What is Holiness?

They are intimidating words:

But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
and
You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

I feel like it’s a standard that I’m not going to live up to. The concept of holiness brings to mind the shaking mountain in Exodus or the strange flying creatures in Isaiah or the white robes we see in Revelation. But no matter the mental image, one thing is certain: Holiness seems like something that is out of my reach.

And yet there it is, several times over — I am to be holy.

God knows I’m not perfect. It’s a fact of which I’m sure everyone is aware. So is God calling me to be something that I could never be? Or is there another call in this? What is holiness all about anyway?

This is the subject of our readings and prayer this week. Join us as we explore it together.

Holiness-01-1170x370

Matthew 5:38-48

“You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

The Lord also said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.

“Do not steal.

“Do not deceive or cheat one another.

“Do not bring shame on the name of your God by using it to swear falsely. I am the Lord.

“Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“Do not make your hired workers wait until the next day to receive their pay.

“Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the Lord.

“Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.

“Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.

“Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened. I am the Lord.

“Do not nurse hatred in your heart for any of your relatives. Confront people directly so you will not be held guilty for their sin.

“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Psalm 119:33-40

Teach me your decrees, O Lord;
I will keep them to the end.
Give me understanding and I will obey your instructions;
I will put them into practice with all my heart.
Make me walk along the path of your commands,
for that is where my happiness is found.
Give me an eagerness for your laws
rather than a love for money!
Turn my eyes from worthless things,
and give me life through your word.
Reassure me of your promise,
made to those who fear you.
Help me abandon my shameful ways;
for your regulations are good.
I long to obey your commandments!
Renew my life with your goodness.

1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Because of God’s grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.

Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you? God will destroy anyone who destroys this temple. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,

“He traps the wise
in the snare of their own cleverness.”

And again,

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise;
he knows they are worthless.”

So don’t boast about following a particular human leader. For everything belongs to you—whether Paul or Apollos or Peter, or the world, or life and death, or the present and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Prayer

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy.
Guard me so, O Holy Spirit, that I may always be holy.
Amen.

** This is a prayer of Saint Augustine of Hippo. You may find it at http://feastofsaints.com/staugustine.htm **
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