in doing so, Deo and Darlene are building relationships and friendships with a wide range of people in our community. This is an offering to the Lord. This is what it means to be holy. Y’all be holy because God, our LORD, is holy.
There are several different people groups mentioned in Leviticus 19 besides just the hungry. There are the poor, aliens/foreigners, employees, deaf, blind, slaves (thankfully we don’t have slaves anymore!), children, elderly, and even customers. In each instance, God instructs Israel to build friendships with each by loving them.
This is summed up in verse eighteen: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Sound familiar? Jesus quoted this verse and said it was the second greatest commandment after loving God with everything you’ve got. Jesus didn’t make that up. He was a big fan of Leviticus.
Two closing thoughts: why focus here on friendship? When I talk about serving the community, I want to emphasize building friendship with those around you because it’s something that only you can give. The poor can give friendship back to you too. Real genuine friendship. The kind of friendship that means you know when someone is struggling so you know how to serve them. This certainly happens with the poor, but it also happens with your neighbor. Holiness, thus means serving your neighbor and the poor by loving them and being their friend.
Second, I’d like to share with you a piece of advice that my guidance counselor at Wheaton gave to me when I was a freshman. He said, “Seek the call, not the need.” I have found that needs are constantly swirling around me. I can never meet them all, and I will go crazy trying to do so. What this professor gave to me was the permission to say No so that I could say Yes with everything I had. How this played out for me was that in my first year at Wheaton, my first year after graduating, and my first year at Duke were years when I was seeking God’s call rather than jumping at every need that presented itself. What happened was that at Wheaton, I got significantly involved in a boys and girls club in the projects of Chicago during my sophomore year and continued through my senior year. I ended up spending Wednesday nights tutoring, Saturday mornings at the park, and Sunday morning in Sunday school with these boys and girls. Seeking the call rather than the need helped me focus my energy and time on building friendships with these boys and girls in significant ways. After graduating and moving to Petoskey I focused my time in the local homeless shelter and then a bit later at Habitat for Humanity. In both places I was able to build significant friendships with the poor. At Duke I spent my first year trying to remember how to be a student again and then ended up moving into the Isaiah House, a Christian Hospitality House for women and children in transition, for the last two and a half years where I built stronger friendships with the poor than I had ever had before. In each instance I sought God’s call, not just to fill whatever need first presented itself. I think this was true to the spirit of Leviticus 19 which calls us to be holy by serving those around us through building a holy community of holy friendships.
What does it mean to be holy? It means to be a community that befriends the weak and powerless among you, to be a community that befriends and serves your neighbor in love.
May it be true in our lives through the power of God whom we know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit!Share on Facebook