With all this warm weather we’ve been having it’s time for that annual ritual known as spring cleaning. It’s time to get outside and work in the yard, clearing brush and winter debris, so that spring flowers have room to grow. It’s time to sweep off our porches and driveways and take a close look at the exterior of our homes in case any maintenance needs to be done as spring approaches. It’s time to sort through our closets and find all those items we haven’t used in a long time then make decisions as to whether we keep them, throw them in the trash or save them for this year’s church yard sale in April!
It’s time to try on those spring clothes and see if we can still fit into them. If so, we are left with a smile on our faces. If not, we either need to make a trip to the mall or to the gym! It’s time to vacuum out our cars, wash the windows of our homes, and a host of other tasks that fall under the heading of spring cleaning. Personally, I like to do all these things because when the world around me is organized and sorted I have the hope that I, too, can become more organized and sorted! Perhaps you have the same hope as I do. That’s what spring cleaning is all about!
Yet, in the midst of all this flurry of activity, I feel like something is missing. In the midst of cleaning, sorting, and organizing, there is one thing that seldom makes our list: We also need to do some spring cleaning on the inside as well. I’m not talking about the inside of our homes. I’m talking about a spring cleaning of our souls. This is a far more important task than any cleaning, sorting and organizing we may do in the world around us. Spring cleaning our souls, spending time with God, should be one of our greatest priorities in life. Yet it often gets little or no attention. Taking the time to look at ourselves honesty and begin the process of clearing the debris that clutters our hearts and minds is important to our growth as followers of Jesus.
Two of our lessons for today challenge us to begin this work by giving us an image of who we are created to be. Both 1 Corinthians 3 and Leviticus 19 reminds us that our bodies are the temples which God inhabits. “Don’t you know that you are God’s temple,” Paul tells us, and God’s Spirit lives in you? If someone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person, because God’s temple is holy, which is what you are.” [1 Cor 3:16-17]
Paul further suggests that the only solid foundation for this temple is Jesus. “I laid a foundation like a wise master builder according to God’s grace that was given to me, but someone else is building on top of it. Each person needs to pay attention to the way they build on it. No one can lay any other foundation besides the one that is already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” So Paul reminds us that we are God’s temple ehe place where the Holy Spirit dwells. This temple, like the houses we inhabit, needs some maintenance from time to time. We need to put as much effort into our spiritual houses as we do our earthly houses, perhaps even more!
Leviticus piggy backs on Paul’s image by reminding us “You must be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” [Lev 19:1] In case we fail to understand the kind of spring cleaning God wants us to do on the inside as well as on the outside, the priestly writer gives us a list of commandments that are quite familiar to us: “You must not steal nor deceive nor lie to each other. You must not swear falsely by my name… You must not oppress your neighbors or rob them. You must not act unjustly in a legal case…Do not go around slandering your people. Do not stand by while your neighbor’s blood is shed…You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart. You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people. You must love your neighbor as yourself. [Lev 19:9-18, selected verses]
The list is actually longer than this but I think we get the point. Both our first and second lessons are challenging us to do a little temple maintenance; to begin a process of spring cleaning our souls. This is vital, important and holy work.
The word “holy” in Hebrew is QADOSH [kaw-doshe’] It means to be “ceremonially or morally sacred”; “to be like God; a saint,” in its broadest sense. It also means to be a “sanctuary”, which further emphasizes the image of us as the sanctuary or temple where God dwells. The primitive root of this word, QADASH [kaw-dash’] means “to sanctify, to consecrate or to be made clean,” which adds to the image of us doing a spiritual house cleaning in order to become God’s holy people.
In the New Testament, the Greek word for “holy” is HAGIOS [hag’-ee-os] which means basically the same thing as its Old Testament expression. It can be translated as “sacred, physically pure, morally blameless, a saint.” Taken together, these two readings remind us that we are temple where God dwells; and as such there is a need for us to become holy, to do some spring cleaning in our hearts and souls, so that we can be fit places for God to dwell.
So far the spring cleaning list is not too bad. The list in Leviticus encompasses many of the Ten Commandments, plus a number of others that are not a part of our reading today. The ones that are the hardest to follow on this list are probably “You must not hate your fellow Israelite in your heart.” And “You must not take revenge nor hold a grudge against any of your people.” These two commands are going to take some hard work and deep cleaning on or part. Yet they seem somewhat doable.
