This week in worship, as we continue through the first part of the Bible and the Choices that Change Us, Pastor David will be sharing about “Choosing to Love” from the Book of Leviticus. God calls us to be Holy and to Love our Neighbor.
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Choosing to Love
This summer in particular is a time to see family. Many of you have been hosting family and friends. There are some of us who must leave the Cape to see family. A few weeks ago now, my family and I were able to travel back home to see our extended family in Wisconsin. It has been two years since we have seen all 0f our family.
What is great about my family is that we make a consistent choice to take the first week of July to be back home all together. I have three siblings and with their families and my parents, we have twenty-four people living together at my parent’s house. My parents don’t have the gigantic house; it a simple house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and only two showers. During the day, my family enjoys playing all types of games (including outside games, board games, cards, and putting together multiple puzzles); having campfires and s’mores; fireworks for 4th of July; and just sitting around sharing stories and food. At night, people are sleeping everywhere from the makeshift bedrooms in the basement, to the living room, and using all four bedrooms. We all cram into my parent’s house for the week, and we take turns helping to cook the meals. This year, our family was in charge of fajitas and tacos.
One of the highlights is that we get to celebrate my mother’s birthday every year, and her only wish is for a family photo. People often ask me: is it easy living with 24 people together for five or six days? Not always. There are times where you have to offer love and extend grace towards your family members. There are times where you have to wait to go to the bathroom or take a shower. At the end of the day, I would not trade it for the world. I love my family. I hope you enjoy your family and friends this summer too.
Currently, we are in a new series: The Bible – A Story of Love, Belonging, Redemption, and Hope. Each week, we are going to highlight a different book of the Bible, with a story from that book. There are 66 books in the Bible, and we are in book three, Leviticus. Leviticus is a book that gives exhaustive details on how to live with God and how to live with each other. The central message in the book is that God is holy, and God wants his people to be holy like him. God truly cares about the holiness of his people.
The book of Leviticus is quite simply a book of laws. Laws were given by God to the Jewish people to follow. God choose one group called the Israelites who were “set apart” from all other nations. God showed favor upon them. God established a pattern of life for his people in the ways they are to worship Him and how they are to treat and love each other. Today, we are going to focus on Chapter 19. Let me read to you Leviticus 19:1-18 (NIV):
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. “‘Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God. “‘Do not turn to idols or make metal gods for yourselves. I am the Lord your God.
“‘When you sacrifice a fellowship offering to the Lord, sacrifice it in such a way that it will be accepted on your behalf. It shall be eaten on the day you sacrifice it or on the next day; anything left over until the third day must be burned up. If any of it is eaten on the third day, it is impure and will not be accepted. Whoever eats it will be held responsible because they have desecrated what is holy to the Lord; they must be cut off from their people.
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.
“‘Do not steal. “‘Do not lie. “‘Do not deceive one another. “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight. “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.
“‘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. “‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
“‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
There is a lot there in these verses about how we are to love our neighbor and treat people around us. Many of these laws remind me of the 10 Commandments that we found in Exodus. This past week, as I have studied this chapter and thought about what I wanted to share with you, two thoughts really stood out to me. This morning, I’m going to focus on a few verses, Leviticus 19:2; 20:26:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.
You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.
In the book of Leviticus, we see God as holy. God wanted his people to be holy. In Chapter 19, we see that God gives his people more laws to live by to help people live lives that are pleasing to God.
God tells Moses to share with the people, “Be holy, because I am holy.” I have set you apart from all other nations. You are to be my examples, to all the other nations. I want you to live in accordance with my laws. These laws were intended to form a nation that displayed God’s holiness. God is saying to the Israelites, I want you to live your life with holiness. I want other nations and people to see that there is something different about you.
I believe God is saying very much the same thing to our church and to our generation. Jesus came to fulfill the law. When you accept Jesus into your life, you are forgiven. You receive grace and holiness. God wants us to live our lives as holy and pleasing to him.
