Seventh Sunday after Epiphany Lectionary Reflection
February 20, 2011
You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Leviticus 19:2b
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48
Wait! Isn’t Valentine’s Day only a memory and a line item or two on March’s credit card statement? Aren’t we finished dealing with “love” for another year? What’s all this about a guide to lavish love? That card and chocolate not enough? If we’re speaking in terms of God, the answer is a deafening NO.
God expects much more than a once a year expression of affection. For God, every day is about love expressed in relationship, and God desires that we learn how to express lavish love. Secular Franciscan and multi-talented writer/artist/film producer Gerry Straub posted these words as part of his blog entry on February 14:
We were created in, by and through Love. We were made for intimacy with God. Intimacy with God is at the heart of all our searching for human friendship and intimacy. We become more fully human only in relationship to our ever-deepening consciousness of and abandonment to God, the true source of fulfillment and love.
Love, then, is integral to our calling as beloved children of God, made holy in baptism, and daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Christ. Love is our language. Love is our vision. Love is our way of being and doing in this world.
It’s a tall order, this lavish love! Our texts this week get at the heart of what lavish love means in terms of the disciple. In Leviticus, we have an excerpt from the Holiness Code beginning with the LORD’s directive “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (19:2b) and ending with “…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (19:18b). In between these two verses are specific directives of what it means to live according to an ethic of love. Care for the poor and alien, honesty, concern for neighbor, proper care of employee, and refusal to seek vengeance or bear a grudge are among the points listed. In short, we are to care for one another, giving particular attention to the weak and marginalized–those who cannot care for themselves.
The theme of love and justice, along with a heaping portion of forgiveness, are echoed by Jesus in the continuation of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:38-48). In fact, this isn’t just any old average kind of love; this is sacrificial love. Not doormat love–sacrificial love. It’s the kind of love that a person confident of being loved and accepted by God is able to then lavish upon the world. Like Jesus says, it is easy to love the folks who love us. The kind of radical, lavish love Jesus is talking about has room for loving (i.e. caring for and about) those who do not love us and those who are different from us. Not only are we to love those folks, we are to pray for those who are openly hostile to us.
Sound like a tall order? It is. Lavish love is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. Lavish love requires commitment, faith, hope, joy, and the willingness to be a bit “foolish” in the eyes of the world. When you look at the entirety what is required it sounds pretty impossible, and it would be impossible were it not for the love of Christ and the lavish grace, mercy, and love he extends to us. With Christ all things are possible, even sacrificial, foolish, and lavish love.
Lavish love is modeled for us in the life and ministry of Jesus and in his ultimate gift of love. This kind of love is learned by such example, it is enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit, and is lived, albeit imperfectly, by the disciple. Yes, you and I are made “perfect,” made “whole” in Christ, and our grateful response is lavish love to a hurting world, one person and one act at a time. Blessings on your proclamation!
Here’s a rendition of “They Will Know we are Christians by our Love” sung by Jars of Clay. The four minute video “Jars of Clay: ”The Spirit of Thankfulness” features strong images to support the lyrics and specific acts of love articulated in this week’s lessons, along with poverty facts. Available from the bluefishtv.com website for free download.
The youth of the congregation I serve are using this Sunday to teach hunger awareness through their worship leadership and a hunger banquet. More information about hosting a hunger banquet may be found here or here.
Another option is to gather your youth together to talk about hunger and then share a “hunger meal.” Buy enough pizza, pop, and dessert for 15% of youth group (or provide a nice full meal). Prepare enough rice, beans, and juice for 35% of the youth. Prepare enough rice and water for the remaining 50%. Make “tickets” of three different colors according to those proportions and have youth draw a ticket. The color of the ticket determines what meal each person receives. If you really want to stir controversy, allow the 15% who receive a full meal the opportunity to purchase a meal for anyone in the other two groups by making a donation to support a hunger program of your choosing. This would also be a good event for parents and youth together. Talk about hunger, justice, and equitable distribution of resources and end with worship and communion: the table where all are welcome and fed.
If that won’t work in your context, consider having each youth group member write the name of an “enemy” or someone who they perceive to “hate” them on a sheet of paper that is then folded up and put in a bowl on the altar. Have a service of prayer, scripture, and reflection on Matthew’s gospel. Pour water from the font over the papers, soaking them thoroughly. Share communion together and remind the youth that the power of hate is washed away in the waters of baptism and the unquenchable water of radical love. End with a sending into the world to love all people, forgive, and share the good news.
Consider focusing on the epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23), particularly verse 23. Give everyone in the congregation a paper clip when they enter. When the children come up, set the context of the lesson and then ask them what one can do with a simple paper clip. One alone is not very much. Sure a person can entertain him or herself with a paper clip, but the fun won’t last long. Now have all the children join theirs together into a chain. Ask the congregation to do the same. Join all the clips into one long chain. Tell them how as the body of Christ we all belong to each other in community just as we all belong to Christ and to God.
If you have time and opportunity, consider stretching the idea of the paper clip into how something small can be turned into something amazingly powerful. Take a look at the Paper Clip Project or show the documentary Paper Clips in your middle school youth group.