The greatest challenge in our readings for today arises when we turn to Jesus, who is the spiritual foundation of our temple. He suggests the following as part of our spring cleaning regimen: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” A little later in the text he suggests: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
As my Latino friends might say “Dios mio!” or “Ay Chihuahua!” That’s some deep cleaning! Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Be perfect. These seem like impossible tasks. The Old Testament list was fine but Jesus’ list is something altogether different. What is he asking of us? What kind of spring cleaning does he want us to do in our lives?
Well, this is one of those times when looking at other English translations is helpful in order to flesh out the full meaning of the text. First, let us look at “Love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Good As New says “Love your enemies and ask God to help those you feel to be against you. Then you will bear a family likeness to the Loving God.” This translation seems to suggest that sometimes it’s our own imagination that gets our of control. Those whom we label as our “enemies” and “persecutors” may not, in reality, be our enemies and persecutors at all. We may “feel” they are against us. But we might have more in common with them than we realize. Jesus challenges us to do some deep spring cleaning here; to look at our feelings, our wild imagination, our prejudices and our need to judge and label others. It’s only when we can get rid of some of this useless junk that we can more fully love our neighbor. Let the spring cleaning begin!
Furthermore, The Cotton Patch Gospel also sheds some interesting light on this commandment: “Love the outsiders and pray for those who try to do you in, so that you might be sons and daughters of your spiritual Father.” Love the outsiders…now that’s a tough one. It speaks to our need to always have an enemy we can blame the woes of the world on, rather than look at ourselves and how we contribute to the problem. If we can love those we label as “outsiders” we unleash a power to transform the world. Martin Luther King Jr states it best when he said “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
This is the kind of deep spiritual work Jesus challenges us to do. It’s no easy task. It is the greatest challenge we will ever undertake in our life time. “Loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us” may well be the toughest commandments Jesus ever gave us, but it is the kind of spring cleaning we are called to undertake, nonetheless.
Moving on to the second chore on Jesus’ list, we have “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” I don’t know about you but that’s it for me! I’m putting down my Swiffer mop and Pledge dusting spray. There is no way I can accomplish this task. I have a suspicion that you probably feel the same way, too. Lutherans believe that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. There is no way we can be perfect, in the same way that God is perfect. There is no way we can be holy, in the same way that God is holy.
This is another case where a little knowledge of Greek and a few creative English translations comes in handy. The word “perfect” in Greek is TELEIOS. It means to be “complete in mental and moral character, to be whole, full-grown, mature.” I find this unpacking of the Greek word for “perfect” to be very helpful. It reminds us that our quest to be holy or perfect does not have an end point. It is a process, just like cleaning our houses is a process. It’s not something we can do once and forget about it. It’s something we need to keep doing again and again and again.
Our hearts and minds accumulate a LOT of junk. The theological word for this is “sin” but for the sake of the analogy we’ll call it junk today! Our hearts and minds accumulate a LOT of junk. Jesus is calling us to undertake a perpetual process of spring cleaning. With the help of the Holy Spirit we can begin to remove the dust and clutter from our lives that prevents us from being the whole people God desires us to be. We will never be “perfect” as the NRSV suggests. However, we can become whole, full-grown and mature if we make the conscious effort to follow Jesus and allow him to remove the spiritual junk that clutters our lives.
If we need a little more guidance with this task on Jesus’ spring cleaning list, let me offer a few wonderful English translations that I think bring out the full meaning of the word “perfect.” The Cotton Patch Gospel says “You all must be mature, as your spiritual Father is mature.” The Message says “Live generously and graciously towards others, the way God lives toward you.” Good as New says “God’s love includes everybody. You should do the same.” The New English Bible says “There must be no limit to your goodness, as your heavenly Father’s goodness knows no bounds.”
Friends in Christ, let us walk deeply with our readings for this week. Let us commit ourselves to walking closely with Jesus, taking the time to do some spring cleaning in our hearts and our in minds. This is important and holy work. We must do it so that we can become the holy and whole people God desires us to be. What are we waiting for It’s time for a little spring cleaning! Amen.
Copyright ©2017 by David Eck