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Sunday, October 23, 2011

For I Am Holy

We are created in God’s image – and the work of the Holy Spirit is to shape us into the template of love of God and love of neighbor, to make us holy as God is holy.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, Ordinary Time, Sunday 30, year A; texts: Matthew 22:34-46; Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Last week Jesus suggested to us the idea that we are God’s coin, minted with the image of God and inscribed with God’s name. Our call, then, is to be that coin, that image and name of God in the world. Today it seems as if we can take Jesus’ metaphor one step further and explore where I ended last week, that we are newly minted each day, re-made by the Holy Spirit to become what God intends for us in the world, to be the image and carry the name of God into the world.

In other words, I want to talk about templates today. A template is a model, a pattern, a shape by which other things like it are made. If you want to sew a dress and you’re not a designer, you will take a pattern, cut the shapes exactly the same, and sew it by the instructions. I built a pair of Adirondack chairs for Mary and me with the substantial help of a friend who has made dozens of them, and we used his templates to shape each piece of cedar wood so that the shapes were exactly the same as the original. We create templates of our worship services on the computer so that each week the basic shape is the same, and then we enter the weekly variables such as hymns and readings. And coins are minted from templates, from master molds which shape them to look the way they are meant to look.

The goal of a template, no matter what the craft, is to re-create the prior shape or pattern, to make something in the image of another thing, a thing that has been determined to be worth copying.

And this is how the Christian life is shaped. In Genesis we are told that we are created in God’s image. Throughout Scripture God works with humanity to encourage us to that image. God’s plan, fulfilled in Jesus, is to call us all back to the pattern, the template, and be shaped by it into the image of God. And in both the Old Testament, as we see in our reading today from Leviticus, and in the New, as we hear in Jesus’ affirmation today, this is the template of humanity God desires us to emulate: love of God with all our being, and love of neighbor as ourselves.

Now this is not a new thing to hear, certainly not in this place. But it is worth remembering that modeling our lives after this template is probably the most important thing Jesus would have us be and do. At the very least, he tells us that it is the sum of the entire law of God, the intention of God for our lives in the world God has made. It is not, however, what Christians often have claimed was most important.

Too often our focus as a Christian Church throughout the ages has only been on life after death.

The center of preaching, the reason for evangelism, the purpose of exhortation was to make people believe that in Jesus there is life in heaven after we die.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that proclamation – far from it. After Jesus’ resurrection it became clear to the early believers that something new had happened, that death itself was broken, defeated. It’s been the source of hope and joy for 2,000 years to believers. The problem is that ensuring we would live after our deaths wasn’t the main thing Jesus came to do.

What he came to do was re-establish God’s kingdom, God’s rule and reign. Part of that establishment was removing the absolute rule of death over the world. But we could imagine other ways God could have done this than living among us, dying, and rising.

If we look at the Scriptures the central thing for the Son of God in establishing his rule and reign was inviting humanity to live in that rule and reign. The story of God and humanity throughout Scripture is less about life after death than it is how we live in this world. From choosing a family to guide in Abraham and Sarah, to giving the Law to the descendants of that family, to sending prophets to call people back to God’s ways, the Scriptures consistently show God’s vision for our world and how humanity lives in it.

Whether we live as God has made us to live, caring for each other and for this world, loving God. Or live as we want to, living for ourselves alone.

So coming in person in Jesus of Nazareth was critical for the Son of God, because he was providing a template for life in the kingdom, a way to live. Something best done in person, by modeling and teaching and inviting. Jesus’ teachings predominantly are about that life, a life that we have now, not about the life in the world to come. And God’s concern for the future of this world is centered on how the world is now, how people are cared for, how the creation is sustained, whether people have enough food, and are safe, and are loved.

And when you think about it, that makes sense. We have the promise of that future life, no question. But the only life we can live now is this one, here and now.

Today we hear almighty God call us to this life: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”

That is the source of our template – the true and living God is holy, set apart in love and justice, and we are made in the image of the true and living God. So we also are to be holy. Not in a sense that we’re filled up with who we are and compare ourselves to others. But in the sense that we know whose we are, and that we have been called to be what we were made to be.

We are called to shape our lives by this template. And that’s how these two directives of love of God and love of neighbor work in our hearts and lives. Just as a pattern or template is used in any other field, so are these two to be used. So when we are at home, or away, when we rise, or when we lie down, as the well-known passage from Deuteronomy 6 says, these words are laid against our hearts, shaping them, patterning them, molding them to fit the image of God. It’s a beautiful thing to consider: by love of God and love of neighbor we will become new people. And that was and is the goal of Jesus all along.

So consider what that means for us.

What if everything we did and thought we held to this standard, God’s standard, instead of our own?

What if we no longer did things just because “that’s the way I do them” but because they better fit God’s template, God’s pattern?

What if we made choices based not on “what’s in it for me” or “how can I profit from this” but based on “what is most loving to God and neighbor”?

What if every morning and every night we prayed that our hearts be shaped and molded by the Holy Spirit into hearts which loved God completely and loved our neighbors – as Jesus defined neighbors, which is everyone?

What if we truly realized that the goal of this love, the end of this love might even lead to loss and death, that there is no limit to God’s love for us which led to Jesus’ willingness to suffer on the cross and die, and that we are called to the same limitless, sacrificial love in our lives?

Can you see why Jesus thought this was so important?

It’s time we made Jesus’ concerns and central hopes for us our own.

God’s need for us is this: that we begin to live as we were created to live. “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” That we begin to be molded and modeled by this template of divine love, both in our love for God and our love for neighbor.

And remember, it is the artist, the craft-worker who uses the template on the medium. In other words, it isn’t we who make ourselves like God in our love – it is God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, who shapes our hearts into God’s image. King David once prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” He believed that God was the source of our life and the one who could remake us to be more like God, shape us into the template of love of God and neighbor which God intends for all of the people of the world.

Because there will be shaping involved, trimming, molding – we aren’t yet what we’re meant to be. This is the place of forgiveness – our brokenness is restored, our sins are forgiven, so that we more and more match the pattern. And it’s why we gather here to worship each week, to be fed at Jesus’ table of grace and to be fed by God’s Word of life, and filled with the Spirit to become new people.

So let us pray that this be so among us.

As our hearts are molded and shaped to this template of divine love, let us pray that we not only live in God’s rule, God’s kingdom, which was Jesus’ fervent hope and prayer. Let us pray that we also become signs to others of God’s gracious rule, of God’s love for the world. We become witnesses, the natural outcome of our transformation, the desired result of all discipleship, so that others, too, can come to know God’s love and learn the joy of being shaped into children of God’s gracious love themselves.

God bless us and re-make us, and keep these words in our hearts always until we become the people we were meant to be.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

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