Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


Septuagesima
February 20, 2011, 6:49 pm
Filed under: Sermons

Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.
The temple of God is holy: and you are that temple.
You must be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

All three readings today remind us of our vocation to holiness. The Hebrew word Kodesh apparently comes from a root meaning “without bounds”. That may mean “outside the boundaries”, “set apart”; or “having no boundaries”, infinite.

I looked up a Jewish writer on the subject of holiness. He starts from our first text:

The Torah beseeches the Jewish people to be a holy people as it states in Leviticus “…be holy because I am Holy.” The question here is: what is “holy”? We are instructed to be holy because God is Holy – but what is the connection between His Holiness and us? After all, our abilities to achieve a semblance of sanctity are severely curtailed by our own God given human desires and drives. If God wants us as Jews to be holy because He is Holy, then what is the point of comparison?

He goes on,

God… lives without bounds. On one side of the picture, he is the infinite, totally with out beginning and with out end. He existed before the world existed and will exist after the world ceases to exist. He created time and space. The world and all that is in it is a created place and by virtue of being created, they are limited in time and space – meaning that in time they have a beginning and an end. In space they have limits, boundaries and ends. Two objects can not occupy the same place at the same time. Can a finite box contain an infinite amount of objects? Obviously not! How can the finite contain the infinite?

So,

Can the world, which is finite, contain the infinite of God? Yet, if we say that the world can not contain God, we have placed a limitation on God and we know that God is unlimited and has the ability to do all. This means that God, the infinite, certainly can fill the world and at the same time not be contained by the world.

He concludes,

This is the definition of God’s Holiness: He is not bound by the world, yet he fills the entire world with no place void of his presence – even the lowliest places. Never the less, he is not affected by the world. All that we do can not cause a change in God, to God the world is nothing and has no effect upon Him. Yet He is immediately present in every aspect of the world in a manner that He can not be separated from the world. … He is actively involved in the running of the world, yet, totally unaffected by the world – and yet our prayers He hears and answers!! That is Holiness!

Perhaps that gives us our clue, as Christians, for understanding what we are called to: to be “in the world, but not of the world.” Not physically separate from the human world we live in, but mentally and spiritually set apart from it. Not indifferent to its needs and sorrows, but not imprisoned by them, either.

The Gospel, last week and this week, shows how this works out in practice. The follower of Jesus is called to “go beyond” the letter of the Law. To abstain from anger, not just from murder; from lustful thoughts, not just from adultery. To turn the other cheek when attacked, to go the extra mile, and so on. This is not a new Law, it is a deeper and more thorough observance of the old Law, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

The old Law mandated justice: in everyday language, it said that we should be fair to everyone. But the old Law did not say that justice was sufficient. It forbade hatred, it forbade bearing grudges, it commanded love. And this is where holiness goes beyond mere moral rectitude, ethical correctness. When we treat others as we would like them to treat us (as we should), we are making ourselves the measure and standard of behaviour. What our Lord asks of us is that we should make God, our heavenly Father, the standard of our behaviour. He makes the sun rise on evil and good alike, he sends rain for the righteous and the unrighteous. He goes beyond what is, to our minds, “fair”.

This is, I suppose, a far more demanding standard. “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” to set alongside “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” But, as the Jewish writer I quoted earlier also says, “God would not give us a task that we could not carry out.” St Paul gives us a further clue: “You are God’s temple and God’s Spirit dwells in you. God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Holiness is not something we achieve, it is something we receive. It is a gift from God- the Gift of God, the indwelling Spirit of God.

We speak of “the beauty of holiness”. What is beautiful attracts us, draws us to itself, simply because it is beautiful. “Late have I loved you,” says St Augustine, “O Beauty so ancient and so new!” God came to us in Jesus Christ to show us his beauty, and to draw us to himself. If we really see Christ for what he is, we will want to be like him. He is the great Exemplar, the great Magnet.

In conclusion: both the Old and the New Testament Scriptures invite us to a holiness, a perfection, which belongs strictly only to God. Yet God does not ask the impossible: if he wants us to be like him, he will enable us to be like him. In Jesus Christ, the perfect holiness of God takes human form. It is in union with Christ that we become one with God, and it is in the communion of the Holy Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, that we become one with Christ. In the world, but not of the world, the Church must be Christ to the world. We are the Body of Christ, the temple of the Spirit. The more we train ourselves to remain conscious of this fact, the better we will answer the call to holiness.

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