Speak to all the congregation of God’s chosen people and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. Leviticus 19:1
You shall be holy.
One of the eye-opening moments we had while studying the scriptures last Tuesday evening was realizing that, as far as the Bible is concerned, we are saints.
That’s worth saying again: according to the Word of God, we – you and me, right here, right now, are the saints of God.
Time and time again the scriptures make the point that there are no rankings among those who follow Jesus; after all, what point would that be if the first will be last and the last will be first? No, all of us – whether we’ve learned through a life of careful discipleship to live and speak and act in imitation of our Lord, or whether we’re more prone to miss the mark, stumble, and accept our Lord’s outstretched hand of forgiveness once again – all of us are called by the same name: saints.
And that’s an important, even crucial point. No matter how successful you’ve been at following Jesus last week; no matter how many times you did or didn’t remember to give thanks for what God has given you; no matter how many times you did or didn’t take a few minutes out of your day to read and hear God’s Word; no matter how many times you did or didn’t put someone in need ahead of your own best interests; no matter how many times you did or didn’t offer forgiveness and release yourself and your brother or sister from the weight and bitterness of their sin; no matter how many times you did or didn’t open your mouth to speak the Good News of new life in Jesus, and go to make disciples of all nations – no matter how we did with that, there’s no escaping this one point: all of us have the same job description in God’s eyes.
We are saints.
To the Saints of God:
The word “saints” simply means “holy ones”, and the Word of God is clear: that’s the only option, the only position available for those who have been baptized. While we’ve made all sorts of excuses through the years, and have come up with all sorts of reasons why only some followers of Jesus are called to be holy – the Mother Theresa’s of the world – the truly remarkable, and downright frightening reality is that, in the eyes of God, none of those human excuses hold any water. As a baptized member of the Church, God looks at me and sees Alex, his child, called to be a saint.
God looks at you. God looks at _____ and sees his child, whom he has called to be a saint. He looks at _____ and sees his child, called to be a saint. God looks at each of us, just as one day we will stand before God, and he sees one whom he has called to be a saint.
“The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel” – not just the leaders, not just the most devoted, not just the elders, all the congregation, “and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
God, in his awesome mercy, makes no distinctions when he makes us part of his family; and this is where the scriptures say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: the Lord looks at us as those who are called to be his holy ones… and how have we done with that?
This is why, once all our excuses are stripped away, we can proclaim without reservation that all – even the most ‘saintly’ among us – have fallen short of the glory of God; that all of us – even the most ‘saintly’ – need the mercy of God; that none of us, no matter how hard we try, can ever earn a place in the Kingdom of God apart from complete and total dependence on Jesus: the only way is to follow where he leads.
You shall be holy.
The Lord sees us, and has called us to be, his saints, his holy ones.
But what does it mean to be holy?
Holiness means, simply, “set apart”. The call to be holy is the call to be, simply, set apart. This building is holy – it is set apart for the worship of God, for fellowship, and the equipping of the saints for our mission in the world. This holy table is holy because it is set apart – that means it isn’t used like other tables, to fill our bellies, or as a place to hold our coffee while we chat; it’s set apart for the glory of God; it’s holy.
The Bibles in our pews and in our homes are holy – at least I hope they are – because they are set apart from the other books on our shelves. No, it’s not about their location, that they should be kept somewhere special; not at all. But the Bible is holy, or at least it should be, because of how we read it. Other books we read once and then put down, but the Bible is set apart – we’re called to read it daily. Other books we read to hear the thoughts of human authors, but the Bible is set apart, we read it as God’s word to us, with the prayer that it will shape our thoughts, words, and actions.
So what does it mean that God expects you to be holy?
What does it mean for us to be set apart?
If we are set apart as those who give glory to God it means that we no longer live for ourselves, but for God. Now that’s a tall order; so tall an order that people through the ages have done well in dreaming up excuses for why only some are called to live that way, as we imagine all the ways we can try to get ourselves off the hook by separating the ‘professional’ Christians from the lay people, or putting the elite followers of Jesus on a pedestal to try and excuse ourselves for just being ‘average’ disciples.
No, there’s a lot more to that first and greatest commandment than meets the eye.
