Numbers 5:1-10 February 25, 2018
When we read the Bible where we start often determines where we end up. For instance, if we read with the belief that God is an angry God, especially in the Old Testament, we will find an angry God. When I read the Bible, I read from the perspective of God’s great love. The lens through which I interpret scripture includes such scriptures as: 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” ; John 3:16-17, “‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”; 2 Peter 3:9, “ The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. “; and especially Matthew 22:37-39 ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” This is particularly important to know when reading this week’s text because the text could lead to an interpretation of exclusion. By reading through the lens of God’s love, I believe the text tells another story as well.
In the first part of this text, God told Moses to put people with the skin disease Leprosy, with bodily discharges, and those who had had contact with dead bodies outside the camp. There was a practical health related reason for this. These people could be contagious. If they remained inside the camp, they could infect the whole camp. But there was another, spiritual, reason. God intended to live among the Israelites and nothing unclean was allowed to live where God lived. Only the most holy people were allowed to enter into the presence of God.
This could be interpreted as a reason to exclude certain people who we call sinners from the church, or from the community of believers. But by that standard, we should all be excluded from the church since none of us is perfect. Not one of us is worthy to enter into God’s presence. We may not have visible discharges or diseases, but what about our spiritual discharges? Have you read posts on social media lately? On social media we tend to hide behind our anonymity and we speak our hearts. Unfortunately, when we do reveal what it in our hearts, we find that we are far from healthy in our relationships with each other. I pray for the day that we can treat each other with true respect both in person and in their absence. When we are judged by the standard of our hearts, all of us should be outside the camp.
This is true except for one thing. As Christians we have not only found, but we have received the cure for our disease. Jesus is the cure. He is both our sacrificial lamb who paid the price for our disobedience and our scapegoat who removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. Even though we belong outside God’s Kingdom, by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have been invited back in.
So why do we treat each other so poorly? Why do we still sin against each other once we have been saved? The answer is that we are healed by Christ, but we are still being rehabilitated by God. Once we accept God’s gift of justifying grace offered through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we continue to walk in God’s sanctifying grace and with the help of the Holy Spirit we continue to grow more in love with God and to grow more into the people that God has always intended for us to be. When we become Christians saved by grace, we are not perfect people, but every day we walk with God, we are becoming perfect with the help of God. Christ is the cure for our sin; the Holy Spirit is our rehabilitation, our “spiritual therapy.”
The prescription God gives us for a healthy society is love. Christ tells us to love God and to love each other. These two laws are like two sides of the same coin. We can’t do one without doing the other as well. When we are saved by Christ, we begin to learn what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we discover that one aspect of loving God is loving our neighbor. And when we love our neighbor the way God loves our neighbor, we learn how to love God with more strength.
After all, as a people who have received the cure for our disease of sin, why would we not want to share that same cure with others? Loving God and loving each other is the first step in making disciples. Loving our neighbor means building relationships, strengthening relationships, and restoring broken relationships. Once again, God gives us instructions. When we wrong another we need to confess our guilt and ask forgiveness and make things more than right by adding to the restitution we pay. This is easy when the loss suffered by our neighbor is physical, but how do we make restitution for spiritual wrongs? I’m not sure I know the answer to that except to say that we need to continue to share our love with the same extravagance that God loves us. When we love them, we build our relationship with our neighbors and we help them restore their relationship with God. To love like God loves, we put their actions and their beliefs aside, we ignore differences in theology, and we just love.
That’s the whole solution: Love God by accepting God’s grace and love our neighbors. When we do this we spread the Gospel through our words and our actions. Our need now is not changed laws or changed procedures even though they might help in the short term. The only way we can change our society is to change hearts. And only God can change people’s hearts. Amen.