Monday, July 13, 2015

Know God - Holiness

Preached on Sunday, July 12, 2015

Scripture readings: Isaiah 6:1-13; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3

When I was in kindergarten it was a long time ago. It was back in the days when little children weren’t expected to learn by reading, and writing, and doing arithmetic. In kindergarten, I think we did most of our learning by playing.
South Coast of Orange County CA
Vacation: June 2015
There was a huge play house in our huge room. The play house had more than one room in it. It had a living room, and a dining room, and a kitchen. But it didn’t have a bedroom and it didn’t have a roof.
One day there was a girl who wanted me to be her husband in the playhouse. I got an inspired idea for something really funny for me to do as her husband. I came home from work, yelled that I was home, sat down in my chair, and went to sleep. I was snoring and snoring, and my wife tried to wake me up, but she couldn’t, because I was so sleepy. Then she got mad at me and quit, just as I had intended.
When my dad came home from work every day, he would come in, and kiss my mom, and sit down in his chair, and go to sleep. So, in my short stint as a husband, I was simply playing at being my dad and learning how it might work out. I certainly learned important lessons about marriage that day.
When I was five I wanted to be just like my dad. I wanted to learn how to resemble my dad in the things that were serious and in the things that were funny.
I want us to think about what it means to know God. We need to know that we cannot truly know God unless we know that God is holy, and we cannot understand holiness without understanding that if involves a kind of resemblance. Holiness is a kind of resemblance between God and us: or between us and God.
We are created for resemblance. In the story of creation, God says, “Let us make man (let us make the human) in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26)
When God did this, God also gave the man and the woman charge and responsibility over the earth and over everything in it. God’s gift of resemblance to humans was a gesture of trust and honor on God’s part. This quality behind God’s gift is part of the image of God. The image was nothing if it didn’t have this quality. The image is the face of God, but the fact that it was given in trust and honor is the heart of God: the image within the image.
God’s image is the image of a giver, not a taker. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, in the mistaken attempt to know what God knows, they were being takers, not givers. By taking a greater chunk of the details of resemblance, they lost the heart of their true resemblance. They lost their holiness when they tried to take it.
The story of the whole Bible is the story of God recreating the holiness in us that would make us more truly like him. In Second Corinthians, Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In Colossians, Paul says, “…you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10)
This is the gift of God. It is what we call grace. It is also work. It is God’s hard work. Peter says, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)
It is also hard work for us: “Therefore, prepare your mind for action; be self-controlled….) (1 Peter 1:13) “Therefore rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2:1)
In the Biblical languages “holy” means a kind of separateness. Christians, at their worst, are tempted to make being holy into a kind of separateness from joy and happiness. They make holiness into the rules of “Don’t do this” and “Don’t do that”.
The first thing the Bible calls holy is the seventh day. (Genesis 2:1-3) The seventh day is separate from all other days because nothing happens on that day except for rest, blessing, and enjoyment. It is a day without a sunset or a sunrise. In that sense it is different from all other days because it has no beginning and no end. It is a day that overlaps into all days and into eternity.
It’s about pleasure in the creation; and its message is that (as good as creation is) none of the creation can be called holy unless it contains appreciation and enjoyment. Life isn’t holy unless there is thanks and joy in it. Holiness is about a devotion to building such a world and living such a life.
Holiness is a kind of separation that takes this blessing seriously. Holiness is clean because it is not sloppy, or indifferent, or careless about what is good and beautiful. Holiness never says, “Whatever!”
Paul says, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe your selves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:12-14)
Being holy means separating yourself from anything that keeps you from creating such relationships, and making such a life, and building such a world. This is why God’s people, as individuals and as the body of Christ (the Church) are called to be holy. This is what holiness means.
The fact is that this can be very hard work. The separation of holiness means focusing with intensity and concentration for the sake of a way of life. Such devotion can build a life that can be enjoyed with intensity and concentration. That enjoyment is where you can find true rest. Maybe all the really good things in life require such intensity and concentration; as well as rest, and enjoyment, and thanks. The really good and abundant things like a garden, or a family, or golf require a kind of intensity and concentration for the sake of enjoyment and rest.
