They look like ants! I heard a little child exclaim looking down on them from high above.
Living in St Louis with my family while attending the Seminary we had plenty of opportunities to travel up the St Louis Arch with family and friends visiting the city. The ride up is an experience itself when you enter into this ball-bearing looking elevator that pulls you all the way inside the arch to the top. At the top there are all of these slits of windows on ledges that you can lay on and look down at the ground far below. From that vantage point the cars look like matchbox toy cars and the people look like overgrown ants scurrying all around on the sidewalk and the lawn.
But we don’t need a national monument to look down upon people from our high places. Every time we talk about people as a category instead of as individuals. Whether we say it as those blacks, those gays, those whites, those muslims, those christians or any other category, it is sitting in a high place above that category and making a judgement upon all that reside in that category but not knowing what or who they are individually as actual human beings, with hearts and lives and families and emotions, as adults who once were children. All people who are objects of God’s love. How we use our words matters.
Or when you isolate yourself from the everyday real life, not just moments but the day in and day out of having to deal with, care for and negotiate with the feelings and life of the real people in your life. Coming from a reader I know that I can isolate myself in a book where the relationships are “safe” and I close the cover on them when I’m done, to isolating ourselves with our electronic screens. (Hey, do you want to come over so we can ignore each other and look at our screens?!) To traveling all the time and working all the time, all of our ways of separating ourselves from the reality of the people around us, especially the people who should matter most. Then their hurts and needs aren’t as real or as important as what I’m experiencing on the screen. Even these can become high places above others even when I’m holding it in my hand.
Is it any surprise then that the high place where the gunman took the lives of Dallas police officers and injured many others this week came near the same high place where another gunman took the life of President Kennedy. I had the opportunity this year to visit the place where the gunman fired on the motorcade that held JFK and his wife. Looking down from that window people begin to look small and far away, distant from yourself and your verdicts upon their life. Just like those officers must have looked from the view of that gunman in Dallas.
Is it any surprise then that it is exactly these high places that our Lord God throughout human history has repeatedly condemned. Whether it be the high place of the Tower of Babel when the powerful decided to build a temple to their own glory upon the backs and the blood of others so they could look down upon people or the High Places that were ancient cultic worship sites built on hills high above other people worshipping demons and false gods; all of these high places were condemned by God.
Even in our reading today from Leviticus and our Gospel reading God condemns living in the high places. From the story of the Good Samaritan when Jesus condemns those that looked down upon the man set upon by robbers, making their lives higher and more important than that injured person down on the ground and in the Old Testament reading from Leviticus which gives clear instructions from God for living as God’s people, not in high places.
Go over to BibleGateway and read for yourself Leviticus 19:9-18 and see what God has to say about how we should live.
Vss. 9-10, these instructions call God’s people not to live above the poor and the stranger in their midst but to provide hospitality, care and concern for their needs.
Vss. 11-13 are instructions of our own thoughts and actions that can be hidden from and even justified by other people by not in the eyes of God.
Vss. 14-18 To not take advantage of the vulnerable who are because of poverty, illness or disability different from you and not able to do as much for themselves or to think of them as less than you are. Or to place yourself so high that you lie and swear falsely and treat those that are considered high in this world as special and kick down those that are considered low.
The whole sum of these commandments from God is summed up in the words that Jesus taught us as well, when He said this is the whole command of God, “Love God with all you are and love your neighbor as yourself.”
The great reason behind this command to step down from the High Places is the refrains, “I am the Lord Your God.” These are and we are God’s people, delivered from the bondage of High Places which is only another word for sinful pride, making ourselves to be greater than others. Because pride always cometh before a fall, the greater the high place we are standing on the greater the fall, even falling to eternal damnation by our own hands. God delivers His people in faith away from these high places that lead to an eternal fall and teaches his people that they are His and because they are His we are to be as He is.
Because God is not known in the High Places but is chiefly known in the dirty, lowly, hard work of redemption. To the ancient Israelites God was chiefly known as their redeemer, who brought them out of slavery in Egypt, led them through the desert and to the promised land, God not in the high places but in their midst. We chiefly know God as well not in the high places but in the lowliness of Jesus Christ who came fully into the deepest depth of our own human depravity, even to the lowest death upon a cross to save us from our own sinful pride that leads us way to high.
Because God is chiefly known in the dirt, in the low places, with the broken hearted, in the Redeeming works of salvation that are with and among the people, always. Then as God’s people, it is not for us to be known in the high places either but to be as our God is, in the low places with our Lord among the people.
We do this well by:
1.being upon our knees among others who are upon their knees in worship. When you are on your knees you can’t look over and above the people around you because you are all on your knees together in our shared state of need and brokenness before God.
2. by following God’s commands, living as Christians who are not above others but in the midst of the people, all of whom, each and every one, every category that we use, are all objects of God’s love, not objects of our hate or our prejudice.
3. We do this well by knowing people by name, taking the time in Godly, Christian love, to listen to their stores, spend time with them, especially those that come from categories different from you, know them by name just as your God knows them and us by name.