A sermon for Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

 Please listen to the beginning of 3 minutes and 44 seconds. [count to 30 seconds] Your ears are fine.

The speaker on my tablet is fine. John Cage’s composition is written for any instrument, or group of instruments, not to be played. Cage believed any sound is music. Since we are enveloped by sound all the time, we are surrounded by music all the time. Much of ambient sound/music that surrounds us we unconsciously block out unless forced to hear. I learned about Cage and 3 Minutes and 44 Seconds in an interview by Terry Gross of Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer. [i] Cox also mentions that when we really are in absolute silence, we can hear our brain working, perhaps trying to hear. Interesting.  Among the other intriguing things I heard, was the sound of a starter’s pistol fired in a huge WWII era oil storage tank. The loud BANG echoed for 30 seconds. Next was the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reverberations; it sounds like [quite] “putt”. The contrast in sounds demonstrates how context changes how we hear. It gets better. There are such things as whispering galleries; in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, you can whisper into the wall, the sound travels around the dome and your friend on the other side can hear the wall whisper to them. Cox went on; most cathedrals are built like reverberating caverns, sound echoes a lot; therefore most people tend to speak quietly; which he believes contributes to our sense of reverence when we are in cathedrals. [ii] Once again, interesting.

It is Cox’s observation about cathedrals that got my attention; because cathedrals are like Temples, and Paul writes to the church in Corinth that they are God’s temple that God’s Spirit dwells in them. The connection goes: cathedrals affect how people perceive sound in them; cathedrals are like temples, we are temples, how do we affect how people perceive God’s Spirit in us? When God whispers to us, do those on the other side hear God’s voice? When we speak, or act, or fail to speak out or act, do people see, or hear, or not, God’s voice, God’s presence? Are we a reverberating cavern? a whispering wall? or an anechoic chamber?

Although differing in specifics, in concept this is a very old question. You may know Leviticus is cited in arguments about sexuality. You may not know much more, and it doesn’t help that this is the only time we read from Leviticus in our 3 year Lectionary cycle. So, briefly, Leviticus describes worship, records the founding history of Priests, and defines ordinances and sacrifices about maintaining and restoring purity. [iii] In short Leviticus attempts to teach people to affect the way others perceive God’s presence. Or as Scott Hoezee puts it:

If God lives at the center of your life, what difference does that make? What does God’s presence affect?

His answer: from Leviticus is everything! [iv] We do believe God is present in us, why else are we here? In Genesis, scripture also tells us God is present to everyone. [v] Leviticus reminds us … that simply affects everything, starting with the dignity of every person we meet and our solemn privilege as God’s children to affirm that dignity in all we do. [vi]

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues its similar message. This morning we heard the last two of Jesus’ thesis-antithesis arguments. He tells us to love our enemies, after all God’s causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil on the righteous and unrighteous; God makes no distinction, neither should we. Jesus also says we are to be perfect like God is perfect. That’s a bit much, especially for me; so I was glad to read ‘perfect’ from teleos refers to something that has grownup, that is mature, is ripe. [vii] [viii] We are to have fully mature relationships with each other, making no distinction between ourselves or others.

You may agree with all this and still wonder what the real world applications are. Friday’s New York Times columnist David Brook’s opinion column was on Arthur Brooks. [ix] A. Brooks is a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, probably the most important think tank on the American right. [x] D. Brooks hooked me with [He is an] … ardent defender[s] of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

I’m deducing that A. Brooks would agree with using the teachings of Leviticus and Matthew, of all scripture, as morals terms from which public policy is developed. I’ve said it before and it bears saying again, our Constitution bars the state from establishing a church, it does not bar people from using scriptural morality as grounds for decision and policy making.

Let’s apply all this to Arkansas. If you’ve been reading the papers you will know the Arkansas Legislature has been debating whether or not to continue funding the Public Option Insurance plan they adopted last year. According to Leviticus, Matthew, Jesus and A. Brooks, this is not a debate based on polls; it is not an economic question, though it has economic components, it is not an issue of political ideology, big government or little government, it is a temple question, how does this decision as silence, whisper or echo reflect the presence of God we know to dwell in us? And just to fill out the scriptural influence, in Romans [xi] Paul writes governments are established by God, whether they know it or not, for the benefit of God’s people. As to the argument that the public sector can and should address such social problems, A. Brooks notes:

… if you took the entire $40 billion that Americans donate to human service organizations annually, it would be enough money to give each person who receives federal food assistance only $847 per year. [xii]

It doesn’t take much math to figure out, that will not get the job done.

I do not know what the political, economic and actuarial answer to providing health care for all Arkansans is. I do know God does not make any distinctions between us, and neither should we. I do know that as the temple of God it is our calling as a whispering wall or echoing chasm, to demand our leaders make public policy from the mature moral ground revealed to us in Leviticus, Mathew and Paul. If we don’t, our presence is silent, ‘putt’ if we do, it will echo through all the nations.


[i] Terry Gross,  npr.org http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/one-mans-quest-to-find-the-sonic-wonders-of-the-world, Fresh Air, One Man’s Quest To Find The ‘Sonic Wonders Of The World’
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew George Easton, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iv] Scott Hoezee,  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Genesis 1:27
[vi] Hoezee, ibid
[vii] Hoezee, Matthew 5:38-48, ibid
[viii] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org – Craft of Preaching, The Revolution Starts Here, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
[ix] David Brooks, Capitalism for the Masses, New York Times, 2/21/2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
[x] ibid
[xi] Romans 13: ff
[xii] D. Brooks, ibid


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