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Normal and Expected or PERFECT?

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2/14/99

ORGAN PRELUDE    ANNOUNCEMENTS            Psalm 62:5-12 -- God is my Rock, my salvation, my fortress (v. 6)         CALL TO WORSHIP

*OPENING HYMN                            Holy, Holy, Holy                                  # 2 v.1,3,4

*INVOCATION AND LORD'S PRAYER                 O God, we thank you for loving us with your whole being in Christ and for making us wholly yours through the forgiveness of sins. Make us wholly holy that we might love without limit and reach the fullness of the stature of Christ, in whose name we pray.          Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come.  Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And, forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.  And, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.  AMEN.

*GLORIA PATRI

SCRIPTURE READING   Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18  Leviticus 9:1The Lord also said to Moses, 2  “Say this to the entire community of Israel: You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. 3  Each of you must show respect for your mother and father, and you must always observe my Sabbath days of rest, for I, the Lord, am your God. 4  Do not put your trust in idols or make gods of metal for yourselves. I, the Lord, am your God.5“When you sacrifice a peace offering to the Lord, offer it properly so it will be accepted on your behalf. 6  You must eat it on the same day you offer it or on the next day at the latest. Any leftovers that remain until the third day must be burned. 7If any of the offering is eaten on the third day, it will be contaminated, and I will not accept it. 8If 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 harvest your 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 God.11“Do not steal. “Do not cheat one another. “Do not lie.12“Do not use my name to swear a falsehood and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.13“Do not cheat or rob anyone. ”Always pay your hired workers promptly.14“Show your fear of God by treating the deaf with respect and by not taking advantage of the blind. I am the Lord.15“Always judge your neighbors fairly, neither favoring the poor nor showing deference to the rich.16“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people. “Do not try to get ahead at the cost of your neighbor’s life, for I am the Lord.17“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. “Confront your neighbors directly so you will not be held guilty for their crimes.18“Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

                        Barbara Hodgkins                                           READER

“Do not . . .” Some people think the Bible is nothing but a book of don’ts. But Jesus neatly summarized all these rules when he said to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. He called these the greatest commandments (or rules) of all (Matthew 22:34-40). By carrying out Jesus’ simple commands, we find ourselves following all of God’s other laws as well.

MISSION MOMENT

OFFERING                       God instructed the Hebrews to provide for those in need. He required that the people leave the edges of their fields unharvested, providing food for travelers and the poor. It is easy to ignore the poor or forget about those who have less than we do. But God desires generosity. In what ways can you leave the “edges of your fields” for those in need?

Exodus 19:5-6  Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. 6And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’

*DOXOLOGY

*PRAYER OF DEDICATION            We thank you, O God our Father, that you have given us a special role on your earth.  May we accomplish your purpose by our prayers, our offerings, and our lives, so that your truth and love may be known by people everywhere.

CHILDREN'S STORY TIME

CHORAL ANTHEM

PRAYER         Heavenly Father, Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek, to go the second mile, to love our enemies, to do more than others who do not know you.  He wants us to be perfect, like you are perfect.  We would brush aside such impossible demands, if we had not already experienced the perfection of your love.  Your perfect love does not impose rules and regulations, rather, your love opens the impossible to our doing.  When we know our sins are forgiven by your love, we are then able to turn the other cheek, forgiving those who have done evil to us.  When we consider all the times we have begged from you, and have received more than we ever dared to request, it dissolves our resistance to going a second mile for others.  When we remember how we have rejected, betrayed and fought you, only to be loved perfectly by you in return, our hearts are opened to loving enemies who have fought us..  Open us to doing what is impossible for those who do not know perfect love.  Let your love penetrate every nook and cranny of our hearts, softening their old hardness and awakening us to the new ways of your kingdom.  Amen

             // O God, You have called us to walk in ways very different from the world around us. Grant us the strength and the courage, Lord, to be different in a world that values conformity.    Lord, so often as we have struggled in life we have failed to see Your mercy and grace around us. Instead too often we have tried to think of ourselves as being worthy before You on our own merits and we have denied in our hearts the message of the Cross. Forgive us, Lord, and help us to be strong witnesses of Your love in the world today. In Christ we pray. Amen.