If we’re to be holy as God is holy, it starts by loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. It demands my all.
We can’t be half-holy. Think about it: something can’t be sort-of set apart. It’s either set apart, or it isn’t.
That’s the fundamental teaching of Jesus, summarizing all the Law and the Prophets. We have to learn to love God first, and to do it whole-heartedly and single-mindedly.
If we love God first, if we love the one who Created all that is, who desires our redemption, who reaches out to us in mercy, and who is himself the source of love, then a good and holy love of our family, friends, neighbours, and even our enemies will flow out of that. But if we love God with anything less than our all, then we aren’t set apart. Remember, there’s no such thing as half-holy; if I love God, but love myself more, or I love my freedom, or my own desires, or my ability to provide for my family and bring happiness to others around me, if I love anything more than God, then my heart, soul, and mind aren’t holy.
I think, often, we’re afraid to go all the way. It could be trusting God, it could be finally forgiving someone who has hurt us, it could be letting go of a habit or attitude that has become comfortable like an old friend. We’re afraid that if we actually go for it, we’ll lose control and won’t be able to get it back. But, God has already called you to be one who has gone all the way – one who is set apart, one who is holy.
God says ‘love me first’, not that we become no fun, or we become so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good; not that we become like some of those crotchety caricatures of self-righteousness that have sometimes been seen as ‘saintly’ as an excuse for why the rest of us don’t live that way.
Sometimes I think we’re afraid that if we go all-in, we’ll no longer have enough love or enough time or enough energy for the things that already matter to us. We say, I barely have time or energy for what I have to do now, how can I possibly add another relationship, another concern, another daily task of reading and praying to that list?
But, God says love me first, and love me completely, all in.
And, contrary to all our fears, we find we then share in that overflowing, never-ending source of love itself. All our concerns that keep us from loving God fully assume that love is scarce, that we only have so much to go around. And that’s true, if we’re trying to drum it up within ourselves; but God’s plan for you to be holy is the opposite; if we finally go for it, we find ourselves tapped in to the source itself.
…and it’s only then that the second part of that commandment is truly possible. It’s only then, when we’ve put all our anxiety and reservations aside and have put God first, and have set ourselves apart for his glory, that we can ever truly love our neighbours as ourselves.
As long as we’re depending on our own scarce supply of love, we can’t imagine wasting it on our enemies. As long as we’re depending on our own scarce supply of mercy, we could never imagine wasting it on those who have hurt us. As long as we’re depending on our own scarce supply of wealth, we could never imagine giving joyfully to anyone in need, even those who would take advantage of us. As long as we’re depending on our own scarce supply of energy, we can barely imagine getting through the day and making time to say a few prayers, let alone giving up our lives to his service.
But if we allow ourselves to be set apart, if we allow ourselves to be as God calls us to be, we suddenly find that He supplies what we need; He makes the way; He makes us holy as we learn to love him with all our heart, soul, and mind.
You see, that’s the other misconception with holiness.
Holiness isn’t something we earn; holiness isn’t something we do, or try with all our might to produce within ourselves.
“Be holy” simply means “be set apart”.
Let yourself be set apart for God’s purposes. Learn, by grace, to go all-in and love God first, with all the love we think we can drum up. And, as we do that, as we allow ourselves to be set apart, it produces holiness, and God provides.
Suddenly the love of neighbour isn’t a chore; as we grow into the likeness of Christ, we learn that holding that grudge only binds us to that past sin, and we learn to forgive; before we know it, we can’t imagine why we ever thought love, or time, or energy was a scarce thing to be hoarded, because we’re tapped into the source of it all, just as God desired.
My friends: God says that you and I are saints. That’s your job description. This week, let that sink in. Have we let ourselves be set apart, or are we trying to be half-holy, holding something back, lest we run out?
This week, or perhaps even this morning, in this holy place, at this holy table, as we eat this holy food for a holy people, lets be holy; let’s go all in, finally hold nothing back, and love God with all that we have. I guarantee, because God promises, that we’ll taste and see that the Lord is good, and be happy and blessed as all those are who trust in him.
Saints of God: be holy, for the Lord your God is holy. Amen.