Isaiah had his amazing vision of God in the year that Uzziah, king of Judah, died. Uzziah (also called Azariah) ruled for fifty-two years.
Those had been long, good years, and the new king made the future look even better, but there was something missing. Most of the goodness was nothing more than respectability. It was mostly for show.
The faith and the spirituality of the people looked good enough when they went to the Temple, but it wasn’t real at home. It wasn’t real in the world of work. It wasn’t real in how people treated each other.
Does it seem cruel to say that God was not going to stand for all that phoniness and shallowness? God was concentrating intensely on giving his people the honor of resemblance to him when they thought that God ought to be impressed with them just the way they were.
They wanted the pleasures of success and control and so they worshiped those gods on the side. God wanted them to share the resemblance of doing justice and loving mercy. God wanted to walk him as he had walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. (Micah 6:8; Genesis 3:8-9)
When Isaiah had that amazing vision of God, he felt his own phoniness and shallowness. He felt the falseness of his people. He called it “uncleanness”.
Isaiah had been speaking for God with a holy concentration and intensity. Isaiah’s goal had been a cure for his people. God’s goal was more than a cure. God’s goal was a new creation, and that new creation is still in the works. It’s still in the making, even now.
Isaiah saw God enthroned in the Temple, and there had been a throne in that Temple for a long, long time. There was a throne long before there was a Temple. The throne was called “The Ark of the Covenant.” The covenant is the law of God and it is also the promise of God that binds God and his people together.
The Ark was the box that held the law and the promise, but it was a box built like a throne. The arm rests were angelic beings called cherubim who must have been cousins of the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision.
The throne was a holy place for the presence of God. It was a maker that reserved a place for the presence of God in the hearts of God’s people. The throne was the place where the blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled. It was the place where there was to be no separateness between people and God.
The sacrifices were an offering of a life in order to take away sin and to make God and his people one. That action of making God and people one is what the word atonement means.
The sacrifices of atonement in the Temple were pictures of the actual atonement that God, himself, would give to his people. God would come to earth in Jesus to offer his life on the cross as a sacrifice to make us, and the whole world, one with him.
That was the sacrifice that would make us into a new creation. Jesus is “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Isaiah saw and heard the holiness of God in ways that no words can do justice to. He heard that the whole fallen world was being pushed by the glory and weight of God’s holiness. Isaiah saw and heard that neither he nor his people had an inkling of the greatness of the movement of God in this direction.
The holiness of God was a separation into a groove of devotion, and concentration, and intensity to build a holy people to be the core of a holy world that would move in the grove of a holy resemblance. It would be creation existing as a single family; a great home of love and joy and fullness.
We pray to be fixed. God is determined to bring us to the end of ourselves and make us new. We try to show and tell others God’s way, and we end up showing and telling more about ourselves, and the world is not impressed.
Think of that burning coal from the altar of God. Think of that burning coal as the holiness of God dying as an atoning offering for you on the cross. Think of the coal as a melting of your heart and soul. Think of the coal as Jesus melting precious metal, and burning away all that isn’t pure, and beautiful, and useful.
It’s a process that takes time and work. What has Jesus purified in you? What has Jesus needed to burn away over time?
How has Jesus been making you holy? What has Jesus been separating you from?
The burning coal of Jesus makes you what you didn’t start out to be. The burning coal of Jesus makes you what you cannot be without him.
Isaiah asked, “How long?” In the work of the new creation, God is willing to take as long as it takes. That is part of the vision of holiness. It is the work that Isaiah was called to share, and it is the same work that we are called to share: to take as long as it takes.
We may watch God turn a tree into a stump. The holiness of God is willing to work with a stump to make it a tree again. God has been working through all the generations of Israel. God has been working through all the generations of the world, and the church, since the cross, to make that new creation.
The cross is the secret behind what God is doing. God takes death itself and makes it into life again.
What is it that seems like a stump in your life? What, in the world, looks like it is done, and done for? Whatever that is, it is like a cross that Jesus can turn into a tree of life.

God’s holiness is his ability to devote himself to this and to get it done. Our holiness is a resemblance to him that gives us the faith, and the faithfulness, that we need to share this work with God.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Dennis, I was a bit tired Sunday so I appreciate being able to 'hear' it again on line.