Holiness

Enough God for the Journey?

Last week I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico with my cousin, Ron. The Unitarian Church there always has something interesting on its marquee. Last week the sign had only three words, it read, “Spirituality without God.”  My cousin Ron asks me what that sign meant. I said, “I think they’re just trying to being honest.” The UU church advertises itself as place where people can find spirituality without God. People who enter that church will probably find a warm and loving fellowship. They will find a pastor that listens to their problems and visits them in the hospital. They will find a rich educational program where there are activities for their children and youth. As a visitor to that church passes through the narthex they might see a place where the people drop off donations for the food bank and sign up for work trips and volunteer to knit items for the local nursing home — doing good is probably something that this church in Albuquerque does well.  

 

What is missing?  Is it really possible to have spirituality without God?

Sunday, February 26, 2017
Epiphany 8

Jesus' Higher Standard

Jesus sometimes sets the bar so high that it seems out of our reach. He tells us to turn the other cheek when we are struck, to constantly assume the humbler position (wash each other’s feet), and here in Matthew 5:21-37, to take the ten commandments so seriously that we might maim ourselves to find holiness. It seems prudent and scholarly to downplay Jesus’ words. To say that just like the bit about camels going through the eye of a needle, Jesus is using hyperbole. But, not so quick. Jesus is speaking to the simple country folk coming with their families out to a gentle hill for the afternoon picnic and lecture. He doesn’t want to confuse them or us. What he wants is to set them on a pathway towards personal holiness. 

    The threshold to the kingdom of God is extremely low. The kingdom of God is already among us, we only need to believe in order to enter. But the daily life of a Christian is extremely hard. It begins with our family. When we flirt with a coworker, we put at risk multiple families and potentially harm the children in our care. Adultery is such a serious problem that Jesus says pluck out your eyes if you need to. Don’t go down that wrong path.

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Epiphany 6

Holy People, Holy Places

Places where we experience the Holy are more common than people who embody holiness. As we watch Pope Francis visit our hemisphere, this seems to be the point neglected by many commentators. The crowds are coming as pilgrims to places where they expect a blessing. No matter what the form our religion takes, we are called to extraordinary prayer in particular places and by contact with those we consider to be Holy. It is important to recognize this fact without getting too analytical.

 

I Am Who I Am

This is a good time to explain the name of God. It’s a pun. God will be who he will be. Like particles in quantum physics, he will appear as necessary, according to his own mysterious laws, in the midst of the situation. On the flip side of the pun, he has always been the unchanging one. This is a good time to say nothing. I follow the Hebrew convention of not uttering the name.  

 

If we speak of anything, we should point out how God’s name criticizes conservatives and liberals equally. In fact, we should share how Exodus 3:14 speaks against our own cherished belief system. 

 

If we are liberal, we should admit that our God is a jealous god. He brings his people out into the wilderness to purify them. He gives them ten commandments, the first of which forbids them from choosing their religious beliefs ale carte. No matter how modern we get, we can never forget that we deal with a particular Holy One, who calls us to be holy. Situation Ethics is a slippery downward slope. The one with whom we have to deal, does not change.

 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

ReThinking Holiness

  You know how you pass those signs saying “Leaving City Limits of…”? Today I realized that I had left the holiness movement. My denomination (United Methodist) has a rich tradition of seeking personal holiness above all else. The Holiness Movement, which began in Wesley’s time among anabaptist groups, rose in prominence in the American religious scene throughout the 1800s, then lost favor to the prosperity gospel of the 1960s. Until the new millennium, I considered myself a holiness preacher. More than my colleagues, I emphasized the need for Christians to lead lives that grew more holy each passing day. Today, I saw the last hint of that attitude fade in my rear view mirror.

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