We find ourselves, once again, in the midst of another contentious election season.
As in most elections, the role of faith is at the heart of many debates. The specific issues may vary, but the political opinions and actions of most of us in the church can often be characterized by the same thing: what we’re against.
As a result, in the eyes of most of the country, we as Christians are defined by what we don’t do.
The same is true within the doors of the church.
If you look around at many of the conversations or debates happening within the community of faith, I think you will find that much of it is defined by what doctrines we don’t believe, what pastors we don’t follow, what practices we don’t participate in.
It seems that rarely, if ever, do we make our primary identifying characteristics the things we actually do.
The folks at Christianity Today have picked up on this trend and have asked several bloggers, myself included, to contribute to their campaign to inspire the church to remember the importance of defining ourselves by what we are for, rather than simply what we are against.
To this end, they are asking us (and you) to answer the question, “What is your hope for the church?”.
I believe this is a tremendously important question to ask.
If, as I think we would all agree, the church is not everything she needs to be, then this is a question that we need to continually be asking ourselves. It’s a question that points us in the direction that we need to go while simultaneously reminding us who we have been called to be.
So what is my hope for the church?
My hope is that we will remember that being a holy people is defined more by what we do than what we don’t do. Holiness happens, not in the absence of action, but rather in those moments when we incarnate the redemptive love and grace of God to a lost and dying world.
Of course, this is not the type of holiness that most of us in the church were raised on.
For most of us, holiness is defined by a list of things we don’t do, places we don’t visit, people we don’t associate with. To be holy, a person simply (or perhaps not so simply) needs to avoid doing certain things. Rarely, if ever, is any form of action a requirement for holy living, at least not any action that extends beyond ourselves.
This understanding of holiness is, not surprisingly, due in large part to Moses. He was the great lawgiver who came down the mountain with stone tablets full of commands and laws that were meant to teach people how to be holy as God is holy.
However, as we see in Isaiah, God sent the people of Israel into exile because even though they followed every letter of the law, they had forgotten that fundamental to their call to be holy as God is holy is, like their God they must love, care for, and look after the lost, the oppressed, and the dying.
Fortunately, Moses wasn’t the only one to “come down the mountain”.
In the gospel of Matthew, we Jesus “coming down the mountain” as a new Moses. When he reaches the foot of the mountain, however, he does the most un-Moses-like thing he could do. There at the foot of the mountain stands a leper, an unclean man who, according to the law of Moses, Jesus the holy, clean man, should not touch, lest he become defiled.
But that is exactly what Jesus does.
He touches the man.
In that moment at the foot of the mountain Jesus does the holiest thing possible in the sight of people convinced that this very act was the most unholy thing imaginable. Instead of avoiding or condemning the unclean man, Jesus shows him grace, reaches out his hand, and makes the unclean man clean.
He shows the outcast leper love.
And heals him.
And in doing so, he resurrects the leper from a life of obscurity, irrelevance, oppression, and death.
This is what real holiness is all about.
For Jesus, being holy isn’t about strict obedience to a list of things we’re not “supposed” to do, nor is it about avoiding the “wrong” people.
It is a life lived out among the least of these.
You see, Jesus wasn’t called holy for the people or behaviors he avoided. He was called holy for what he did and who he embraced. It was those holy actions that defined his life.
People followed Jesus because of what he did. The sick sought after him because of what he could do. He was crucified because of the life he lived. He was resurrected because of what he did on the cross. And he will return one day to complete the work that he started.
So, for Jesus, holiness is about extending the love and grace of God to the unclean people of the world, so that every corner of creation can be redeem, reclaimed, and repurposed for use in the kingdom of God. In other words, holiness isn’t about what we don’t do, it’s about what we actually do for the kingdom of God.
When holiness is only about abstaining from things, then holiness is only about us. It’s about what we do for ourselves, with only ourselves.
However, when holiness is something we actually do, then it becomes about others and what we do for them.
When this happens, when holiness becomes defined by what we do and how we serve the world around us, then our holiness becomes reflective of who Jesus was and how he lived his life. In being holy for others we ourselves are changed and become the Christ-like people we were trying to become but never could become by focusing only on ourselves.
When that happens we have finally answered one of the most fundamental calls of our faith: Be holy as the Lord your God is holy.
Now, this is not all to say that there are certain things in life we shouldn’t do. There are. But if we are going to be the holy people God created us to be, then that holiness is something which must be lived out in love and service to the world.
The holiest moments in life are not the times we avoid drinking or smoking or having sex.
The holiness moments in life happen when a homeless drug addict is pulled off the street and given a second chance at life, when a single mother is given the help she needs to put a roof over her child’s head and food on their table, or when strangers help other strangers pick up the shattered pieces of their lives torn apart by a natural disaster.
If the church can remember this. If we can remember what true, Christ-like holiness looks like, then we may just change the world for the glory of God.
This is my hope for the church.
What is yours?
Grace and peace,