A Visit to The Grocery Store
It seems to happen every time I go to the grocery store. I'm heading to the checkout line with my hamburger, bell peppers, cereal, butter pecan ice cream, and dog food. I'm minding my own business when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a very scantily clad, beautiful woman. With all the forethought of Pavlov's dog, my head quickly jerks to the right to discover...the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. Many other models, male and female, join her in gracing the covers of a variety of magazines. It's a veritable bevy of beauties.
I can't help but to look and admire. Can you?
Many years ago, I asked a member of my congregation if she would be interested in joining a Bible study that would explore human sexuality. At 79, Margaret Jean was incredibly open-minded, but she shook her head and said, "No. Oh no. All we ever hear about is sex!"
She was right, of course. We absorb images of sexuality as often as we breathe oxygen.
Have You Read Leviticus Lately?
If you are not convinced, check out the 18th and 20th chapters of the book of Leviticus. We seldom read Leviticus, and the few times it is ever quoted, it is taken out of context to condemn our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
But chapters 18 and 20 are rife with references to sexual activity. In chapter 18 we read one prohibition after another. "Do not uncover the nakedness of your father. Do not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife. Do not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister."
Can someone explain to me why the Bible is not rated NC-17?
In chapter 20 we hear about the penalties for breaking these rules. It involves a lot of blood and death. It's ugly, but once we start reading, it's hard to stop.
Sex sells, the old adage goes, and this wisdom was not lost upon the Biblical writers. They draw our attention to chapters 18 and 20. Chapters 18 and 20. Chapters 18 and 20.
If we keep reading them, we can't help but to eventually read chapter 19. Chapters 18 and 20 are bookends. They are spotlights that point us to what it is actually important.
And so, we read in Leviticus 19:2, "You shall be holy." That's the key! Leviticus shapes us as a holy people, a people set apart, a strange and peculiar and eccentric people.
What does it mean to be holy as God is holy? It means that when we reap the harvest of the land, we leave some grain behind for those who are poor. (19:9). It means that we do not steal or lie (19:11). It means that we will take care of the deaf and the blind (19:14).
Do you know what it really means to be holy? In the middle of chapter 19 we read that we shall love our neighbor as we love ourselves (v.18).
"Jesus," a religious scholar once asked, "What is the greatest commandment in the law?" Jesus replied, "Love God, and a second is like it, love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Matthew 22:39)."
A Time of Confusion
We live in an era of incredible sexual confusion. Tension, suspicion, and, even, hostility run high in this frenzied environment.
In the midst of all this, the Bible does not call us to be self-righteous or holier than thou. It does not call us to cast aspersions of the character of our brothers and sisters. It does not call us to withdraw our business from companies that respect the humanity of the LGBTQ community. And, it certainly doesn't call us to stage protests at the funerals of our fallen men and women in uniform.
Here in Leviticus, here nestled in the center of riveting material about sexual conduct, we find our true calling. We are a holy people, and because we worship a holy God, we are called to love our neighbor as our self.
A Valuable Lesson Learned
Several years ago, my wife asked our nine-year-old son and me to work with her in our township's Litter Pick-Up Day. The idea was noble. Local residents would devote one Saturday morning to picking up trash alongside our roads.
I preferred to stay home and enjoy an extra hour or two of sleep. But she was persistent and persuasive. I sighed, "Yes, honey, if you really want to."
I really didn't.
We arrived at the township building late for the refreshments. All the cream-filled doughnuts had been devoured. That did not bode well.
The leader assigned us a stretch of highway. We donned our orange fluorescent vests, slipped on our work gloves, and grabbed four large black plastic bags. We drove to our area and got out of the car.
As we leaned over to pick up empty cigarette packs and crushed soda cans, cars raced by us at unbelievable speeds. I kept one eye on my son and the other on the road. The more litter we picked up, the more my temper flared.
"Wait a minute. This is your neighborhood. We're out here on a Saturday morning, and you don't even have the decency to slow down.
"Hey, you bunch of ingrates, this is your neighborhood!"
I, then, heard my wife say, "Honey, this piece is heavy, but I think we can lift it."
Lift it? It was difficult enough to walk around it without getting flattened by one of our appreciative fellow citizens.
It was the hood of a car! What was she talking about?
As I leaned over, I pictured its serrated, rusty edge slicing through my fingers.
It didn't. We laid it on the side of the road with a bag of Gatorade bottles and the remains of a Transformer.
"Daddy," my son said. "Why don't you hold the bag while I pick up the trash?"
My icy heart thawed a bit. That sounded like a good idea. I could focus on the traffic. Besides, I rationalized, he's closer to the ground.
By the time we got back to the car, I was still peeved at those stock-car wannabes. But I had to admit that the grass and budding trees did look more lush and alive.
We headed home with a feeling of accomplishment and, even, goodwill.
As we approached our subdivision, I noticed movement on the side of the road. A couple in their 70s ... were picking up trash and litter ... on the side of the road ... right behind my home.
"Yes, honey, if you really want to." I thought I was doing her a favor.
Instead, that day she taught me again what it means to be a neighbor, and she helped me to remember the true meaning of holiness.