This was a wholly moment for me to say the least. Wholly in the sense of entirely – as in my heart was now complete and full. But it was also a holy moment as in it felt like God had something to do with bringing us together. Kathleen is an answered prayer for sure.
When two people come together in love, it truly is a holy and sacred moment. If you ask me, that’s the whole point of life – to be both whole and holy in mind, heart, and soul; including with God and with each other. According to scripture, it’s the way we are to live into our truest self to be who God truly made us to be. And what did God make us to be?
Leviticus is the book in the Torah that is filled with life’s little do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts). It includes things like purity laws, types of sacrifices, and moral holiness. Which is why most people avoid this book like the plague, which Leviticus covers as well.
One of the central themes of the book (as it is throughout the entire bible) is holiness. It talks about holy priest, holy places, holy clothes, holy objects and holy utensils, holy holidays, and of course, holy laws. And it all can be summed up in one sentence: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.”
Is it me, or does that feel like God is setting us up to failure? Perhaps the best way to think of this passage is to recognize that “God is holy. And this holy God is intent on making a holy people to live forever in a holy heaven.” (DeYoung)
We tend to think that holiness is something for the cloistered halls of a monastery. Something that’s impossible to obtain in a sinful and corrupt world. But I think that’s just an excuse not to try our best to be our best.
While the Hebrew word “Kodesh” does refer to moral purity, the basic meaning of holy or holiness is to be "set apart for a specific purpose.”
For example, in his Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln declared the infamous battlefield as “hallowed ground.” In doing so, he set it aside and dedicated it to be place of special significance; consecrated to commemorate the lives of the soldiers sacrificed in the battle.
Having been made in God’s image means God’s holiness is a part of our DNA. We’ve been consecrated and set apart by God’s Spirit to bear the good fruit of God’s glory which “consists in thinking as God thinks, and willing as God wills.”
What does God think? What does God will? Well, that too can be summed up in one sentence – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Which is exactly how Jesus set himself apart.
As I've pointed out before, Matthew 22 is filled with numerous challenges from all sorts of people trying to stop Jesus’ influence from spreading. Although today’s question doesn’t seem to be that challenging to him. They want him to pick the greatest commandment.
On a good day, most of us could recite the 10 great commandments. But I doubt any one of us knows all 613 found in the Torah, including the 365 laws that tell us what not to do, and the 248 laws that tell us what to faithfully do?
As Jesus has clearly demonstrated time and again, he’s pretty smart when it comes to this kind of stuff. He honors their question by reciting two passages from the law. The first being the “shema” found in Deuteronomy 6:5 which states:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The second one is from our passage today, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
But then Jesus flexes his muscles a little by making the two verses one when he declares, “On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.”
If you’re a regular at Anamesa it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that our holiness comes down to this basic principle: love God, and love others.
Like Kathleen and I, these two actions are intertwined; one in the same. Love is the way to live a faithful and holy life in the eyes of God. And it’s expressed in the way we faithfully demonstrate that love to one another.
Of course, this is no ordinary love Jesus speaks of. It’s not puppy love like we have as teenagers. It’s not emotional affection, which we have with family and friends. And although there are plenty of passages in scripture that describe it as such, it’s not romantic love like that share between two people. However, it is the kind of love that makes me deliriously happy.
Matthew uses the Greek word “agape,” which is a self-giving, sacrificial love. The kind that is more concerned about the other person’s needs and wants than fulfilling one’s own. Agape is a love that is of and from God, whose very nature is love itself.
The Apostle John describes agape with this charge: “Love one another because love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7-8)
Having been made in the image of God, means we are made with love, for the purpose of love…to be holy as God is holy. But here’s the thing, “agape” is a conscious decision one makes to see others as God sees them. And to intentionally love all things the way God loves them – wholly and infinitely.
It’s the holiness of love that enables us to be inclusive, forgiving, honest, charitable, and healing. It encourages us to tear down the barriers and walls of division, and frees us to love our neighbors without fear, jealousy, or anger.
For Jesus, this is simple math. The love of God equals the love of neighbor. The two are not mutually exclusive as if one could love God but hate another. Again, John declares, “Those who say they love God and hate a brother or sister is a liar. If you do not love a brother or sister whom you see, you cannot love God whom you do not see.” (1 John 4:20)
Wendy Farley writes, “Compassionate action reflects and mirrors the divine image. Love is not an emotion or obligation but is God present in the soul.” One thing we ought to be striving to do is to see others through the eyes of God the way Jesus did.
To be holy as God is holy begins by looking through that divine lens, and choosing to love what you see in the same way as God loves you.
It’s through acts of self-giving charity, kindness and generosity that God’s holiness becomes visible and tangible in us and through us, just as it was in and through Christ Jesus.
You see being holy isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being like Christ - God’s perfect love made manifest in human form. It’s about mirroring your life with Jesus, reflecting his way of being one with God and one with creation.
It’s about putting flesh on God’s presence like Jesus did. And making love the first and only priority until the world is deliriously happy.
It’s about letting go of yourself and “thinking as God thinks, willing as God wills”…loving as God loves.
Instead of trying to convince yourself that this impossible…simply ask yourself “What can I do with what I have right now in front of me to make God’s love come alive in me?”
John of Kronstadt was a Russian Orthodox priest who lived in a neighborhood rampant with alcohol abuse. Compelled by love, John would go out into the streets where “he’d lift the hungover, foul-smelling people from the gutter, cradle them in his arms and say to them, ‘This is beneath your dignity. You were meant to house the fullness of God.’” (Smith)
Mother Theresa did something similar with those where were left to die on the streets of Calcutta. She took them into her home, not to heal them or prolong their suffering, but to simply be the visible presence of God’s love and compassion as they pass on.
Fr. Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, used agape to transform the lives of thousands of violent gang members in Los Angeles. It’s not impossible at all.
There are so many ways you can make love grow in Anamesa…in that space between our God and our neighbor. There are Food Pantries who need volunteers to pack and handout meals for people who are suffering from food insecurity.
There are men and women living on our streets who need basic items like clean socks and fresh water.
There are teenagers in foster care who could use a mentor.
Elderly neighbors who could use some companionship. Co-workers who need a compassionate friend to trust.
Simple acts like these make love whole and holy. It can make us deliriously happy. And like Jesus said, it’s these type of things that will set us apart in the kingdom of heaven. “For what you do to the least of these, you do also to me.”
Kathy Walker reminds us that “God is challenging us to see the face of God in our neighbors and then love them as we love ourselves. We should focus our energy and attention on the things that we must do every day…as a recognition that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our being, with all our mind.”
It’s only when we truly understand what God’s love means to us that we are truly able to understand who we are. God’s very own beloved children.
From love we were made, and for love we are sent out into the world to be holy like God is holy.
Bartlett, David, Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011).
DeYoung, Kevin. The Hole in Our Holiness. Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishing, 2012).
Farley, Wendy. The Thirst of God (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2015).
Smith, James. The Good And Beautiful God. (Dower Grove, IL: IVP, 2009)
Walker, Kathy. Stumped. October 23, 2023 (accessed on October 27, 2023).
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”