Dost Thou Speak King James? And if ye offer a sacrifice of peace offerings unto the Lord, dost thou offer it at your own will? No, really, on a scale of 1-10 with ten being God-like: How Holy Art Thou? How do you rate your own Holiness? That is the challenge that the Holiness Code offers with its motto:
“You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
(Leviticus 19:2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 26 October 2014)
God is a 10. That’s easy, nobody and nothing could possibly be holier than the Holy One! But God does not just rest there in all God’s Holiness. God picks, elects, drafts, calls up God’s chosen people: first Israel and eventually all the peoples in Christ Jesus. That includes you and me. And the charge to God’s people remains in effect: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” If you did not rate yourself to be a 10 on the Holiness scale you got your work cut out for you!
How do I do that – become more holy? Forget most of the religious knowledge and practice you have learned over the years! Yes, the Holiness Code has some religious and cultural stuff listed but that is mostly common-sense or general moral practice. At its core the Hebrew word for “holiness,” “kedushah” (Hebrew: קדושה) has the connotation of “separateness”. So since God is separate from the world so God’s people are supposed to be special. That is in our everyday dealings and not a flashy worship kind of way.
Holiness does not show when you are in Sunday best but working towards a farmer’s tan. Here is an example from Leviticus 19:10
“You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
The way you go about to your day job shows how much you are attuned to the Divine and the people around you. When Jesus was asked about the most important commandment all he could think of was the summary of the Holiness Code from Leviticus 19:18
“love your neighbors as you love yourself.”
Learning to speak King James and saying the most beautiful prayers and thinking the most pious and righteous thoughts is so easy but are you willing to work on your Holiness the hard way? Do you dare being separate, special, holy?
Every old song used to be a new song. Karl Vaters wonders who the first worship director was who said “hey, I like that new song John Newton wrote,” before introducing Amazing Grace to the church. Whoever it was, he probably had to deal with complaints from church members who didn’t think it was as good as the hymns they were used to singing. “In six verses the name of Jesus isn’t mentioned once, but it says ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘I’ thirteen times! Today’s songs are so self-centered and shallow!”
The 1941 hymnal that we use at St. John’s United Church of Christ is kinda like that: It has countless numbers of hymns from 1930s and 1940 because they were the most popular songs back then. The church has a long tradition of hiring the greatest musicians of the time and commissioning the most extravagant compositions. And every time the “new hymnal” is introduced the generations who grew loving the previous ones get up in arms. Remember what that was like when the 1941 Hymnal was new? It was a radically new approach! Nobody could have ever imagined that Evangelical Christians and Reformed Christians could ever merge into the one Evangelical and Reformed Church. Well, they did and they even came up with this new 1941 hymnal celebrating their unity combining favorites of both traditions for a new era. After all that’s what the Psalmist charges God’s people to do:
“O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.”
(Psalm 96:1-2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 19 October 2014)
St. John’s United Church of Christ has been working toward getting a new hymnal for quite some time. A group of musical experts has been assembled and charged with giving the congregation a feel for what is out their until we come closer to a phase of deliberation and a process of decision making. Stay tuned.
O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things.
(Isaiah 25:1 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 12 October 2014)
Isaiah sounds so joyful. He is raising his hands, maybe jumping up and down because he is so happy. He’s praising God with all he’s got. Maybe a few tears mixed in with that big fat smile on his face. Pure excitement. That is beautiful thing: “I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things.” As long as things are merry and bright that’s fine. But what if Isaiah’s mood really depended on God’s input? What if our feelings depended on other people’s actions? It may sound innocent to say: “You make me happy!” But what about: “You make me sad!”?
In reality happiness, sadness, anger, joy, frustration, fear, confidence are not things anyone can give you. They are your reactions to what life throws at you. At the very core everybody is in charge of their own emotions and we all decide which trigger we allow to push our buttons. Nobody can make me mad unless I decide to react to them in a made manner.
Again Isaiah: “I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things.” Here the prophet says: You, God, are allowed to stir up my heart, to shake my soul, to transform the way I look at myself and the world around me. I will allow your actions to have an impact on me.
Whom do you allow to push your buttons like that? The way your parents treated you does not have to determine how you will live your own life. Yet you may embrace what you learned from them and allow them to have an impact on your future. Same with God: Isaiah remembers the wonderful things he has experienced with God in the past and he decides to let that be the guide for a bright future.
Can you join Isaiah in inviting God into your life like that?
My future is determined by Your past!
My actions are consequences of Your actions!
My future is Your praise!
I am hunting the good stuff that You provide!
I hope that the church may be able to look at itself that very same way: That the glorious past of our church is not just our good old days but that they are reasons to celebrate God’s past. They don’t have to determine what our church’s future may look like. No past ever has and ever should be recreated. So let’s hunt the good stuff for God’s future!
On October 29th from 6-7 p.m. the Rev. Daniel Haas is going to show and talk about what his Germany looked like growing up there. This will include a wide variety of topics ranging from food to religion, from landscapes to buildings, from history to culture. Everyone is welcome to enjoy this free hour-long trip to a country that has influenced Texas in many ways and is still represented by a vibrant local community.
Please RSVP on Facebook.
When I sneeze one thing really gets me every time – someone responding with a big, fat, friendly “GESUNDHEIT!” In a context where I do not expect to hear my native German I am caught by surprise. Most people will say “God bless you!” anyway. After a little research I found that the ritual of blessing someone after a sneeze dates back to the plague of 590 AD. Pope Gregory I ordered that everyone receive an instant special blessing after they sneezed. A sneeze was one of the early symptoms and so the church tried to do its part in containing the epidemic. The blessing after a sneeze is – not surprisingly – a prayer for Gesundheit i.e. health.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits.”
(Psalm 103:2 – Watchword for the Week of Sunday 14 September 2014)
Blessing one another sounds like an easy thing to do but this word commands us to bless God. How can we do that? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? We need God’s blessing! God is Almighty! How could we tiny, imperfect creatures possibly bless the Creator of heaven and earth?
What is it we actually do when we bless one another or when we ask God to bless us?
It’s about wishing someone well: May your health get better.
It’s about hoping the best for someone: I wish you luck.
It’s about supporting someone: That’s a good cause. I’ll help you.
Can you see the picture? God really does need our blessing. We are God’s hands and feet in this world. If we are not here to spread faith, hope and love, who is? We need to help God and support God’s ministry. And we should also want God to feel well. After all can you imagine what that would look like if the creator of heaven and earth were to sneeze? Bless God!