The following is a narrative sermon which borrows heavily for Salman Rushdie’s new novel, “Luka and the Fire of Life.” An excellent novel, and I highly recommend it. (newsflash: it is much better than my edited version of it below!)
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
There once was a young boy named Luka. He lived in a city with his brother, his mother, and his sister.
Luka loved his family with all his heart—his older brother, who was much older than he, and whom he looked up to. His dear mother, who loved him passionately and for whom his birth had been a miracle, and his father, who every day would fill his head and his dreams with stories, wild tales of a magical world where the evils of this world were no more, and the conventional rules did not apply. Luka would find himself wishing he could be in that place, find that world and live in it completely with his family by his side.
Perhaps he wished this because things weren’t so easy for Luka out in the world. Born 18 years after his older brother, Luka was a dreamer, and often he got in trouble for drifting off in class. And there was one more thing: he was left-handed. This may not seem so bad to you, but perhaps that is because you are right-handed, and so the world is made for you to be in it. Luka felt different, because the world didn’t operate in a left-handed way; everything was made for right-handed people, and things were often harder for him than they were for other people. His difference also made him a target for people who liked to push others around.
His mother told him: you are special. Your left-handedness is a gift, given for a reason.
His father would tell him that there was a special magical world, like and yet unlike our own, where everyone was left-handed, and it made him sigh to dream of such a place where he would feel normal.
Now one night, the family was gathered on the porch, watching the stars in the sky, when his father began to feel unwell. His went to bed early that night, and the next morning Luka’s father didn’t wake up. In fact, he slept for days, as if under a spell, and the family began to worry that something evil might be afoot.
Luka knew that something was wrong. Every day his father seemed weaker, his breath shallower, his pulse weaker. He realized that his father might not wake up, and he wanted with all his might to help his father get better. He wasn’t ready for a world without his father and his wonderful stories. He remembered that his brother had once gone on a adventure to save his family long ago, and Luka yearned to be like his brother, brave and strong, capable of anything. So he decided to go on a quest of his own, to find a cure for his father’s illness.
That night, while his family lay sleeping, Luka snuck out of the house with his pet Dog, and set out to find a cure for his father. He journeyed through many lands, searching high and low for a healing balm. As he journeyed, he was surprised to find that was guided by his father’s words of wisdom, stories that he could hear in his heart as he sought to help him. He was also encouraged by the example of his brother, whom he admired.
And as he journeyed, he also encountered friends who helped him, as well as foes that threatened his quest. At every near disaster, his friends were by his side, encouraging him and supporting him. If not for them, he would surely have failed, for they gave him strength that he never knew he had to keep going when things seemed impossible.
Finally, after a long journey, Luka found a cure for his father. It was a healing fire, the Fire of Life itself, smoldering at the top of a steep mountain that seemed impassible. He worried to himself—how can I possibly get up there? There seemed to be no way up the mountain; Luka feared he had come all this way for nothing. He could not imagine a way forward through this fearsome barrier.
Just as he was about to give up hope, Luka remembered a story that his father had once told him. One night, after a hard day at school, his father had sat him on his knee by the fire and had told him a story:
It may not seem like it, but there are two worlds out there: the Right-Hand and the Left-Hand world. Most of the time, we find ourselves in the Right-Handed world, and for many of us, this world feels just as it should be. But for some of us, perhaps for you, this world is impossibly difficult and feels all wrong. For these other people, it is the Left-Hand world that makes sense. But it can be difficult to see the Left-Handed world when all we have been surrounded with is the Right-Handed world. In order to find our way to the Left-Hand world, we must first accept who we are, embrace our difference, for then we have the ability to know which world we belong in and we also possess the willingness to seek that world out with confidence.
Luka wondered to himself: What if I am looking at this mountain all wrong? What if I am trying to look at it Right, when I should be looking Left? What if I am trying to be something I am not meant to be? Perhaps my mother was right—my left-handedness might turn out to be a gift after all.
Luka closed his eyes and focused with all his might on this one thought, put all of his energy into his belief that he needed to see Left instead of Right, to embrace his different nature, to love who he was and what he was made for.
He counted to three- 1, 2, 3—and he opened his eyes. To his astonishment the steep mountain had—poof—completely disappeared, and in its place was a rolling hillside. Barely able to contain himself, Luka ran up the hill to the fire, giddy with delight, and carried it home to his father, where he was restored by the warmth of the light that Luka bore him. Luka never again let himself fall into the trap that there was only one way of seeing things, for now he knew the truth—there is more than one way to be in the world. And Luka never again felt ashamed to be Left-handed; for he knew that he was special, and that this was the way he was meant to be.
What might this parable mean?
Like Luka, we Christians find ourselves left-handed in a world made for right-handed people. For we are commanded in the Scriptures to live in a way that seems to put us with odds with everything around us. The world is simply not designed for people who live their lives by the code that Jesus teaches: people who reject selfishness and instead embrace generosity to strangers and the needy. Nor does the world we live in reward those who choose to reject the punitive system of justice, choosing to turn the other cheek and to resist retaliation, instead praying for our enemies and loving those who persecute us. And this world just does not understand those who define their neighbor not in terms of who lives next door, but rather by God’s terms—as those whom God loves.
When we try too hard to play by the rules of the world, we risk denying who and whose we are—we lose our capacity for generosity, our ability to see the world as God sees it. When we try to pretend that being Christian is no different from being anybody else, then, Scriptures like Leviticus 19 and Matthew 5 become a problem, because they point out the difference that we try to hide when we try to hard to fit in.
If we choose to walk the path laid out by Scripture, then we find ourselves on a quest, much like Luka, in which we will certainly face adversity before us. We must be willing to take risks because, like Luka, ours is a journey of love for our Father. We too are lucky, for we do not journey alone, but are accompanied by the many who walk with us, those loving neighbors in the body of Christ, and we are encouraged by God’s Word and the examples of those brothers and sisters who have gone before us. And we are guided by the example of one who walked this path before us, Jesus the Christ, whose living revealed that walking this path isn’t impossible; it is merely risky. Because of his example, we know that there will be obstacles, people and things that stand in our way, but we also know that we are on this journey for a reason: we walk because love bids us do so. And we know that we will only survive this journey if we know who we are and embrace it: We are Left-Handed people, living in a Right-Handed World. We are Jesus-Followers and God-Lovers who reject the idea that all that matters is “Me.”
When we embrace this otherness, we find that we can see the world like God sees the world. And we are changed, for we know that once we see the world as God sees it, nothing will ever be the same.
And this is what makes us Holy as God is Holy, and Perfect as God is Perfect. The ability to know our story, God’s story, and embrace the people it shapes us into.