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Holy Questions - Lev. 19:1-2, 15-18, Matt. 22:34-45 (Rev. Dvera Hadden, preaching)

Rev. Dvera Hadden, preaching:

This fall at First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo, we have followed the theme of “There is a Place for you Here”- in this Earth home, in this worship space in person and online, in shared passion for hospitality, in the Body of Christ, just as we each are, no matter how we are. “There is a place for you here.”

This morning I would like to add this invitation: There is a place for you here if you come with questions- about Scripture, about community, about how to live well in the world. There is a place for you here to learn and grow through questions. The curriculum we use for our children’s Sunday school is centered each week in an open-ended question that begins “I wonder…” It is not only children who learn and grow in faith by wondering. It is a good way for grown-ups to learn and grow in faith, too. There is a place for you here if you have questions, a place for you here to learn and grow.

So, let’s dive into some questions!

In our scripture passage from Leviticus for this morning (that Joy read for us so well), we enter into the middle of a loooong set of instructions for the community of Israel that is dwelling in the desert following their exodus from Egypt. God has gathered their people and here gives them instructions for how to live well together, how to live God’s love and justice in the world, how to be holy.

Our reading for today begins - “Be holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.”

The community of God’s people in the desert millennia ago is holy, can be holy because God is holy; God is among them, and down through the centuries God is with Jesus and the early Christian church, and down through centuries to this day, God is with us.

“Be holy”. We hear this statement as a command, but the tense of the verb in Hebrew could also be read as “will be and will continue to be” holy- a statement of possibility and empowerment that we can be holy as God is holy, because God is holy and present with us. “You shall be holy because, I, your God, am holy.”

We might respond to this invitation with a question- how? How can I live into God’s holiness?

In our scripture passage from Leviticus this morning, God offers a few ideas, which again we can ponder as questions. I invite you to listen for the questions that arise in you this morning, to listen for the questions that catch your attention and interest; to listen for how God may be calling you to learn and grow into holiness with God.

This morning’s scripture elicits many questions, many opportunities to grow in ways to live well in community, to live out God’s holy love in the world. Find just one or two that hold the most meaning for you today. I invite you to take notes for yourself or listen in your heart for God’s Spirit speaking when a question catches your attention. If you miss part of the sermon because you are listening to God speaking in your heart, AND you want to hear or read the rest, you will be able to find it on the church’s website. Or you can talk to me after worship.

Let’s listen then, for God’s invitation to learn and grow into holiness with God.

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”

An invitation for each of us to ponder, questions for learning and growing in love: How do I contribute to partiality or favoritism in my community and the social or economic or other systems that I move through?

“Slander” is making false and damaging statements about someone (or ones.) How do I participate in slander of individuals or communities or nations? Do I repeat unjust or untrue statements about another, or amplify them on social media? Do I verify the truth and helpfulness of statements I hear about others? Does my conversation tear down or build up my community and those around me?

What will help me release criticism of my neighbor, so that I may judge fairly- with the love of God as my guide?

“Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am Yahweh.”

A question to ponder: How do I/we endanger our neighbor’s life? How do we care for our Earth home in climate collapse? Who is in the greatest danger from climate collapse? How do we care for the people who find life difficult or dangerous because of their immigrant status, ethnicity, religion, race, sexuality, ability, gender identity or expression? How are we called to grow into greater care for our neighbors? What more do we want to learn to be better able to UNendanger our neighbor’s life?

“Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart.”

A question to ponder: since God’s people are not only the ancient Israelites, who is my fellow community member? Is it someone in my immediate or extended family? Is it a student in my class or someone I run into on the playground or in the park? Is it my neighbor who lives in the apartment building with me, or on my street?

Is it the driver in the car in front of me or behind me on the road? Is it a stranger at the grocery store or an unknown person on the far side of the world? Is it a fellow Christian of a different faith expression? Is it a fellow voter with a different political belief?

What makes me feel hateful or angry toward another? Do I pretend kindness outwardly but harbor resentment inwardly toward another? What do I need to be able to be free of hate or fear or resentment toward another?

“Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.”

More invitations to ponder: How well do I pay attention to and care for my neighbor? Do I have the courage to step in with care and concern when I see something that seems not to be right? How do I gently enter with my neighbor into caring relationship so that I can ask about what seems to be wrong, so that I can learn more about how I can best provide help? Am I willing to give the care or effort that may be needed to help my community to be healthy and equitable and just?

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am Yahweh.”

What is it that causes hurt and division within our communities? Do I have the opportunity or capacity to help address the causes of hurt and division, of revenge and begrudging? What is it that propels me toward vengeance or moves me to hold a grudge? What are the “hot” buttons that short-circuit our desire to live God’s love and justice in the world?

Who is included among my people and who is left out? How often do I imagine my neighbor as loveable and holy? How often do I love myself well, conduct myself as if I carry God’s loving holiness in the world?

How often do I love my neighbor well? How often do I look at my world through the eyes of God’s love, justice, and care?

What can I do to enter more fully into living out God’s holiness in the world? What do I need to be able to learn and grow more deeply grounded in God’s love for me and the world?

In our second scripture reading for today, the writer of Matthew’s Gospel places the closing words of our Leviticus passage in Jesus’ mouth. Jesus has been healing and preaching and teaching for a few seasons by now. In the sermon on the mount, he has taught his listeners that in God’s reign of justice and love, even our enemies are loved; they, too, are our neighbors. Now Jesus has come at last to Jerusalem where he will be executed by the political representatives of Rome with the complicity of the religious authorities.

In this morning’s scripture passage, Jesus is teaching in the Temple. While he is teaching, two separate groups of religious leaders approach him. They come to him with questions- more questions! The first group, the Sadducees, just before our passage for today try to tangle Jesus up in theological conversation, but he deftly turns the conversation, to end in the Sadducees’ silence. The Pharisees then take their turn to try to undermine Jesus’ authority as teacher and preacher. They, too, ask him a question, a question about the commandments. “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And he responds by quoting scripture, first from Deuteronomy “Love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And second from the Leviticus passage we heard this morning, “‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here in the Temple, in the Gospel of Matthew, questions are tools of challenge and test. Rather than coming with an open heart and mind to learn from Jesus, the Sadducees and Pharisees here are trying to maintain the religio-cultural status quo, and their own positions of power-over and privilege. With his own question about the interpretation of Psalm 110, Jesus brings the Pharisees to silence, also.

In v. 43 Jesus says, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘Yahweh said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.’” (Ps. 110:1)

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Jesus used questions to confront abusive, oppressive power, to challenge the leaders of systems of religious and cultural power-over. How will we use our questions? Are they questions to help us learn and grow? Are they questions that challenge systems that perpetuate oppression? What questions arise in us today? What draws us deeper into God’s holy justice and love? What helps us live out God’s loving justice, God’s holiness in our own lives, our world? The answers will be different for each of us, and we will find community with one another as we pursue them.

There is a place for you here to explore your questions, to learn and grow into God’s just, loving holiness.

All honor and glory to the Triune God- Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Amen!

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