Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Holiness Dilemma: Formula or Formation?

Pentecost 14
Aug 30, 2015
Fr. Phil Eberhart

The Holiness Dilemma: Formula or Formation?

If you've been listening to the readings thus far this morning, you have heard a theme running through them all. Anyone want to take a stab at the theme?

Holiness, in a word. 

Holy Living.  What the reformation writer William Law entitled, "Holy Living and Dying."

In our world the concept of holiness is almost entirely turned upside down!  From the beginning, immediately after the Fall of Adam and Eve, we have been searching for the way back to God through religion and rules, rather than right relationship.  And in that very statement I've given up my bias, my preconceptions - that Holiness - what God is commanding (some might say de-manding) of us, is found in lists - I call them "to DON'T lists" - Something like the way we typically read the 10 Commandments!

Don't lie, don't steal, don't covet, don't swear by God's Name, don't worship other idol gods;  don't kill, no adultery, don't miss church on Sunday!  I like that one! Well I like them all, - the Don'ts and the Do's... because they make for a sane and safe society.  Honoring of parents and keeping the Sabbath are the positives, and the rest become a TO DON'T list.

And the Jews added over 600 other TO DON'Ts over the millenia to the list, just like us.  We love to make what God commands into a formula:  Don't do 1 and 2 and 3 and thus will happen.  That is the reason that Jesus, when he was about to leave his disciples, said this:

This is my "new commandment" - love each other in the same way I have loved you.
You see friends, what Jesus was trying to get across and what I'm trying to say this morning is Holiness isn't about the rules, its about the relationship.

Jesus Christ was holy because He only did what He saw His FATHER doing.  He had a habit of being in relationship with His Father in heaven - We can see it in his life, how he lived every day, day-in, day-out. He lived in reference to His Father's will; in rev-erence to God's presence and purpose, in His life and in His work, each and every day.  He was the perfect example of our three ways of discipleship:  Willingness (Not my will, but Thine be done), of availability (Behold, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world) and of obedience (I DO only what I see My Father doing.)

Friends, the sermon doesn't need to be long this morning in order to beat you over the head about all the you Shouldn't be doing - most of us are aware of the things we do that are outside of the will of God for us!     We love to keep rules and make TO DON'T lists and we think God loves that too - if we didn't why then does our world around us only see the lists?  So many only see the TO DON'Ts.  Even today.  Our culture has a great grasp on what we stand against!  But do they know what we stand FOR?

Do people who rub shoulders with you know experientially the LOVE OF GOD - unconditional love of God?  Do they see in you the FATHER HEART of God, his compassion and unfailing love for them, right where they are at in life?

To show that kind of love, that kind of grace, that kind of compassion, we have to have experienced it ourselves - we have to have come out of the rules and into the relationship.


It has taken me years to come to the knowledge that I am a child of God, beloved of God, just like he promised in John 1:12 - "to as many as receive Him he gave the power (right) to become children of God."   You see this is the relationship that God wants with us - for us to become his children, not just His creation.  He loves us as His creation!  But we relate to Him, personally, as His children.  Jesus taught us in fact, in the Lord's Prayer, to begin there:  We have in fact renamed the prayer to the OUR FATHER!  What Jesus taught us was  a prayer of relationship, not rules.

God is our Father - with all the weight of what that means for us (something that we have twisted now and all but eliminated in great segments of our society) - our cultural "father wound" is gaping and oozing - all because we have determined to ignore God as our Father.  We are far more comfortable with God as Lawgiver, as Teacher, as Judge in the far-away heavens; a Bette Midler god that is "watching us," but never personally involved.

Coming to know the Father heart of God is perhaps one of the greatest revolutions in the evolution of my own walk with God.  I heard a story this week of a father who took his son on a camping trip - a kind of right of passage into manhood.  To become a man, the father said, you must stay out in the woods blindfolded for one night, sitting on a tree stump throughout the night in the dark, with only the sounds around you.  Throughout the night the sons fears raged, as blindfolded he could only hear the sounds of the forest and imagine.  But come morning light he removed the blindfold to find his father sitting on a nearby stump, having sat with him throughout the night, protecting him and "with him."

I grew up with a Father wound - one I didn't even know I had.  As an adopted son, I was assured of my parents love - that they "chose" me - that I was God's "gift" to them.  But I was always plagued by the abandonment (even though it was completely subconscious - submerged in the depths of my soul) - until I occasioned to meet my birth father and to hear from my adoptive father, his own fears of losing me to a "new" father figure!  God himself turned that full circle at my ordination, when both men were present and blessing my becoming a Priest of God - Father Phil.  

Friends, its about your relationship with the Father.  OUR FATHER in heaven!

Isn't it interesting that the next words are HOLY IS YOUR NAME.  We become holy by being in relationship to the ONE whose Name is HOLY.  John, the beloved disciple (self described) said

[1Jo 3:1-2 ESV] 1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. ...  2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

The one who sees God as He is, becomes like Him!  Jesus told his disciples that if they had seen him, they had seen the Father!  Paul tells us that Jesus is the "express image of the invisible God!"  

So how did "proximity" and the dailiness of their relationship "form" the disciples into Sons of God?  I believe that the gospel stories are repleat with examples, just one from our reading this morning though:

Jesus is "entertaining" the Pharisees, up from Jerusalem.  And of course, as almost always happened the Pharisees came with their list!  That what it meant to be a Pharisee, after all!
And the infraction "du jour" was the disciples did not go through the ritual washings prescribed by the "law" in order to be "clean" enough to eat with them.  The Pharisees noted the infraction and brought it up to Jesus.

And Jesus was a kind to them as ever!  He only called them hypocrites, not a brood of vipers, this time!  You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

'This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.'

Probably the most frightening words in this story are the words "In vain do they worship me."

Friends, I want to urge you this morning not to be here worshipping "in vain."  Don't make this God thing into a rule thing!  Don't approach other people with your rules on your sleeve!

The point of our worship here this morning is so that, in encountering His Presence, we may become more like HIM.  In looking to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, we may come to know Him, as Paul said, "in the dynamic power of his resurrection and in the shared suffering of his cross, becoming like him, even in the death he died."

Listen to how The Message puts it:
The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant ... I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it. (Phil 3: 7-11)

And so it was with so many of the disciples, not instantly, but over their lifetimes, these words became true of them, every one, save John, who died a natural death, the only disciple of the original 12 to do so!  

It is about our relationship with Jesus, friends.  It is not about the rules.  Its not about the formula, its about the formation!  It is about becoming like Him, in our life every day and in our death, when it comes, however it comes.  Holiness is being WITH HIM and becoming LIKE HIM.
Holiness is willingness - availability - AND obedience!  As James said in our reading as well, doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. ... those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.

Please turn back to the opening Prayer and let us pray it again, together:

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

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