Some of you know that I was once a teacher. A history teacher. A good teacher. A hard teacher. I had my students write and write and write some more. I wanted them to take the history we were studying into them. I wanted them to make it their own. And the best way I knew how to do this was through writing.
You can imagine—all that writing meant many hours spent marking papers. Seeking out split infinitives, comma splices, errors of logic, lack of evidence. I handed back papers covered in red. Until I ran across a little book entitled Writing Without Teachers—a book that challenged my tightly held belief that pointing out people’s errors would make them better writers and thinkers, a book that called on teachers to help their students identify what they were doing well and to then work with them on developing their strengths and their voice.
You and I, we live in a red-ink kind of world of “investigative” reporting, performance evaluations, and longs lists of areas needing improvement. We don’t really need others to red-ink the short-comings and gaps of our lives. I bet every one of us here could come up with a long list of all the times in the last week when we’ve fallen short of the mark. There’s a major strand of our Christian heritage that stresses our fallen nature, our sinfulness, our many missings of the mark. Each week we bid our confession saying, “Let confess our sins against God and our neighbor.” Years ago our Book of Common Prayer called on the faithful to pray the prayer of humble access before they came to table. That prayer includes the words, “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table.”
The scriptures today scream out in reply, “Bullshit.”
God says to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel, tell the people of Israel whom I freed from slavery and oppression, tell the people of Israel weary from wandering in the wilderness, “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”
Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth says, “You are God’s temple, and God’s Spirit dwells in you.”
Jesus says to the crowds following him, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
You carry God in your innermost being. Be perfect. Be holy.
“Perfect?” “Holy?” “Me?” It’s hard to believe that’s even possible. After all, you and I, we live in a red-ink kind of a world. We’re trained to look for imperfections. We’ve honed our skills of seeing and noting when we miss the mark.
But God says, “Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”
Later, in the Book of Deuteronomy, God says to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel, “The commandments I command this day are not extraordinary, not far away, they are not in the heavens…not across the sea, rather the instruction is very near, in your mouth and in your heart.”
“Be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”
You and I, we can’t help but be holy. It’s how we’re made. The holiness of God is woven into our DNA. After all—we are made in God’s image. We are made in the image of the Holy One.
Holiness—it’s not a matter of being pure; it’s not a matter of being flawless; it’s not even—I would venture to say—a matter of being without sin.
Listen to the commandments God gives his people as they stand perched on the border of the Holy Land:
Don’t harvest to the edge of your field or strip your vineyard bare;
Leave something for the poor and the alien;
Don’t steal; don’t deal falsely; don’t lie;
Don’t take your workers’ wages;
Don’t taunt the deaf or trip the blind;
Don’t gossip; don’t trash talk;
Don’t bear grudges;
Don’t do your neighbor dirty;
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I hear God saying,
“Love as I love—with justice and compassion;
Do what you can to heal the world.
Remember, you are holy as I am holy.”
I find it hard to get my head around that. I find it hard to believe—much less live into—the notion that I can be holy. I’m way too schooled in the red-pen way of looking at my life. And so, I suspect, are you as well.
The teacher in me rises to the occasion. First an assignment. Then an exercise.
The assignment: In the next seven days, in the next week, notice all the times you live into your holiness. Notice the times you live with compassion. Notice the moments you live with gratitude. Notice the occasions when you are struck with awe. Don’t go chasing after big, Mother Teresa moments. See the little kindnesses of your day. Take note and treasure the times of connectedness with a part of God’s world. At the end of the day, as you settle into your night’s rest, repeat these words: I am holy because you, my God, are holy.”
The exercise: We’re going to practice that right now. Shut your eyes. Settle into silence. Place your feet flat on the floor. Take a moment just to feel your breath move through your body. Reflect on the week gone by. Remember the kindnesses you showed to others. Take stock of your generosities. Pause and savor the moments when you felt a sense of connectedness with a part of God’s world. “Remember, you are holy because the Lord your God is holy.”