In the Lectionary

Sunday, February 20, 2011: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5:38-48

Here are texts that say to the church: "You are holy."

My earliest memories of worship are of singing: "Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty!" I didn't know what the word holy meant, but I knew that it was associated with God. "Only thou art holy, merciful and mighty." God and only God was holy.

So it is a bit confounding to open Leviticus and find that Moses is to tell the Israelites that they are holy. Then we find Paul telling a little Corinthian church made up of the "low and despised in the world" that it is a "holy temple." The church of my upbringing has been careful to leave holiness to God. We are keenly suspicious of a "holier than thou" attitude. Say "righteous" and we instinctively add the prefix "self." We don't talk about holiness very much, yet here are texts that say to the church: "You are holy."

I suspect that the discomfort about holiness in my denomination, the United Church of Canada, comes not only from fear of the sin of pride but also from the sin of sloth. We are called to be witnesses to God's coming reign, but we'd rather fit in than stand out. To say that God is holy is to say that God is other, that God is not us, that God is odd. As a child I had no inkling that singing "Holy, holy, holy" was the equivalent of singing "Odd, odd, odd." It wasn't in our ecclesial DNA to be odd.