*PREPARATIONAL HYMN             Love Divine, All Loves Excelling           # 71

SCRIPTURE TEXT     Matthew 5: 38-48           38  “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ 39 But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other, too. 40If you are ordered to court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. 41If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. 42Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. Jesus Teaches about Loving Enemies

43 “You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and on the unjust, too. 46If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47If you are kind only to your friends,  how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

SERMON        Normal and Expected or PERFECT?

   "You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself" (Lev.19:18). This command is based on the assumption that it is natural for people to love themselves. If you didn't love yourself you wouldn't care for yourself. You wouldn't eat properly, brush your hair, exercise and so forth.  But loving yourself does not come through the genetic codes; it is taught or caught. The opposite of loving is loathing. In our society, where millions of children are neglected and abused, many people have never learned to love themselves. Rather, they loathe themselves. They also loathe others as they loathe themselves. Both loving and loathing tend to replicate themselves. We must provide an environment where people learn to love themselves that they might also love God and the neighbor.

The Israelites are commanded to be holy as the Lord, their God, was holy (Lev. 19:2). They were to reject the values of the world and reflect the righteousness of their God. This is comparable to what the Lord says in the gospel lesson about being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Children reflect the values of those who raise and care for them; the closer the relationship, the greater the similarity. We are children of the heavenly Father, so the closer we draw to God, the more we will be like him.       1. God's people are called to be holy (set apart to reflect the love of God) (v. 2)    2. God's people are charged to love their neighbor by: -a- reasoning out the conflicts (v. 17) -b- relinquishing grudges and offenses (v. 18) -c- treating others as you desire to be treated.///

By telling us not to retaliate, Jesus keeps us from taking the law into our own hands. By loving and praying for our enemies, we can overcome evil with good.

The Pharisees interpreted Leviticus 19:18 as teaching that they should love only those who love in return, and Psalm 139:19-22 and 140:9-11 as meaning that they should hate their enemies. But Jesus says we are to love our enemies. If you love your enemies and treat them well, you will truly show that Jesus is Lord of your life. This is possible only for those who give themselves fully to God, because only he can deliver people from natural selfishness. We must trust the Holy Spirit to help us show love to those for whom we may not feel love.

Throughout the Sermon On The Mount, Jesus holds up an aggressive goodness, a righteousness that has no bounds and goes far beyond the limits of the law. The old righteousness of the law instructs that one must love their neighbor but the new righteousness of Jesus puts forward the outlandish suggestion that we must love our enemies. Love for the neighbor and for those who love us is normal and expected but love for those who oppose us is extraordinary, even divine. Jesus teaches that we must be perfect even as our Heavenly Father is perfect (v. 48). The word here is telios which doesn't mean without blemish, but complete or mature. To love as our Lord commands marks one who has attained the fullness of spiritual maturity and holiness.

   The Old Testament taught that one should love their neighbor but the Lord removes the boundaries of love. Jesus not only instructs his disciples to love their enemies (vv. 44-45), he asserts that it isn't enough to do what is required but that one should go beyond those boundaries. If someone takes your cloak, give him your coat as well. If a Roman soldier orders you to carry his pack one mile, go for two instead (vv. 40-41). WHY?  Such actions are designed to break down the wall of hostility and stem evil's fury. To love those who love us is well within the bounds of what is normal and expected, but to love the enemy obliterates all boundaries. Such love is only possible through the power of the One who demonstrated a love for the world that is boundless. Such love is not defined by feeling but by doing.

  Among the collected wisdom of the Jewish Rabbis is a tale of love between brothers who shared a farm. One brother was married with children and the other brother was single. They worked hard and the land yielded its fruit abundantly. The brothers shared both their toils and the rewards of their labors equally, thanking and praising God for his blessings.

   One night the single brother thought to himself. It isn't right that I should share the yield equally with my brother. After all, he has several mouths to feed and I have only myself to look after. I can easily get by with less. So under the cover of darkness he would go out to the barn and remove grain from his bin and put it in his brother's.

