here and here). I'm not so sure what I'm sure about anymore. As I struggle to reconcile what I believe about the church to the reality I encounter, all that once was sacred now feels empty.
In the meantime, I've been working on a sermon for another church that addresses the Holiness Codes in Leviticus 19. Leviticus is best known as the book that derails any attempt at reading straight through the Bible with all its attention to arcane laws: you shouldn't wear clothing of mixed fibers, don't boil a calf in its mother's milk, and the gory details of appropriate animal sacrifices. The section I'm studying is a little more familiar as many of these rules compare to the more familiar and revered 10 commandments. The part that most intrigues me is the very beginning: "Be holy as the LORD your God is holy." It leaves me wondering what holiness really involves.
I grew up hearing that "holy" meant being set apart. God's people were to be held to a higher standard, leading to the saying that we should be "in the world, not of it". That never cleared up the confusion for me, but it did explain the growth of the Christian subculture, including the Christian music genre (where Jesus' name was inserted into sub-par pop love songs), and the prevalence of Jesus tchotchkes at the local Bible store. Apparently, "the world" was evil, so we needed to retreat to the safety of a faith that provided a clean line between what was right and what was wrong. It felt safer to feel like we had the answers and that we were on the right side of the battle. Somewhere along the way, however, I became less sure. The world, as I learned more about it, seemed less black and white and more technicolor. The simple answers no longer brought comfort, but only prompted more unanswerable questions. It could have been terrifying, but it felt like freedom. I didn't lose my faith, but felt it expanding, growing, broadening.
Because of this openness within me, it didn't make sense to wall myself off and erect boundaries to keep others out. It seemed that Jesus was always reaching out, getting in trouble for hanging out with the sinners and breaking all the rules. But he did so with a spirit of hospitality and love, welcoming all to experience the freeing good news of grace. It seemed hypocritical to judge who was of God and who wasn't as I believed we were all created in God's image and all were offered the gift of forgiveness.
But I still couldn't make sense of what it meant to be holy like God is holy. The God I trust is not set apart, but is close with us (Emmanuel). This God is not exclusive, but welcoming to all seekers. The Holy One does not respect the boundaries of what is secular and what is sacred, but comes to meet us in the ordinary and extraordinary, wherever we are. I stumbled across this article that talked about the Jewish understanding of the word holy ("kadosh" in Hebrew) which is more about being boundless, not able to be contained. The image that comes to my mind in from Isaiah 6 in which God's holiness filled the temple. God is not bound by our expectations or boundaries, but works in surprising and mysterious ways.
It makes more sense that holiness should be about reaching out and drawing others closer than pushing them away. It is about joining over commonalities than dividing over differences. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves...not just as we want to be loved, but sharing them honor and respect because they are people just like us. In our worship, we should be able to connect others to the love and grace of God instead of the pain of judgment. After all, we can only point the finger at others and demand their repentance when we are somehow able to forget that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We can only deny admittance to others when we have convinced ourselves (falsely) of our righteousness.
It's not easy, and it goes against every human instinct within me. I want to protect myself by walling myself off to any risk. Connecting seems terrifying when I don't know who can be trusted. Being open to the mystery of God also means admitting that I don't have the answers and can't be sure of anything. But it opens my life to the fullness that I believe Jesus was pointing to.
It's interesting to me that holy has the homonym "wholly", and they share common roots that give us these synonyms: sacred, complete, unhurt, fully, focused, restored, total, healthy, unbroken, and perfect. We are holy when we are whole, when we seek a healthy and full life unbounded by the world's restrictions. We are wholly holy when we live life fully as God created us, using our passions, gifts, and calling in service of God and our neighbors. We are holy and whole when we trust God to fill the holes in us and heal those hurts that would become reasons to further divide us from others. We are not to remain distant out of some sense of righteousness, but to see that we are all connected by our deep need for God's love.
May we learn to seek and share that together, being holy as the LORD our God is holy.
For the next part of this series, click here.