The church where I grew up had a room that was shrouded in mystery.
Tucked into a back corner of the building, even the master key failed to open it. You had to have some type of special connection to gain access, usually attained by ingratiating yourself to some of the senior ladies of the congregation. Even then, only a select few gained entry.
All of us kids were intrigued by the secretive contents of this room. Rumors about what lay on the other side of the door took on a life of their own. It was certainly something wonderful or dangerous; possibly nuclear launch codes or a secret stockpile of Snickers or a portal to another dimension.
We called that room the “holy of holies” since it was obviously set apart from the rest of the building.
Of course later in life I discovered that room contained little more than sewing supplies, plastic flowers and white tablecloths. Quite a disappointment. And while I’m sure that these items were used well, I question what made them so significant that they needed to be guarded like Buckingham Palace. I don’t think this closet did much more for the average church member than engender latent curiosity.
Because the only thing that really set that room apart from the rest of the building was that someone set it apart.
What’s funny is that every church I’ve been a part of has had one of these rooms.
Earlier this week, Chris mentioned that the Hebrew word for “holy” was Qadash, which literally meant “to be set apart for a special purpose”.
Notice that there are 2 very distinct and important parts of that definition:
1. Set apart
2. For a special purpose
Most of the time I hear holiness talked about in the church, it has to do with the first part of that definition. We are to be special. Different. Aliens and strangers in the world. I think about restrictions on drinking, language and dancing. We associate holiness with moral purity, sexual chastity and clean living.
And rightfully so – holiness is not attained by going with the flow or following the crowd. Part of holiness is following a different kingdom with different standards and better ways of living in the world.
But our problem occurs when our definition of holiness ends with being different or “better” than those around us.
Simply being different does little more than alienate us from others. That limited definition of holiness builds walls and creates barriers.
It makes the church look like a locked closet in a secluded corner of a lonely building.
In our readings this week, we see that God is commanding his people to be more than different. He’s urging us to be holy. That’s why the second part of the definition is important. Not just set apart; but set apart for a special purpose.
So go the extra mile, because loving your enemies breaks down walls (Matt 5). Don’t harvest all your crop, but instead leave some for the less fortunate among you (Leviticus 19). Stop dividing yourselves into camps, because it is only together that we become the dwelling place of God (1 Corinthians 3).
Our different-ness has a special purpose. Not to alienate us from others, but to bring others closer to us so that we may all draw closer to God.
A holiness that keeps us locked away from the world really isn’t holiness; it’s self-righteousness.
The holiness that God calls us to is one that drives us into the heart of the world instead of locking ourselves away from it. It’s different-ness, but different-ness that tears down walls instead of building them. That creates relationship rather than destroying it.
So today may you be different. May your actions and attitudes be strange in the world around you. And may you serve and care for the people around you.
May your holiness build relationships with others and with God.
Now that would be different.