Welcome to this post for worship on Sunday, November 15, at Digby Baptist Church. Text of the sermon is here, and video of Children’s Time, the Sermon, Holy Communion, and other elements. Other info about this Sunday can be found in the Bulletin (on the Bulletins page). 🙂
(Isaiah 6:1-8 Luke 5:1-10) – J G White – 11 am, Sunday, Nov 15, 2020 – UBC Digby
God is ____. What are the main single words we can use to fill that blank. God is… what?
God is Spirit. God is good. God is Creator. God is One and God is Three. God is love. God is holy.
Holy, Holy, Holy, sings the hymn. Decades ago, many a Baptist Church started every Sunday morning service singing this. It goes all the way back to Isaiah’s vision in chapter six of his prophetic book.
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts (armies); the whole earth is full of his glory. (6:3)
Our God is a holy God; so said the Hebrews, so say the Christians, through all history. What are we saying? When the spiritual beings, called seraphim, sang ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ that was the ancient Hebrew way to say very holy. Repeat an adjective and it is emphasized. God is not just holy. God is holy, holy, holy! Completely holy. Wholly holy.
What is holiness? What does the word ‘holy’ mean? Some of you, tell your answer, and I will repeat it for all to hear.
We gain a sense of holiness from the scripture stories. From the Holy Bible. There’s that word again. Something special about this Book, and our God, and the Holy Gospel we have to proclaim. So, we are talking about getting in touch with holiness. Holy is: magnificent and amazing, bright, good, beautiful, special and ‘set apart’ – like nothing else, awe inspiring and fear inspiring, pure, in contrast with impure things
So, God is holy. Far better and far different from us, and all other things. Completely different, or ‘wholly other,’ as the theologians say. This is key to our traditional teaching about God in Judaism and Christianity. God is holy, completely special and good and separate from us. And we are not holy.
So, we believe in this world, that seems so wrecked and broken a lot of the time, there actually is holiness, pure goodness, above and beyond us. There truly is a God. But this Holy One is like matter to our antimatter; we can’t dare meet up with pure God – we would instantly be destroyed.
Such was the experience of the prophet Isaiah, in Judah, in the 8th century BCE. He has this vision of God, with spiritual beings singing of God’s holiness; and Isaiah is ready to be annihilated, destroyed, vaporized. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and dwell among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (6:5)
This happens regularly in the Bible stories. Notice Peter with Jesus today, facing his sinfulness before this man of miracles. They all have this concept that a mere human cannot dare meet up with God directly; it could mean almost instead death. Yet, amazingly, people like Isaiah survive the holy encounter.
I keep thinking back to an old hymn in the old hymn books that an old pastor once quoted to me. He called it a true ‘gospel hymn,’ because it explained, in poetry, how we could possibly get right with the supreme Holiness of God. Look at the imagery of this song, it is all about the holiness that we cannot touch.
Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live and look on Thee.
The spirits that surround Thy throne
May bear the burning bliss;
But that is surely theirs alone,
Since they have never, never known
A fallen world like this.
Oh, how shall I, whose native sphere
Is dark, whose mind is dim,
Before th’ Ineffable appear,
And on my naked spirit bear
The uncreated beam?
There is a way for man to rise
To That, sublime Abode;
An Offering and a Sacrifice,
A Holy Spirit’s energies,
An Advocate with God:
These, these prepare us for the sight
Of holiness above;
The sons of ignorance and night
May dwell in the eternal Light,
Through the eternal Love.
Do we actually think of God as holy, this holy? As holy, holy, holy? So holy we can’t touch, or even come into God’s view? I think there is a lot of personal experience, and hope that people have, that says we can touch holiness. Glimpses of holiness break through all the time. Victorian Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is famous for this quotation:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
I have a book of prayers for Church services with the simple title: ‘Touch Holiness.’
What has your experience of the holy been? When have you seen or been touched by holiness?
The scriptures tell us that supreme holiness can be touched. We can be welcomed into it. Isaiah himself was welcomed in, with that vision which included a hot, burning coal taken out of the fire in front of God. The hot coal placed upon his lips cleansed him. Now those lips can speak, speak on behalf of Holy God, to an unholy people.
And our story of Jesus, which is just under the surface in the old hymn I quoted.
There is a way for man to rise
To that, sublime abode;
An Offering and a Sacrifice…
We learn to seek a path to be holy, here and now:
Keep the sabbath holy. (Exodus 20:8)
Take time to be holy.
You shall be holy as I am holy. (1 Pet 1:16)
Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy, set apart for You, my Master…
But is this ever our one desire? Is holiness ever that important to us? I won’t ask for a show of hands for who has aspired, above all else, to live a holy life. What difference does holiness make to our day-to-day lives? How about… what you wear? Your fashion?
Sarah Peel is a stylist and educator in Toronto. She teaches young people about fashion, and founded a couple of organizations that help people learn about fashion, human rights and sustainability. When she works with youth, Sara finds they are very interested in learning about clothing choices. She writes:
Youth are constantly plugged in to social media and pop culture, which influence their clothing choices. At the same time, school teachers help youth to engage with current issues: poverty, equity, climate change and the need to live more sustainably. These challenges are deeply important to today’s youth. And when students realize their collective consumer choices can influence the fashion industry – for the better – they are eager to get on board. [Mosaic, 2019]
Holy choices about what we wear can make a difference in this world. Holy shopping is a reality!
Holiness is our destiny, with God. We glimpse it here. We get connected. We even shine. ‘I am the light of the world,’ Jesus said, yet also, ‘you are the light of the world.’ Even when we shop, or cook and eat, or build a house, or start an exercise routine, or watch movies and shows, or create artwork: the holiness, the sacredness can shine.
This whole thing is a way of talking about getting life right. Getting right with God. With others. With the earth. With ourselves. How do you respond when holiness touches you?
We shall not be ‘wholly holy’ in this life – though some Christians do teach this is possible. The brilliant mathematician and scientist, Blaise Pascal, became a devout Christian in his short life. Pascal wrote: “Our greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in us some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.” (Pensées)
The Divine touch of holiness in our lives can be incredible. And how we need it! It is the life of God, meeting us, even living in us. ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory,’ as Paul wrote. (Col 1:27) And, to take it further, the Holy Spirit communes with our human spirits, telling us we belong with God. (Rom 8:16)
This is the good news we proclaim.
Sometimes we proclaim it simply by the holiness that shines through us.
We are motivated by the possibility of beautiful holiness shining in those we see all around us.
Thanks be to God.