"The Lord spoke to Moses saying: Speak to all the congregation ... say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." Leviticus 19:1-2
A Biblical research team shared the story once on how one of its members was asked to write an article on Leviticus for a leading publication. The writer went to a local bookstore and asked the clerk if there were any resources available on Leviticus which is sacred literature in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The clerk smiled - replied - "I think you are the first person to ask this question in eight to 10 years."
Are we not surprised at this sort of response? How many of us Rabbis, Imams, Priests or Pastors have delivered a sermon/meditation on Leviticus? When was the last time we, in the general population, have heard a message on this writing.
The text chosen for today's newspaper column begins with you and I reflecting on: Who we are - then, how we are called to live. The truth is, there are not two of us who are exactly alike in appearance, thought patterns, behaviors and beliefs. Many aspects of our being have shaped us into the persons we are - as all were created in the Divine Image of God's Love.
Traits we have are many and varied. Our genetic make-up characterizes us according to the color of skin, eyes and hair. We come from different parts of the world. Educational patterns and norms are different, since everyone did not graduate from the same high school, college or university. We have opinions on most every matter under the sun: religious, environmental and political. We are different, yet we are one in the eyes of God. Moses is instructed to speak to ALL.
Leviticus establishes a basic truth of our universal desire to live in unity. It speaks to the issue of how we are to behave, to act, to communicate. This is not easy. Issues confound and confront us. Sometimes, we make our mistakes in addressing concerns. Either way, we are called to consider our Holiness, in response to who we are.
Mistakenly, in our culture Holiness often is defined as being perfect and demonstrating sound moral purity. If we are not careful, this can lead one to be self-righteous, as in criticizing another when one does not live up to our (holier than thou), standards and expectations.
Holiness is not about squeaky clean living. The Hebrew Word is KA-DOSH. The Greek Word is HA-GI-OS. As God's people, both words mean that you and I are called and set apart for the purpose of serving others, to be with others, and to be an advocate for goodness whenever the opposite seeks to prevail. Discernment is key.
Holiness is not about moral dos and don'ts. It is about a pattern of living which comes from the heart, clinging to a social ethic that embraces fairness in decision making while showing no partiality towards one group/person over another. Holiness is about having gossip die within us, and affirming the importance of the oldest amongst us, and the youngest who look to us for guidance. Holiness is about resisting grudge bearing, vengeance and violence, as we seek to live according to a pattern that respects God's Law, honor others and affirms the laws of nature. Holiness means we not only sympathize with the poor, but also empathize with them. Holiness is about caring, as God cares for each of us.
- Shellhamer is the pastor at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 2233 Linn St.