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


Holiness
October 26, 2014, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Sunday 26th October 2014

Sacred Heart IconAnd the LORD said to Moses, “Say to all the congregation of the people of Israel, You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. You shall do no injustice in judgment…: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.”

When our Lord was asked about the greatest commandment, he quoted two passages from the Bible. The first was from Deuteronomy, and I like to use it regularly at the beginning of Mass. Every Jew is supposed to recite it daily. It begins, “Hear, O Israel: Shema Israel.” It is the commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and might. The Gospels say “mind and strength.” The second commandment comes from Leviticus, and concludes the passage we had as our first reading: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” These two commandments, says our Lord, sum up all the teaching of the Law and the prophets. Everything else depends on these.

Our first reading began with another commandment: You shall be holy; for I the Lord am holy. What does this mean? Is it included in the other two? Look closely. We are to be holy, because God is holy. The holiness of God is the basis. In the Old Testament, holiness is the very essence of God. Only God is holy of his very nature. It is his “apartness”, his difference from everything else. Created things are holy as it were by courtesy, insofar as they come close to God, are dedicated to him, set apart. Israel was supposed to be different from other nations, knowing God in a specially close way, modelling its life on the standards God set. The tragedy of Israel was that it so regularly fell short of this, that it failed to be a holy people. The Law proposed the standard, but it did not of itself give the power to reach it.

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law in its essence, as summarised by him. He came to fulfil it in his own person, and to give to human beings the power to fulfil it themselves, by living in him and through him. The Power to love God and to love our neighbour is the actual Spirit of God, his “Life-Breath” so to speak.

The ancient Law was given to Israel, called to be different but, alas, failing to be different. It implied fairness to all, rich or poor. Each have their rights, to be respected. The other day I saw a graffito (not far from here), “property is theft”. But unless there is such a thing as property, there can be no theft either. You cannot steal what belongs to no-one. Again, you must tell the truth, not slandering or telling lies about your neighbour. You must not endanger your neighbour’s life. No hatred; if you have a dispute, settle it reasonably. No revenge, no grudges: but (and this was why, in Luke, the lawyer asked “who is my neighbour?”) Israel took its status as “different” to mean that these rules did not apply to “outsiders”, the heathen. One of the consequences of our Lord’s coming was to abolish this distinction. There are no “outsiders” to him. We are all neighbours of one another, just because we are human.

And yet. And yet: the People of God, the Church, the Christian community, is still called to be “holy”, and that still means different. Not in the sense that we are in ourselves better than others, of more value to God. Only in the sense that, knowing the love of God as we do, and being able to access the Spirit of God, as we do, we are expected to have higher aspirations and a higher performance than others. We are expected to do better, to shine out as a light in the world.

We are all ambassadors of Jesus, charged with bringing the good news of God’s love to the world. We are also charged with the task of challenging the world, setting before the world the call to holiness, to love God with an unqualified love, to love one another as we love ourselves. If our behaviour falls short, we falsify our message. People will say: “Fine talk, but they can’t really believe it themselves. Why should we?” But if people see that our lives are different, more open and more loving, then even without words they will ask questions: “Why are these people different? How come they live in a way we can admire, but somehow never achieve?” And when they ask, we tell them: it is because Jesus is our Lord.

Jesus put a question to those who were trying to catch him out. What do you think of the Christ, the Messiah? Is he just a descendant of King David, as human as David was? Or is he the Lord himself, the one who said, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy. You shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the LORD.” Each of us must give an answer to that question, and then act upon it.

Today we are taking up a special collection for the Barnabas fund. We are following the example of Paul and Barnabas in the New Testament, who collected from the Gentile Churches to help suffering Christians in the Holy Land. We are asked to do something, and not just talk about it. We are asked to help Christians in Iraq and Syria (and other places) who are even now subject to terrible persecution in their homelands. Let us all give generously, who have received so much from God, not least the benefit of living in a free country.

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