Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Holiness as positive force. . .

Holiness is more typically defined in terms of what you do not do.  Holy people do not. . . well, you fill in the blank since that is what has happened over the years.  The easier word to use to fill in the blank is the simple word sin.  Holy people do not sin.  Which is fine in theory but does not work so well in practice for a people who are born sinful, born into sin, born into a sinful world, etc...  Unless holiness is simply an unapproachable or unreachable goal, holiness has to be more than not sinning.  It also must be more than something negative -- the stuff you do not do -- and must be something positive.

Luther in the Small Catechism keys in on this, whether by accident or design I cannot tell.  But it is there.  The explanations to the Commandments are less about what we should not do but what we are to do.  It is not running away from sin that holiness is about but embracing godliness.  The Lord says no god but Him.  Luther says We are to fear, love, and trust.  The commandment says do not abuse the name of the Lord your God.  Luther says we should bear and love God. . .[and] call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.  The Lord commands us to sanctify the holy day.  Luther says We should fear and love God . . . [and] hold [preaching and His Word] sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Luther does not forget to emphasize what is not to be done but neither does he forget to emphasize what is to be done.  

Holiness is not the striving against evil alone but the striving for that which is good, right, holy, true, and beautiful.  To strive for the holy life is not to look down to avoid the dog poo and mud puddles in your path and walk about them -- rejoicing at your success when you get home and your soles are clean.  No, holiness is to look to Jesus, to the things of God, to the Kingdom of Heaven, and walking through the poo and puddles and rejoicing that through the blood of Christ you are clean at home -- clean souls through the grace and mercy of God alone.  The first type of holiness is intent upon marking and witnessing progress on the ladder of godliness but the other view sees no progress nor does it seek signs of progress for it is transfixed upon Christ alone.

So Luther in the commandments does not ignore what must be forbidden and condemned but he also does not fail to hold before us the goal -- fearing and loving God above all things and. . . honor, serve, obey, love and cherish our parents and other authorities and helping and supporting our neighbor in every physical need and husband and wife loving and honoring each other and helping our neighbor improve and protect his things and defending, speaking well of, and putting the best construction on everything and helping and serving our neighbor so that he may keep what is his and urging those who are our neighbor's to do their duty.

Holiness is not a mere matter of what you give up but what you seek.  We seek to be those who have no guile in our hearts, to be a people transparent in hope and love, moved and directed by the Spirit for the things of the Spirit, and living through the means of grace the eternal life (already ours but not yet completed in us).  You cannot do this by looking down or looking at yourself.  Holiness asks us to look beyond ourselves and the world around us to Jesus, the author and perfector.  He is the power to teach us to forgive, to forsake ungodliness and self-indulgence, and to strive after self-control not as a straight jacket constraining us against our wills but as wills born anew in baptism to seek after the things of God.

Holiness remains an admired virtue but a distant one in a world in which the interior voice of desire is the most trustworthy voice you can hear.  The voice you always listen to is the voice you value most of all.  For our culture that is not the voice of God, perhaps not even for many within the Church.  We hear other voices and listen to them first and foremost.  Perhaps that is why we admire holiness without actually seeking to be holy, why we love being spiritual but eschew the religious things of worship and piety and doctrine, and why we resort to commands to define what we should and should not do instead of to the voice of the Spirit living in us, new people by baptism and faith.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Pastor.
Love the way you use Luther's Small Catechism to explain things.
Timothy Carter, simple country Deacon.