Photo Credit to Robert Lentz “Christ of Maryknoll”
There once was a man who sought the answers to his life’s questions. The Western life pursuit of Success didn’t satisfy his longing. Traditional practice of worship sitting in a pew left him cold. He cashed in his 401k and went searching. He followed gurus in India in “Eat, Pray, Love” fashion. He spent time cross legged with Monks in Thailand humming “Om.” He even climbed a mountain and spent a year in solitude. Everything helped, but it was as if this itch wouldn’t go away no matter how much he scratched, it all seemed like it was just the surface. He wanted to go deeper. He wanted his spirituality to be real, felt, whole.
Finally, the man heard of an old wise man who lived in Mexico City. The man was immediately skeptical. Weren’t the holy men supposed to live life in monasteries, temples or impeccably high cliffs? The address that he had been given led him to a busy corner in a rough part of the city. He arrived in the late morning. He looked around, surrounded by abandoned buildings where squatters were just waking up and beginning to gather at the only business in sight – a 7 Eleven. He watched as the homeless entered the establishment, each got a cup of coffee, and then came back out into the parking lot where they gathered in a circle. Together they seemed to be sharing personal issues and struggles. He then watched as they held hands in prayer, sang a song, and then with a collective “amen” they parted.
The man saw what was happening. “This must be the group the man leads.”
He chose one of the homeless men that he assumed was the leader and began following him. This man went two blocks down the street to a dilapidated apartment complex. Walking into one of the apartments as if he owned it, he began working on the plumbing using tools he pulled from his pockets. All the while a small group of children and a mother holding a baby watched on. They all smiled at the man who had followed the homeless plumber into their abode. They even offered him something to eat and drink.
After many hours work, when the plumber was finished, he looked at the man. “What are you doing here?”
“Are you the wise one I seek?” The man asked.
The plumber stood up smiling. “I am not the one you seek, but I know him.”
“Will you take me to him?”
“Come tomorrow morning, get a coffee at the 7 Eleven, and he may show up for you.”
The man did exactly that. He arrived, followed the homeless men into the 7 Eleven, got his cup of coffee, and joined them in the circle. Again, they shared from their hearts about the struggles they were going through. They shared tools of their trades so that each had what everyone needed that day. Every time for each instance, those gathered offered support and encouragement. Again, they prayed, sang a song. And again, they parted to go off to work.
Confused, the man followed a different man, one he felt sure was the leader. This one turned out to be a carpenter working on a nursery for a day care. The next day he followed another – who was a retired teacher who volunteered time at the local school as a tutor.
He followed each of them. The lawyer who did pro bono. The elderly man who read books at the library all day to kids who gathered. The brick mason who was re-pointing the bricks at the post office. There were all kinds of workers, each using what he had in his pockets to help the community around them.
After he had followed each of them, none of which admitted to being the leader, he grew frustrated. “Exactly who in God’s name is the leader here!” He exclaimed.
The plumber, the first man he had followed, walked over to him and frowned. Then he slapped the man in the face. The man was shocked. “God is our leader. Everything we do is in his name. After all this time, if you don’t see, you can’t possibly be shown.”
Though no one told him to leave, the man left the circle. He went to one of the abandoned buildings and wept. The next morning, the sun beamed through the windows and warmed his face, awakening him. He got up, went into the 7 Eleven, and gathered as if he always had in the circle. There, he expressed his love for God. There he sang his heart out to God. There he said Amen. And then he left, to find need in the community that he could provide for.
God called us to be Holy as God is Holy. Like today, the early church struggled with what it meant to be holy. Did it mean avoiding sin? Did it mean spending time in prayer, meditation, worship? What about good deeds? In the conversation of grace, where do good deeds come into play? A conservative branch of the church has always emphasized God’s forgiveness as and repentance as all that is necessary for salvation. A liberal branch of the church has always emphasized social action, missions to help save not just the soul, but the physical body as necessary for salvation. In the early Church, the book of James already answered the question. Both are required.
I can’t do good on my own… I’m just a vessel for God’s love to flow to the world.
Personal Holiness is showing our Love for God. More precisely, it’s sharing the love of God with God.
- Worship and prayer – not just asking but spending time with God!
- Forgiving yourself
- Devotions and Fasting – limiting actions so that what you do matters more
- Not posting that obnoxious post on Facebook that you know is going to be controversial just to be controversial
- Giving money to support the ministry
- Reading the Bible
- In general, not being a jerk about faith, but enjoying the compassion and love that Christ pours out upon us all freely.
Social Holiness is showing our Love for Neighbor, sharing the love of God with others.
- Sharing mercy in missions
- backpack ministry to feed kids in poverty on the weekend
- Mission Garden to provide fresh veggies
- Impact 757 and going to Waverly on UMVIM trips
- forgiving others especially when they don’t deserve it
- visiting or writing notes to someone who’s world has shrunk to the size of their home
- Sharing God’s vision of justice and kingdom in a broken world
- Does God desire freedom for those enslaved to drugs, debt, or a system that is broken? Yes!
- Does God want us concerned for refugees and immigrants? Yes!
In the Super Bowl of life, God has a bias, it is always for the underdog. To be holy as God is holy requires us not just to have faith, but to do faith. Our faith must have action attached to it.
Here’s the thing, though, “No Social Holiness, No Personal Holiness.” James, “Someone might claim, you have faith and I have action. But how can I see your faith apart from your actions?” Truly loving God causes God to love through us to our neighbors. Truly loving our neighbors causes us to truly love God. If all we do is get our cup of coffee and join the circle for songs and prayers – we have personal holiness. If all we do is go out into the world and be good people helping others – we have social holiness. Faith without Works is dead. Works without Faith is turning grace into a merit badge or a brownie point.
Be holy as God is holy. Love God. Love neighbor. This is the Gospel. Amen.