The Lord spoke to Moses, saying:
Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
You shall not render an unjust judgement; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.
You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 9:1-2, 15-18)
What does it mean for us to be a holy people? For the author of Leviticus and for John Wesley it seems that the answer begins the same way – “do no harm.” Note that in today’s passage our holiness is measured as much by what we do not do as what we do. Do not judge injudiciously, do not show partiality or preferential treatment, don’t slander or gossip, and don’t take advantage of people. Don’t hate your kin (blood or spiritual), don’t ignore opportunities to care for the needs of your neighbors, and don’t take vengeance or hold a grudge. Basically, once you stop doing harm to your friends and family, all that is left is to treat them as you would like to be treated. Simple, huh?
And yet, and yet, we struggle mightily not to judge, not to gossip, not to harm, not to mistreat. Even when we don’t act on our negative feelings, the negative feelings are often there. We may want others to forgive us a multitude of sins, but we can’t find enough grace to forgive even the tiniest slight.
This is why we need a Savior. In our limited humanness we find all kinds of reasons to find fault, to condemn, to ridicule, and to dismiss. By our faith, we seek to be better tomorrow than we are today. We work to open ourselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We ask God to work the hardness of the soil of our hearts, removing the rocks and roots, preparing us to receive the seeds of the fruit of God’s Spirit. When we strive together in Christian community we find that our humanness is infused with holiness, and the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control blossom in our lives and in our relationships. We are made new people in the likeness and unconditional love of Jesus Christ. We cease from judging and celebrate our siblings. We speak of other’s gifts and graces instead of flaws and faults. We treat all people of all cultures, colors, creeds, classes, and confessions equally with respect and dignity. Indeed, we begin to treat each other the way we would treat Jesus the Christ himself.
Holiness is not some impossible dream or unobtainable hope; it is God’s will for our lives individually and together. As God produces rich and abundant fruit of the Spirit in our lives and in our faith communities, we fulfill John Wesley’s vision of spreading scriptural holiness across the land to transform this world into the very kingdom/kin*dom of God.
Loving God, destroy every vestige of harm and judgment in our hearts and minds that we might become agents of your loving grace. Help us to celebrate what is right with each other instead of being focused on all that is wrong. Allow us to view one another through your eyes, that what we might see in each other is the very face of the Christ. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).