Leviticus 11:45 “For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
1st Peter 1:16 It is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Today, our Wonderful Word of Life is Holy, Holiness, Self-Respect. I hope to demonstrate that there is a beauty in Holiness.
We say God is Love!” God says, “I am Holy!” Both are true, but Holy comes first. God’s Holiness is nothing less than God’s Self-Respect. God says, “I am who I am.” God says, “I am God, and there is no other.” The first commandment declares, “You shall have no other God’s before me.” God’s love is rooted in God’s Holiness. We know this because the God of the covenant promises reward for doing right and punishment for doing wrong. Both are necessary. “Those whom God loves God chastens.” (Rev. 3:19)
God’s Holiness is God’s Self-Respect. Our Holiness is our self-respect. We respect ourselves because we are made in the image of God. We respect ourselves, body, mind, and spirit.
We respect our bodies when keep our bodies fit by using them, naturally as we did when we all pursued game in a “chase for survival,” or when we were all “tillers of the soil,” or post-naturally through deliberate exercise. Today many of us in the developed nations sit most of the day, whether at work or entertaining ourselves, and we must force ourselves to use our bodies. We must also feed our bodies a balanced diet, and avoid forming bad habits. In Philippians 3:19, St. Paul says that if we allow our “belly” or “appetite” to be our God then “(our) end is destruction.” Intemperance in almost anything leads to suffering and early death.
We respect our minds when we lose ourselves in the wonders of God. “The awe (fear) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom.” (Proverbs 1:7/Psalm 111:10) No subject is off-limits for God’s people. God is the creator of all things “visible and invisible,” aka “known and unknown,” and it is our joy to explore that creation with our bodies and our minds.
In our physical and mental explorations, we make use of our mobility, touch, sight, hearing, taste, smell, reason, memory, and imagination. Imagination? Yes, we must imagine a thing before we can do it. That is what Jesus was getting at when he said
“He who says to this mountain, be taken up and cast into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, it will be done for him.”
The happiest people on the planet are life-long explorers and learners. We can explore the Amazon Basin and Manhattan Island by boat or by book. Through travel, we expand our horizons and our contacts with important others. We can learn from anyone with whom we have to do. All people are either positive or negative examples. Through reading, we expand our lives through the experience and testimony of others. In a book (or a good film!) we can live in 1,000 different times and places, learning lessons from the experience of others just as valuable as those we learn from our own experience. During the pandemic Elayne and I have stayed close to home. Yet we have read and enjoyed almost 100 books between us, most of them through the Libby App that connects us to the digital resources of the public library. Modern life can be a joy. Our wealth is common wealth. All of us with an internet connection have unlimited access to books, music, how-to videos, a college education, etc. As I write this, I have been studying Spanish for almost 800 straight days using Dulingo.Com. Of course, the knowledge we gain must be applied or it means nothing. It is better not to know than to know and do nothing. This is true of the law, as St. Paul reminds us in Romans 2:12, “All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” It is equally true of all other knowledge.
We respect our spirits when we recognize that it is the Eternal Spirit, God, who gives us the gift of life. The God we worship is “the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” Our God is the creator God who fashioned a world and put humankind in it. Apart from Jesus Christ we human beings live in the anxious middle. We do not know where we have come from or where we are going. In Jesus Christ, we see that we have come from God, made in God’s image, and are going to God, the Risen Christ is our future. As the apostle has written:
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
We respect ourselves because we are made in the image of God. We respect all other human beings because they are also made in the image of God. We are all alike. John Wesley was right, “There is no personal holiness of life without social holiness.” There is no self-respect without respect for others, for others are just like us. Likewise, we must give respect in order to get respect. There must be mutuality, but it always begins with us Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
We respect ourselves and our neighbors (all other human beings) because we are made in the image of God. We respect the creation because the creation the Holy God has made it and set it aside for our use and exploration. God told us to tend the earth, not plunder it. Like God, the whole Creation is Holy. It was the Psalmist who said, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament declares His handiwork.” It was the apostle who said, “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” It was Rabbi Abraham Heschel who said, “We live in a Holy neighborhood.” Yes, the world around us is filled with the knowledge and glory of God. This is always a faith statement, but faith always sees God’s handiwork in the creation. The creation may not “prove” God in the traditional sense, but to people of faith, the creation reveals God’s creativity, order, and beauty. Of course, the revelation is nature is fickle. “Nature is red in tooth and claw.” It takes God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ to fully reveal God’s nature and character. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” Jesus Christ is the justification of humankind before God and the justification of God before humankind.
There is beauty in Holiness, God’s Holiness, and our own. Living close to God is its own reward. Our efforts to be holy may not secure our happiness—but the person who seeks to be holy in body, mind, and spirit will be happier than the same person without this pursuit. Holiness is its own reward. The beauty of it is revealed in the young and old, but more in the old than in the young.
On the one hand, some people are born not so attractive, but they seek holiness and wholeness, and as they age, they become more and more beautiful. Their inner beauty of mind and spirit is revealed in their very bodies. “They earn a new face.”
On the other hand, some people are born more attractive than others, but they abuse themselves, body, mind and spirit, and they age very badly. They were once pretty on the outside, but they did not have the inner beauty of mind and spirit necessary to sustain that physical beauty.
It is particularly sad when people come to see the beauty in Holiness after it is too late to do anything about it. These people must content themselves to see the beauty of holiness in the lives of others. Of course, they can advocate that beauty for those who come after them. There is a particular beauty in that.
All of us suffer sin and failure to some extent. Both the psalmist and the apostle insist, “None is righteous, no not one, no one understands, no one seeks for God, all have turned aside, together we have gone wrong.” Thankfully this is not the end of the story. As we read in 1st John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Likewise, though we have broken ourselves, body, mind and spirit on the law of grace and Holiness, there is still hope. When Israel was devastated by plagues of locust God promised:
“I will restore to you the years which the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you.”
If God was so kind to Israel, will God be less kind to us? I think not. “As long as there is life there is hope.” Still, we should align our lives with God’s Holiness as soon as we can. When Satan urged Jesus to prove his relationship to God by throwing himself down from the temple, Jesus said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” When we know how to do better and fail to do it, we tempt God. At the same time, we bring disappointment and sorrow to ourselves. Sometimes, do this so long and so often that we make it very difficult for God to work in us the good for us that God desires. Indeed, God cannot work all the good that God wants in our lives if we do not surrender them to God’s purpose.