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Delivered By
Rev Jonathan Gruen
Delivered On
July 14, 2019
Central Passage
Leviticus 19:9-18
Description

Rev. Jonathan Gruen July 14, 2019

Leviticus 19:9-18

 

Love Them First

 

A young husband comes home from work, and his wife has a surprise for him, a tiny little gift bag. He hardly gets in the door and she is begging him, “Open it, open it.” He pulls out the tissue paper and looks down into the bag. It’s a pregnancy test. He doesn’t know how to read it, but he doesn’t have to. It’s obvious the test is positive. They embrace and are filled with joy.

 

Immediately they start planning doctor visits so that she and the baby can have the best care. They start picking out names. They talk to the baby sweetly, sing lullabies, and say “I can’t wait to meet you.” They start buying all the items: the car seat, the crib, the swing, the glider, and on and on until they are amazed at how much equipment they need for a baby. They get the nursery set up.

 

And when that baby is born it is the best and most exhausting and emotional day of their lives. They love that baby forever, and there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for that child. Night and day that helpless little infant is cared for, fed, burped, rocked, diapered, bathed, dressed, swaddled, held, and loved.

 

And let me ask you—can that little newborn do anything to return love to the parents? (The keyword there is ‘do.’ Can the newborn do anything to return love?). No, not at first. The baby may feel feelings, but it can’t say “thank you” or “I love you,” can’t pick dandelions and say “mommy here’s a flower for you,” can’t make daddy a birthday card, can’t do anything like that. Not yet. The baby doesn’t know how to do that, and wouldn’t be able to physically carry any of it out anyway. The baby must grow and mature and develop and be taught how to love. But that doesn’t bother the parents, because even before the child was born, the parents loved first.

 

I started with the story of the parents and the baby because it is an illustration of God’s own love for a world incapable of love.

 

You see, since mankind’s fall into sin and brokenness and suffering and death, we humans are by nature unable to love God and our neighbors. It’s impossible for us. We don’t know how, and even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to physically carry it out. Oh, we can have transactional relationships: “You do this for me and I’ll do this for you.” And because God’s law is written on the hearts of mankind—we call it the conscience—we have some sense of right and wrong. But real love, true love, unconditional, sacrificial love does not exist in mankind except for where God intervenes.

 

That’s why our world is such a mess. That’s why we are such a mess, yes even you and me. Because of Jesus, we are different from the rest of the world, praise God. We are learning how to love. But we are only still learning, and we have to constantly combat our natural evil tendencies and all the temptations of the devil. Do you think you’re not struggling to love? Well, then why are you holding onto that grudge? Why is it hard to forgive and let go of the hurt? Why are you so afraid of other humans and their sinful actions? Why can’t you reach out to that estranged family member? Why is it so hard to work things out with your friend? Imagine a household where no one screamed or slammed the door. Imagine a church where no one grumbled or complained about another. Imagine a neighborhood where there was no vandalism, no theft, no lawsuits. It seems impossible.

 

So we find we often need to confess: Lord, I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself; forgive me. Lord, I don’t know how to love my neighbor; teach me. Lord, I want to love my neighbor; strengthen me.

 

Now, God didn’t wait for our love before he loved us. No, he loved first. We are told in 1 John chapter 4: “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:9-10, 19,).

 

Like parents love a helpless little baby, even before it is born, God loved us first, and loved us unconditionally. And Jesus gave freely of himself in order to buy us back from sin, death, and Satan. Think of what it cost Jesus! And think of what we gain! A great exchange took place! He gave his life to save ours. He gave his righteousness as a trade for our sin. He suffered hell to give us heaven. By his wounds we are healed. Just as the Good Samaritan’s act of mercy cost him time, effort, and money, Jesus’ act of mercy to save us cost him dearly. And we are healed. What great love!

 

Jesus’ love then actually changes us and enables us to love others too. His Holy Spirit will empower us to do it, and his Word will teach us how. Instructions for loving neighbors are found not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament, in the covenant God made with his people. It shouldn’t be a surprise that our God of love has consistently taught his people throughout history how to love.

 

Let’s take a brief look at our Old Testament reading from Leviticus 19. It will help us with some practical application. Let’s start at verses 9 and 10: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”

 

God’s people are told to leave some of the harvest for not only the poor of their own people, but also for the foreigners. Caring for the helpless in our society isn’t just a job for the government. In fact, I think good neighbors do a better job than the government. A Christian church and Christian neighbors ought to be working hard to care for people in the community. Are we looking for them? Are we caring for them? And who is it that needs care? How about the poor, the sick, the lowly, the unborn and their mothers, immigrants, any with disabilities, and more.

 

Now, I don’t have any fields to harvest, do you? No, but we can make donations of food or money to help people in need. Other problems are a little harder to solve. Take immigration, for example, since the text mentions foreigners. Right now our earthly authorities are arguing and fighting over immigration: who to let in, how many to let in, how to keep the bad ones out, how to make sure they aren’t terrorists or human traffikers or drug lords, how to help the ones who need help, what that process should be, how long it should take, and how will all this get paid for. There isn’t an easy answer.