I realize using the word holy or holiness as a term can be very intimidating. What is holiness? To me, holiness is about being obedient to God, and honoring God with my actions and in my speech. I believe this is very important to God. God wants us to “be Holy” today just as God wanted the Israelites to “be holy.”
I am reminded of story in the New Testament. Jesus was asked about the most important laws and commandments. This story comes from Matthew 22:37-40: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love you neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on those two commandments.”
Prayer and reading the Bible help me put God first. One picture that comes to mind is that God cares about our “vertical relationship” with him. God cares that we choose to love him. We love God by our obedience to Him and by our relationship with Him. How is your “vertical relationship” with God? God wants you to continue to grow in your relationship with him. Going to church is important, yet God wants more of your life than one hour a week. God wants to meet with you daily, so take time to pray to God at night or during the day when you need patience or when life is chaotic. Another important aspect is reading your Bible. Try to carve out time every day to read your Bible. Even just one chapter a day will help you connect with God. It also helps me to put myself in the right frame of mind.
The more you turn to God, the more you will see holiness happening in your own life. God desires a closer, more intimate relationship with you. God wants you to be holy, just as God is Holy. I believe God will meet you if you give him the time.
That is the first point. God is holy. God desires us to be holy like him.
I am avid reader of the Cape Cod Times. In the past two weeks, there have been at least two articles in the paper about the rudeness of people on the Cape this summer. Every person knows how short staffed all business are. You can walk around and see “Help Wanted” signs outside of grocery stores, restaurants, and other businesses, and each of us has probably experienced much longer wait times.
Many of you are familiar with the Dennis Village Mercantile. On the front door, the sign says, , “Mask optional. Kindness required.” This store makes and sells sandwiches, among many other things. Last week, a man ordered a sandwich. The customer became so irate at the staff that his sandwich was taking so long that he started yelling and cursing at two employees and then reached for the tip jar and took some of the money before walking out. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. At a Brewster restaurant, the customers were so rude to the staff that the owner decided to shut down his business for the day. The Cape Cod Times published an article about that experience. I share this with you to illustrate that people are increasingly showing lack of love and patience to each other across the Cape this summer.
I find it interesting as we read Leviticus 19: 3-18, God gives the Israelites a list of laws on how to treat people because God cares a lot about how we treat people. God wants us to treat people with love, care, respect, and compassion. God says, do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive one another, and do not go about spreading slander among your people. God also cares for the poor and outcasts of society. I believe that God wants us to care for these people as well. Why do you think God gave these laws to the Israelites?
I want to read Leviticus 19:18 which gets to the heart of God’s laws and commandments: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
God cares very much about how we treat one another. God not only cares about our “vertical love” towards him; God also cares about our “horizontal love” towards our neighbors. Are we showing love to the people around us?
Point 2: God cares how we treat one another – We need to choose to love our neighbor.
The way we treat our neighbor is another form of holiness. How we treat people reflects our love of God. We are showing reverence to God when we treat our neighbor with love, respect, and care.
As Christians, we are called to be different than the rest of the world. Just as the Israelites were set apart to be an example to the rest of the world, as Christians, we are set apart to show God’s love towards the people we come across.
Over the past two weeks, the NBA Championship games have been on television. This year’s NBA championship was between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks, my team from Wisconsin. Many of you root for the Celtics; I root for the Bucks. In the finals, the team has to win the best of seven games. The Phoenix Suns won the first two games, and then the Milwaukee Bucks won the next four games to win the NBA Championship. People in Milwaukee were ecstatic! Being a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks, after the game you watch the post-game interviews of the players and coaches of the winning team, and they share what a great achievement it was. Then the coach of the Phoenix Suns, Monty Williams, came up and, fighting back tears, shared how difficult this loss was, and that his players and coaches gave everything they had.
