Readings and Reflection for Sunday, February 19, 2017
Sunshine Cathedral of Second Life
God of all Creation, What do you require of us?
- to do justice, seeking peace & reconciliation, standing with the marginalized and forgotten
- to love kindness
showing compassion and unconditional caring for those in need
- to walk humbly
following in the steps of Jesus, lifting up not the work of our hands but the power that sustains our service.
Creator God, Lend us your strength to do your will.
Give us hearts for justice and peace.
Grant us loving hearts of compassion.
Walk with us as we seek to care for your creation, your children, your heart. Amen
By Beth Merrill, current BVS volunteer (http://www.brethren.org/bvs/files/service-sunday-2009-worship.pdf)
Leviticus 19.9-12, 16-18 (ETRV)
“When you cut your crops at harvest time, don’t cut all the way to the corners of your fields. And if grain falls on the ground, you must not gather up that grain. Don’t pick all the grapes in your vineyards or pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. You must leave those things for your poor people and for people traveling through your country…
“You must not steal. You must not cheat people. You must not lie to each other. You must not use my name to make false promises.
You must not go around spreading false stories against other people. Don’t do anything that would put your neighbor’s life in danger…
“Don’t secretly hate any of your neighbors. But tell them openly what they have done wrong so that you will not be just as guilty of [error] as they are. Forget about the wrong things people do to you. Don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Matthew 5.38-45 (The Message)
“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does.”
(click the box below to play audio of this reflection)
When They Go Low, We Go High
If you are in the United States or get any news from the US (that’s a joke) then you know that discussions about the law and the press are at the heart of every newscast, every article in every publication, and millions of tweets, posts, blogs and discussions between people all over the world. Some of us feel like we are living in an alternative universe where the ten commandments never existed and most of the Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and other religious texts were never written. The world seems adrift without focus or guidance in basic ethics.
Today’s readings remind us that there is a moral compass in our faith traditions. This compass is based on the various versions of what Christians refer to as the Ten Commandments. These various versions are contained in the Torah, the first five books of the bible, and have some central tenets of ethical living in their various renditions. Our readings from Leviticus chapter 19 and Matthew 5 provide our focus for today.
Each week this year we’re going to concentrate on ethical lessons contained in both sacred and secular texts, lessons that we can use each week in our lives to guide our lives through troubled and confusing times. This week our focus is –
- Loving our enemies
- Telling the truth
Our gospel lesson today is a familiar one. It details one of the most difficult lessons in all of scripture – love your enemies. Really? Love my enemies? The world tells us the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And what about the saying, “and eye for an eye?” Aren’t we allowed to exact some response when we are attacked or wronged? And what on earth is to become of us if we do not stand up for what we believe in and fight the people who we believe are denying justice to the oppressed?
The idea of “an eye for an eye” appears first in the Hamurabi code, words chiseled into a stone 1800 years before the common era. That’s 4000 years ago folks. Why would Jesus come along nearly 2000 years later and reform the code that was the basis for our own Ten Commandments? Because the very idea that justice involves exacting the same punishment on someone who perpetrates a wrong on another is ridiculous. There’s nothing about revenge that is defensible. So how did we end up with this idea?
The concept of exacting punishment equal to the crime committed was actually a step forward. When the norm at the time was to cut off someone’s hand for stealing a loaf of bread, restricting punishment to a comparable punishment was a huge reform. Instead of losing a hand, someone convicted of theft would be required to make restitution. But almost every idea has unintended consequences. For instance, taking a life, committing murder, would require the death penalty. Sexual attacks would require, well… you can see where this is going.
The bottom line is that when we become obsessed with returning evil for evil we become the very evil we say we want to fight. That is the unintended consequence that Jesus is bringing to light in our gospel today. Are we really interested in stooping to the level of our enemies? What it does to us is destroy our spirit, a price much too high to pay.
The second lesson in our readings today is an admonition to tell the truth. Or said another way, “You must not go around spreading false stories against other people.” Lord have mercy would someone get this message to those in power in politics in the US? Each day I’m more disgusted by lies and distortions I see on television and online.
Truth in its general sense is certainly a matter of perspective. But purposefully ignoring quantifiable facts or distorting accepted reality is lying. Period. In my experience twisting facts and accusing others of lying is exactly what liars do. News stories we read or see in the media are a lot like the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry. They may differ in minute detail but if similar stories keep showing up in multiple places over a period of time challenged only by those to whom the story is damaging… beware. And above all beware of anyone who paints an entire group, religion, industry, or political persuasion with one broad brush of negativity. Words like “everyone knows” and “common sense” are sure signs of generality designed to obscure truth.
Now both of these issues, loving our enemies and refraining from spreading false stories are the baby steps that lead to toward the larger goal of living a life of generosity. Living generously means sharing kindness, showing compassion, and concerning ourselves with justice for all. Living generously is nice for those around us. But living generously fills our life with joy, with purpose, and with a sense of responding to God’s call to love each other.
Loving our enemies sometimes mean speaking truth to power. Pushing back against those who would do us and others harm is part of loving our enemies. What is in our heart is what is the focus. There is no room in our hearts for hate.
Making up falsehoods about others not only hurts those about whom the lies are told, it infects the soul of those who tell the lies like a cancer eating away at self-confidence. When we lose our own self-respect, we become insecure and petty. One thing leads to another. Lying is not the path to peace of mind.
Living generously calms our spirit and puts us in the flow of the ethical current that flows through the universe. Said another way, when we love our neighbors and love our enemies we are teaching our spirit to love ourselves, give ourselves a break, and understand that we are the beloved children of a loving God.
These days it’s easy to get would up in the minutia of the daily insanity that passes for politics and news. It’s more important than ever that we ground ourselves daily in a spiritual practice. To that end I’m pledging to you to do that for myself and share that with you each and everyday. Each day we will be posting a very short point for meditation on the Sunshine Cathedral of Second Life Facebook page. Please add your comments. Let’s form a community of spiritual practice as we enter the Lenten season this year. Let’s dialogue about our challenges and our success, about our prayers for ourselves and others. Let’s learn how to live ethically in the complicated and sometimes frightening world, one day at a time, together. Amen.
For a list of music for this service download Download SL20170219