   That same night the other brother got to thinking to himself. It is not right that I should divide the grain equally with my brother. I have many children to look after me in my old age and my brother has only himself. He needs to save for the future. So, this brother went out into the barn under the cloak of darkness and removed grain from his bin and put it into his brother's.

   Each night the brothers would give away quantities of their grain and yet each morning they found that their supply of grain was miraculously replenished. Even so, they never revealed the miracle to one another.

   Then one night they met each other out in the farmyard and they realized what had been going on. Overcome with laughter and tears, they embraced one another.

   On that spot the Temple was built.

   This story may be apocryphal. Yet, it is certainly true that God's temple is built in the places where brothers and sisters embrace in laughter and tears./////

    You must be perfect (v. 48)is that the Normal and Expected?  The Lord teaches that we must be perfect, like God.  Such an expectation seems light years beyond our spiritual capabilities. We have already discussed the meaning of the Greek word telios translated as perfect. It does not indicate a state of flawlessness but of maturity or completion. We know that such maturity will never be completely attained this side of eternity. So, are Jesus' teachings above the higher righteousness meant to drive us to despair concerning our spiritual condition so that we might be receptive to his grace? Certainly, "you must be perfect" does not mean that we must attain spiritual maturity before we are accepted by God. You have probably seen the bumper sticker: "Christians are not perfect, just forgiven." How true. Yet, it is this obvious lack of perfection in the church that keeps many from accepting the gospel. We must do a balancing act. On the one hand, we must take Jesus' call to perfection seriously through the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, on the other hand, we must hold high the promise of forgiveness for all of us sinners who fall so miserably short of the mark.

How can we be perfect? (1) In character: In this life we cannot be flawless, but we can aspire to be as much like Christ as possible. (2) In holiness: Like the Pharisees, we are to separate ourselves from the world’s sinful values. But unlike the Pharisees, we are to be devoted to God’s desires rather than our own and carry his love and mercy into the world. (3) In maturity: We can’t achieve Christlike character and holy living all at once, but we must grow toward maturity and wholeness. Just as we expect different behavior from a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult, so God expects different behavior from us, depending on our stage of spiritual development. (4) In love: We can seek to love others as completely as God loves us.

We can be perfect if our behavior is appropriate for our maturity level—perfect, yet with much room to grow. Our tendency to sin must never deter us from striving to be more like Christ. Christ calls all of his disciples to excel, to rise above mediocrity, and to mature in every area, becoming like him. Those who strive to become perfect will one day be perfect, even as Christ is perfect (1 John 3:2, 3 Yes, dear friends, we are already God’s children, and we can’t even imagine what we will be like when Christ returns. But we do know that when he comes we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. 3And all who believe this will keep themselves pure, just as Christ is pure.)

  The kind of love that Jesus lifts up in our gospel lesson is agape love -- the unconditional variety. The love of God is of this nature. This kind of love is only possible for those who are rooted and grounded in love. Only those who rest secure in God's love and exhibit a healthy self-love can begin to love unconditionally. We can only give away that which we have received.    Outline: 1. God has loved us in Christ unconditionally  2. Receive this love and grace personally  3. Share the love of God freely with friend and foe alike

I'd like to leave you with this thought:  Jesus suggested a new, radical response to injustice: Instead of demanding rights, give them up freely! According to Jesus, it is more important to give justice and mercy than to receive it.

*INVITATIONAL HYMN                 Take My Life and Let It Be                  # 436

*BENEDICTION       

Turn the other cheek.

   Go the second mile.

   Give to everyone who begs from you.

   Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

   Love your enemies.

   Pray for those who persecute you.

And may God's perfection grow in your hearts

   as you do these things,

   so that each day you may become more like the God

   who has already done all these things for you.  Amen.

ORGAN POSTLUDE


Matthew 5: 38-48

Leader: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a

tooth for a tooth.'

Left: But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer.  But if anyone

strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also;

Right: And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second

mile.

Left: Give to everyone who begs from you,

Right: And do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

Leader: You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your

neighbor and hate your enemy.'

Left: But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who

persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in

heaven;

Right: For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good,

Left: And sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Right: For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?

Do not even the tax collectors do the same?

Left: And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more

are you doing than others?  Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Leader: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

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