It’s what the coach did next, after the game, that showed Monty Williams’ true character and how classy the coach is. Monty Williams is a strong Christian. In a move that sports commentators said they’d never seen before, Williams went into the opponent’s locker room to offer congratulations to the new champs. Monty Williams wanted to share with the Bucks’ players and coaches how great they were in the series and that they deserved to win. Monty said many nice things to many of the players. He took time to congratulate the other team personally. It surprised everyone. The reporters took notice and wrote about it. Many of them mentioned how the coach’s words and actions solidified his reputation as a class act. The reporters could see there was something different about Monty Williams.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. I firmly believe that God cares about how we treat the people around us: whether they are our family members, people we work with, teams we play against, and even the people living in our towns that we don’t even know. Let me ask a question: how are you doing at loving your neighbor?
I started the sermon out with telling you about my family all coming together. For one week, we chose to live at my parents’ house with twenty-four people and only two bathrooms and showers, and a lot of different personalities. It is a choice to show love. Not everything is perfect. You have lines to take a shower or even to go to the bathroom. You have kids waking up before 6:30 am playing with toys and the entire house can hear the noise. It can be difficult for kids and parents to hear stories about themselves, wishing those stories were not told again. Yet, God is calling us to show love towards the people in our family. When we show love and grace, God takes notice in these little things or big things. We are honoring God with our actions. We are exhibiting holiness in God’s eyes.
As many of you know, my daughter Rachel graduated from Nauset High School. As proud parents, we hung a banner of Rachel at the top of our driveway. One day, I came home from a church meeting at 8:30 pm, and there were some flowers for Rachel left on our step next to the front door. We wanted to know who sent Rachel flowers. We found out that they were from our next-door neighbors who were there for the week from Connecticut. The next day, I went over to the house and thanked them for sending my daughter flowers. I just could not believe a stranger would do that. The guy answered the door and said, “It’s not me you need to talk with but my wife.” His wife came to the door, and I thanked her. She said to me, “I just felt like I knew Rachel. All week, every day when I turned into and out of my driveway, I saw Rachel’s banner. By the end of the week, I just felt like I knew her. I know it must have been a tough year for her as a senior during the COVID pandemic. I wanted to do something special.” The woman went on and talked about how she met my wife and another daughter a few days earlier, and how helpful and nice my wife was to recommend Skaket Beach to watch the sunset. That evening, they saw the most beautiful sunset. Afterwards, they went to buy the flowers for Rachel. Honestly, I was blown away by the love. Having a person choose to show love to your child is so meaningful.
When I think about choosing to love, I thought about that woman who bought my daughter flowers which made my daughter’s and my day. This person really was a complete stranger who choose to show love by giving flowers: a small token, yet it was big deal to us. There are so many ways you can show love towards your neighbor. It is a choice to take a step and love your neighbor.
One last story about showing love towards your neighbors. Christy and I have neighbors that we would get together with quite a bit pre-COVID. During COVID, these get-togethers stopped. We texted them to keep our relationship going. As things began to open up, we would take walks with them to renew our relationship with them. They don’t go to church, and if you asked them, they are not sure about Christianity. Christy and I just continue to pray for this family. We continue to connect with them and show love. In a small way, I believe that we can represent Jesus to them. Maybe one day, God will open up their hearts to him. It might be God using us to do it.
God really cares about how we treat and show love towards our neighbors. It matters to God. It should matter to us as well. It’s a choice to love other people. God also calls us to love our neighbor. This “horizonal love” is important. As we love our neighbors and family members, we are actually showing love to God by our actions. God loves when we love our neighbor. Now image for a minute if each of us in this room took time this week and just made a choice to show some love to a neighbor. Image how different our community would become. Remember, that all starts with God. God loves each person here. It is out of the love that God gives us that we can love other people with joy.
Your challenge next week is simply this: choose to love God. Spend time with him in prayer, Bible reading, or watching Pastor Doug’s daily devotions on the website. Choose to love your neighbor by doing something nice for a neighbor. Show kindness and love to a person in your life this week.