 

And where does that leave us? We are often caught in the middle of the arguing. We Christians don't always agree. So we Christians have to be loving to one another even if we don’t agree, especially if we don’t agree with one another. We must listen to one another and respect one another. We must recognize that complex problems need complex conversations. Let’s not follow the example of news media or social media and reduce everything to polarized soundbite arguments. We can rise above that.

 

And this much is clear, regardless of what earthly authorities do about things like the border, if you have immigrant neighbors, we should recognize them as a valuable human beings, loved by God, and care about them. And if they are in need, care for them, doing what is in our power to do.

 

God’s word makes it clear that we should care about all people, especially those most vulnerable and the suffering. If we can’t fix the government, and if we can’t even agree on how to fix the nation, then let’s love one another, hold onto the truth of God’s Word, and be good neighbors. I would argue that’s the highest thing, and really the only thing, that has made our nation great anyway.

 

Jesus told his parable of the Good Samaritan because the expert of the law wanted a narrow definition of who qualifies as a neighbor. But Jesus drives home the point: be a neighbor. It doesn’t matter who they are. Be a neighbor.

 

At the end of Lev. 19:10, the reason given for why God’s people should be kind to the poor and the foreigners is this: “I am Yahweh your God.” Because of who God is, a covenant God who loves his people and keeps his promises and wants to bless the entire earth through Israel, that is, through the Messiah who would come from Israel—because of who Yahweh is, therefore we are to love other people. That reasoning is repeated in the next verses…

 

Let’s look at verses 11-12: “You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD.” These commands are plain and straightforward. You don’t love your neighbor if you take their stuff. You don’t love God if you misuse his name. You don’t love your neighbor or God if you lie in God’s name to your neighbor. But God has to give humanity this command because stealing and lying come so naturally to us. You don’t have to teach it to little kids. And when humans are old, they are still learning honesty and contentment. Thanks be to God for full and free forgiveness in Jesus. By his power alone we can be grateful for what we have, and honest in all our words and actions.

 

The next verses are these (v. 13-14):“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired servant shall not remain with you all night until the morning. You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.” Again, because of who Yahweh is, we are who we are. We do not oppress or rob, that’s already been covered. The hired servants mentioned are the working poor, the day-laborers. They are picked up by an employer to do a job for a day, and at the end of the day, they should be paid. From this we conclude that God is commanding his people to have good and honest business practices. That’s, admittedly, hard for Christians who have to find their way through all the unethical practices of worldly companies and bosses. But God wants us to remain honest and fair in our business, and do good work for the good of society. I can think of no better example than my mechanic. He is overworked because he does good work, hard work, is fair, and honest. I am so thankful for him! He’s a Lutheran, by the way, and I assure you his solid Christian faith has everything to do with why he has more business than he can handle at times. Like my mechanic, be honest. Be fair. Do good work.

 

In these verses we are also forbidden from cursing the deaf or making the blind to stumble. In other words, it is not right for God’s people to take advantage, especially in a sneaky or secret way, of those less fortunate. But rather, these are people who should receive our kindness and mercy.

 

The next verses, v. 15-16, say this:“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD.” Again, because of who Yahweh is, we are who we are. We want justice and fairness in our nation, within our neighborhoods and families, and within ourselves. Insofar as we are responsible for or have influence on those who make, judge, or administer our laws, we do so for the sake of Godly justice. We advocate and vote, and if applicable, judge and rule so there is Godly justice in the land. And when it comes to our own attitude, we don’t favor the rich or the poor, but we regard each person, each human person as valuable. From the time of conception to the time God calls them out of the world, that person is valuable. God created that person. God sent his Son, Jesus, to die for that person. God desires that that person believe the Good News of Jesus by the power of His Spirit and be saved. If Yahweh loves that person so much, how can I as God’s own child notlove that person?

 

That leads us to the final verses of our text (v. 17-18). “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

 

Hate for your brother, sister, or neighbor will consume and destroy you. But if you love your neighbor as if he were yourself, then you both will be blessed. Think of it this way. You feed yourself. You quench your own thirst. You make sure you a dressed. You make sure you have a place to sleep at night. You care for yourself. Now care for your neighbors. Love them. Love them first. Before they can return the favor. Before they can appreciate it. Before they can say thanks. Before they’re even aware you are doing it. Before you get any good things in return. Love them first.

For this is how God first loved us. This is how God still loves us. This is how God loves all the people, even those who do not yet know or love Him. God loves them before they love him. So too we are to love them before they love God or love us in return. Love them first.

 

And God promises that he’ll give us the patience, the strength, the ability, and a heart like his, along with a whole lot of grace! Thank you, dear Jesus, for loving us first! Amen.