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October 24, 2011 @ 9:11 am

Pentecost 19 October 23 2011

Leviticus 19:1-2,15-18

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Have you ever read the book of Leviticus? Many have not, at least not in a devotional way. Often Christians, wanting to know their Lord’s Word, will commit themselves to reading the entire Bible and will read it then, but even then, the book is hardly a favorite. The Psalms are beautiful and poetic; the proverbs are pithy and easily quotable. Genesis and Exodus have great stories to tell, but Leviticus by comparison usually just seems kind of bland. That being said it’s not a book that read as often as we read others. Maybe to put it another way, not many confirmation verses come from it. I've never had anyone every tell me they want their funeral to be preached from it.

But still, there it is, tucked away as the third book from the front of our Old Testament Canon. Our Lord inspired it to be written and gave it to us for our edification and our understanding and our growth in faith and love. It is good that we read it. It is good that we get it out and dust it off from time to time to see what God has hidden inside this often obscure text. And upon opening and studying from it, we discover it to be filled with treasures.

Our text for today offers a bit of a theme for the book, it is a refrain that is repeated throughout Leviticus that often summarizes and connects a command or series of commands to a purpose for keeping them.

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.

The Book of Leviticus follows directly on the heals of Exodus. After God led his people out of Israel, he brought them to Mount Sinai where he outlined the conditions of a covenant that he would make with them, an agreement for their coexistence together as God and people. He defined what he would do for the people and then how they would respond. And, according to the conditions of this agreement, they would live together as God and people. God would do what God does, he would provide for the people protection and help and aid from their enemies, he would give them a land that was abundant and fruitful, he would establish their descendants, their children in the land and he would establish their kingdom forever. And, as a response and as a result of what God had done, the people would do the things that God commands, the would “be holy because the Lord their God is holy.” The book of Leviticus is about God’s holiness that God passes along to God’s people so that they can be God’s people.

The thing to note is that holiness is a gift. It is something that God gives and that God creates and if we have it, it is because God gave it. Usually when we hear the word we think of what we do. We think of it as a list of do's and don't's. A bunch of rules and regulations. Yet, holiness has to do with the Lord. It is who he is and what he does and how he does it. The Lord is holy. He can be nothing but holy. In order for us to be with God, to be where God is, it is necessary that we also be holy.

There was a time when we were, that is to say there was a time when people were, that we were holy in our nature. It was a part of God’s creation. It was given to Adam and Eve. They possessed the image of God. They enjoyed the blessing of close communion with the Lord. It was lost. They disobeyed God. They fell into sin. God’s image and God’s holiness was gone, communion and fellowship with our Lord was gone.

In its place came a new self, a new nature. A sinful nature. Our Lutheran confessions describe our will as being curved in on its self. Instead of being tuned in to God and his will and his desires and instead of being eager to serve God and to please him, we have become eager to serve our selves and please ourselves. We are selfish and self-motivated people.

We fail to realize just how far from God we have come.

The world is an evil place. We can read about it in the papers. There were people held in a basement in Philadelphia who were tortured for sport by their captor. Mexican drug cartels are kidnapping and slaughtering people by the hundreds. Libyan rebels treated their captured former dictator with the same inhumanity as he had treated them. We see evil out there, we are not so quick to realize it in ourselves. After all, I haven’t locked anyone up in my basement. I don’t sell drugs. I haven’t dragged anyone through the street. I may not be perfect. But I am okay.

But God has a different standard. God measures with a different stick. Be holy as I the Lord your God am holy. God wants us to be not just better than the worst. He wants us to be what he is and how he is. He wants us to be like him. He requires us to be like him. If there is to be communion with him there is no other option.

And so in our text we see a more detailed definition of what that holiness would involve. God defines how the human will should be bent back out, not toward the self but toward God and our neighbor.

Be fair with each other. Don't falsely accuse. Don't slander, don't publicly run somebody down. Meditate on those words. Consider them with honesty and humility. Pray those words and the Lord will teach you where you have failed to keep them.

The real sinker is that it goes beyond just actions and words, God commands purity of heart. Don't hate your brother in your heart. We can control our actions, if we work really hard we can control our words, but those words and actions come from the heart. Sin is born in the heart. Gossip and slander and even violence and kidnapping and torture begin in the heart. God measures what we hide away from each other, our hidden faults and sin and evil.

Often when we confess our sin, the sins we think we have to confess are the outside sins, the slander or gossip, the outbursts of anger, We think less of the sins of the heart and even explain them away. But the sins that can condemn you are the ones that you refuse to confess. The sins that will send you to hell are the ones you hide away from God and the ones that you pretend need no forgiveness. God's law completely condemns us inside and out. The Christian receives that law and turns in faith to Christ.

Our text teaches us that to be the people of God to be one of God's chosen and beloved Children is to be nothing other than forgiven. To come completely filled with sin, to be nothing but a beggar before God and to receive God's law and be poured out and empty. To be an empty sack.

We are entering the cold season where soup kitchens become a greater necessity as the poor and homeless search for warm meals on cold nights. It would make little sense for a homeless man to turn away a warm ladle of soup because he had filled his bowl with dish water. But isn't that what we do?

The Christian comes before God empty and God fills him. The Christian comes before God needing help and forgiveness and restoration and God provides it. God gives. God forgives. God saves. And God restores.

As God outlines the provisions for a covenant together with him it becomes evident that we have not fulfilled this. We are not holy. We have never been holy. But God is. And god gives his holiness to us. He declares it to us. He speaks it into us. And then he puts it into our mouths.

Take eat, this is my Body says the Lord. Take drink this is my Blood. God's holiness is given to you to fill you up from the inside, to over come sin in you and to strengthen you in works of service and righteousness.

Faith and worship and a relationship with God is all about God making us what we are not. We are sinners, He is holy. We are corrupt. He is pure. We are curved in on ourselves he is selfless and serving. God takes us, forgives us and makes us to be what he is.

May we grow in faith and righteousness and godliness as we learn more and more to walk in faith with him.

Amen.

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