Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

Laboring for an Increase of Holiness

Message preached August 1, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon  Colossians 3:1-17 (plus other scriptures)

Order of Worship

              "Will you still labor with the Brethren for an increase of holiness, both in yourself and others?"An important question, one of four that used to be asked once a year of every member. "Will you still labor with the Brethren for an increase of holiness, both in yourself and other?"

Laboring for an increase of holiness. . . . . .

            I donít know about you, but sometimes that word "holiness" rings the wrong bell in me.

            I guess itís because "holiness" sounds so much like the phrase: "holier than thou." The same bell probably rings when the word "pious" is used. An image comes to mind of someone who tries to put on the look of piety, of holiness, as if it was a brand of make-up.

            Lord knows, few, if any of us were born with a halo stretching from ear to ear. The "holier than thou" person piously projects such a halo that all might see and think less of themselves in comparison.

            I guess that little "wrong" bell within me rings out because too many times in my life, Iíve seen the halos fall from the heads of the "holier than thou." And perhaps one of the halos that needed to fall was my own.

            One thing Iíve observed - the sins that the "holier than thou" condemn in others, are often the very same sins that contribute to the eventual falling of their own halos.

You donít have to wear a halo to be holy.

            As I said, the word "holiness" sometimes rings the wrong bell in me. But really the word "holiness" has gotten a bum rap over the years. "Holiness" has nothing to do with being "holier than thou," just as "piety" has nothing to do with being "visibly pious"

            You donít have to wear a halo to be holy. In fact, the folks I think of - when the real meaning of holiness comes to mind - are people who would probably object to being called "holy." And all those folks the Catholic church has over the years proclaimed as "saints," theyíd probably do the same.

            Now why would I use the word "saint" when talking about holiness? Well, simply because - in the language of the New Testament - "holiness" and "saint" came from the very same word. You know, we have a tendency to think of the saints either as perfect examples of what faithfulness means, or as those who have died in the faith before us. And thereís a degree of truth to this. Except that saints are seldom perfect, nor is physical death a requirement for the title "saint" Actually, if we take seriously how the epistles or letters of the New Testament begin, particularly those of the apostle Paul, then neither perfection nor death is a qualification for sainthood.

            Take the letter to the Colossians, for example. Paul addresses it to "the saints and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ at Colossae." Certainly, the folks who read or heard those words the first time couldnít have been dead. Of course, if it happened to be a hot, stuffy night, with plenty of bellies full, a number of them couldíve been asleep. But dead? No.

            And, my friends, I doubt very many, if any, were what youíd call - "perfect." Hardly. Elsewise, why would Paul need to encourage them to put away some rather difficult sins, and put on some of the things that make a Christian a Christian ? No, they certainly werenít perfect nor dead, at least at that time.

            When we read those words and take them seriously, does not the title "saint" apply to us, as well? O my, what have I just done? I went and called you ornery characters "saints." If Iím not careful Iíll start calling you "Holy" ... which is precisely the point. You donít have to wear a halo to be holy.

            Holiness is a calling. Itís not something that we wear, like make-up or special clothes. Itís something we are. In fact, we are not holy by virtue of anything we do. We are holy, rather, by virtue of what someone else did, and continues to do, for us.

            That someone else is God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirt. I havenít done an exhaustive study of how the words "holy" and "holiness" are used in the New Testament. But what I have discovered thus far is that these words, as they pertain to us, are used with such words as "called" and "chosen."

            We are holy, in other words, by virtue of the One who has called us, the One who has chosen us.

"As Godís chosen ones, holy and beloved..." (Colossians 3:12)
"You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, Godís own people." (1 Peter 3:9)
"God has reconciled you by Christís death to present you holy..." (Colossians 1:22)
"As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves..." (1 Peter 1:15)

1 Corinthians, a letter to some pretty divided and in some ways unfaithful Christians, even this letter begins: "To the church of God at Cornth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints . . ." (1:2)

            Holiness is a calling to which we are all called. We are chosen, and because we have responded to Godís choice, we are holy. When Godís choice is echoed by our choice, holiness abounds. Because God is holy, we are holy...

            "Because God is holy..." Those four words are a mouthful. Itís one thing to talk about holiness as it pertains to the saints, to us. Itís something inexpressively more to speak of holiness in terms of God. The holiness of God is far greater than our ability to talk about it. This sermon is really about holiness in relation to us. But we canít go any further without being encountered by the holiness of God.

            You stand there like Moses must have stood before that burning bush, utterly filled with the wonder of it all. And you know that what youí see is but a glimpse of something far greater than your senses could take in. How then do you describe Godís holiness? When it comes right down to it, you really canít. The most that can be said is a reaction, not a description. Praise. "Holy, Holy Holy! Lord God Almighty" But a funny thing happens as we encounter Godís holiness: The pathway ahead of us is transformed. The dusty road becomes the upward way. And we walk the way as if with bare feet. For to our eyes it has become holy. Not only that, but our very lives have taken on a certain holiness, hard to describe but impossible to ignore...

            Holiness is not a matter of being "holier than thou" or "overtly pious." It is not a matter of being perfect or dead. It is a matter of being touched by a holy God. And in that touch, well, there is death as we die to sin. Sin loses its power to dominate our lives, even to make us try to be "holier than thou." And in that touch there is perfection, though it is better to call it "Christ-like-ness," an urge to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, even amid all our imperfections. And in that touch there is piety - but a piety that is a heartfelt response to the awe-filled goodness of God, rather than an effort to prove a point about our goodness and otherís wickedness to men or to God.

            We donít have to wear a halo to be holy. We just need to be receptive to the touch of the Masterís hand...

            "Will you still labor with the Brethren for an increase of holiness, both in yourself and others?" Basically this old Deaconís question, used as preparation for Love Feast, asks this: "Are you still open to the touch of Godís hand?" Are you still "in touch" with God and his church, in such a way that you are willing to go where he asks, and do what calls you to do?

            If not, coming to the Lordís table will be just an act of formality.
                        The touch of a brotherís cleansing hand, or of a sisterís foot,
                        the holy kiss,
                        the sharing hand to hand of the beef and broth,
                        or whatever the meal is (when we share in a full Love Feast);
            Yet even when we share only in communion, as we will today -
                        The breaking of bread, sharing the cup,
                        passing from one to another,
                        Even cleaning up by hand afterward....

            If we arenít open to Godís touch, weíll miss it - the panorama of Godís banquet spread before us. All this will just be a formal meal. No more, no less. However, if we are open to it, God will surely touch us... God will make us his holy place...

            The question is, as we approach the table of the Lord just now: are you willing to be made into Godís holy place?

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Colossians.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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