Sermon: Preparing for a Holy and Fulfilling Lent.
AND the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, ‘Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.’” [Leviticus 19:1-2]
Today is the start of the pre-Lenten season, what we fondly call the “Gesimas,” and we are one of the few churches left that recognize this season. This particular season lost support during the post-Vatican II Sixties and Seventies, when the push was to try to keep the baby-boomers in the pews. The thought was that Lent in and of itself was too much of a “downer,” so why make it longer. But this belief belies both a misunderstanding of the pre-Lenten season, and a miscalculation as to what was happening in the pews.
The “Gesima” season is a period of preparation for Lent. We are to stop and take account. We are to start thinking about our Lenten devotion and what it means. And it helps us to turn our thoughts from the joy of Christmas to the ultimate victory of Easter, and the period of trial and suffering in-between. But it is NOT a time where we start our Lenten observation. No, rather it is a contemplative and self-examining period. It, therefore, is a very important time. So, it is no wonder that our lessons for today deal with holiness.
The concept of holiness is one that makes many people uncomfortable. First, many people think it is impossible to strive for holiness unless you are a saint. Second, many see it as a rigorous requirement, akin to taking trapist monk vows. But all these thoughts are incorrect.
AND the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, ‘Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.’”
What is clear from our lessons for today is that holiness is not a matter of what we do. Holiness is something that happens TO us. Think about it, when I bless something for use in the church, I consecrate it – I make it holy. The Altar cloth has done nothing to achieve holiness. It BECOMES holy through the blessing.
Likewise, the Israelites were MADE a holy people by the choice of God. They were consecrated for this purpose. And nothing they did personally achieved their holiness.
We Christians are the same. We do not achieve holiness through our actions. We achieve it when we choose Christ as our Savior, and when we are baptized into the faith. This sets us apart. This makes us a holy people, like the Israelites. As Saint Paul put it in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?
From the moment of our Baptism on, we have been set apart for God. We have been made his special people. And as such, we are to conduct ourselves accordingly. This means, keeping the thought that we are a holy people perpetually before us as we go through our daily lives.
I am currently reading an article in the magazine First Things. It is called “Jewish Survival in a Gentile World,” and it is written by David Goldman.
The premise of the article is that there are two separate paths for the Jewish people to follow if they hope to survive as the nation of Israel. The first is tolerance – the belief that if society is tolerant of minorities, and because the Jewish people are a minority, Israel will be tolerated. The second is indispensability – the belief in the election of the Jewish people. As Mr. Goldman wrote, “The second hopes that the gentiles will in some way acknowledge Israel’s election and thus safeguard Israel because Jewish holiness is indispensable.”
Then Mr. Goldman goes on to bemoan the loss of this awareness in the Jewish people. Because Jewish people in this post-modern time no longer view themselves as set apart for God, they have a hard time believing this second point.
This is also true for Christians. How often have you thought of yourselves as holy? How often have you thought of yourselves as set apart from the world? How often have you thought of yourselves as consecrated TO God? I venture to guess that the answer is, “Not very often, if at all.” Well, I am here to tell you that you are set apart. You have been consecrated to God. You ARE God’s saints. And, yes, you ARE holy!
On February 2, we do not celebrate Groundhog Day; we celebrate the Purification of the Virgin Mary. In the Anglican faith, we call it Candlemas, because it is the time that we bless the candles used in church. But, it is also the time that we celebrate Christ’s presentation in the Temple. This event is recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke:
AND when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.
For us Christians, the event that makes us holy unto the Lord is Baptism. And just like Christ, by His birth, by our Baptism, WE are made holy – regardless of what we have done or what we have NOT done.
But holiness DOES require something of us – we are to change. This is the theme that we explored last week. We need to change to show our love of God. But we must also change because we are holy and dedicated to God:
Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
Being holy requires that we change. It requires that we act according to God’s law. This should not be a chore; it should be a joy. But it does require a change in attitude. And that change is made clear in our Gospel lesson for today. We are to turn the cheek. We are to love our enemies. And we are to be generous with others. We are to be Good Samaritans.
This reminds me of the story of the Sunday School teacher who was giving a lesson on the Good Samaritan. The teacher said, “What would you do if you saw a man bleeding beside a road?” One small voice came from the back, “I’d throw up.”
As we approach Lent, I want all of us to think about what it means to be holy. What does it mean to us? How are we to act; and how are we to live? What does it mean at work; what does it mean at home; what does it mean at church? How are we to act in private; and how are we to act in public? I want you to pray on all these issues. And if you do, I can assure you that your decision as to what to do this Lent will become clear. And you WILL have a holy and fulfilling Lent.