Saturday, February 06, 2010

C, Epiphany 5 - Isaiah 6:1-6 "On Being Holy"

In our quest for happiness, happiness appears to be fleeting! The more we seek satisfaction, the greater the dissatisfaction we experience. This absurd contradiction is the reality our Western World faces as we live our lives in pursuit of pleasure. Always wanting to be happy, but never really seeing it! Surrounding one's self with entertainment, but living with continual feelings of total abandonment, marooned in isolation! Needing contentment, but constantly wanting more! Busy earning happiness but never winning that for which we've worked! Our hunt for happiness seems to lead us further and further away from what we want; only increasing our quest for happiness.

Perhaps we've got it all wrong! After all, we're becoming more depressed over our lot. The mass of stuff we accumulate around ourselves to give us a sense of worth only increases our loneliness and continues to expose the reality of the big black darkness of our inner self. The truth is: we humans get it wrong all the time! In fact, it's clear to see; we've get it terribly wrong by hunting for happiness in this life!

God would rather us pursue holiness over against happiness. Holiness is God's quest for us and it leads us away from self-obsessed happiness towards peace, joy, and hope which truly drives out the deepest darkest yearnings of the human heart.

Holiness now, over against happiness now is God's way of dealing with us, with our sin, and with the powers of darkness, that unsettle us and lead us into a hellish life. Holiness leads us out of a self-obsessed existence into the holy community of God. It takes us away from ourselves and plants us in the eternal hope of God.

Happiness however, ends in isolation from community. Even a group of individuals seeking the same happiness, have no community or unity with each other. The group is together in the one place in one time yet they feel isolated and alone despite being amongst like mined souls.

This is our world! Acting as if we were one, yet suffering in silence! Everyone carrying the same sickness, yet no one knowing what their neighbour is going through! We tell each other how happy we are, hiding the truth of our wanting and uncertainty!

The great problem with happiness is happiness is all about pleasing the self. It sends us on a quest that separates us from each other as happiness gets built on success. Unfortunately success measures itself on the failures that surround it. Therefore, killing community in a game of one-up-manship!

Holiness however, delivers one into rest from the competitive nature of happiness and gives peace and joy. Joy, unlike happiness, is ground in community where one is made a part of something much bigger and better. This bigger and better is God. This God is holy and the whole earth is full of his glory.

But what is being holy? How can we be holy? What are we to do to get this holiness; the same holiness that God possesses? God, in fact, demands holiness from us. But unless we're holy, then happiness, and especially peace and joy, will never be found.

To be holy one must be in the presence of God, who is holy! In the Old Testament God says to you, "For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy… For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." (Leviticus 11:44a, 45)

God tell us we must cleanse ourselves to be in his holy presence. When we are clean in God's presence we are then blameless and pure, absolutely sinless and perfect.

If we come into God's presence unclean bearing our impurity, imperfection - our sinful being or nature – and God does not deal with this uncleanliness then he himself is no longer holy. And if God becomes unholy, he is no longer God, he would cease to exist. However, God cannot do this because his nature or being is holy and so the unholiness cannot co-exist with his holiness, one must be swallowed up by the other. Therefore, if we are not holy as God is holy, if we fail to be clean before God, we die.

Isaiah knew this when he came before God. God's holiness revealed the dirtiness of his existence. As Isaiah came into the light and purity of God, his sinful humanity was exposed, and he cowered expecting to die.

Isaiah reports… I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isaiah 6:1-5)

At this point Isaiah must have felt like a bug in a bug zapper! He realised his fate like an insect in the millisecond between resting upon the zapper wire and receiving its fatal bolt of frying light and energy! Yep! Isaiah thought he was as good as dead!

Similarly Simon Peter a rough and ready fisherman from Galilee thought the same when Jesus revealed himself to be God the Son by granting him and others a catch of fish after having caught nothing.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (Luke 5:8)

In these two instances these men knew they weren't holy, they knew no matter what they did they couldn't be holy as the Lord God was holy. And yet they lived! God had to do something so his holiness was not desecrated and so man's unholiness didn't bring about sudden death.

Isaiah knowing he was unclean and guilty was made blameless by an act of God. One of the seraphim came to him with a live coal from the holy altar of God and touched his lips making him clean. And then God commanded Isaiah to impress his holy word upon the people who had long forgotten about God or remaining holy in his presence.

Simon Peter didn't get his wish for Jesus to leave him. Rather, Jesus called Peter to remain with him. So Peter, James, and John left their boats and followed Jesus. So how did these men co-exist with one who was holy? They too should have been struck down by God's holiness.

These men didn't die because they were invited to witness an event. This event has changed humanity's relationship with God forever. This event led the disciples from Lake Galilee to the cross. These men were led on a new road with one who would atone for their sin.

Just as Israel was lead on an exodus from Egypt's bondage into being holy, through adherence to the Law, Peter and the disciples were led by Jesus on a road out of bondage too.

The Law is holy, it is perfect, pure, and blameless. However, as Peter, Isaiah, and anyone who seeks to work their own righteousness knows the Law exposes just how much we cannot keep the Law to be holy.

So Jesus was sent! He gave up his Godliness and lived as a human being. He was sent to live under the Law, to perfectly fulfil it, so he would be holy and blameless in God's sight. And he did it, not because he was God's Son, but because he was faithful to his Father, and so he could give his holiness to us.

From the moment of his baptism at the River Jordan by John the Baptist, he began to absorb the sinfulness of humanity. He began mopping up our constant failure to be holy, and he took our self-seeking happiness on himself too - the happiness that gives us no real happiness at all. Like a sponge he began soaking up the blood of our deadly sin, and carried it to Calvary, where God wrung it out on the cross.

Having been wrung out on the cross, we now carry the cleanness of Christ, our hearts readily absorbing the holiness of God as he pours out his blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

Bearing the cleanliness of Christ, fulfils the Law, and allows us to stand blameless before God in peace and with joy. This is holiness! This holiness we receive in Jesus' sinless death and resurrection is the gospel of our salvation. You are holy because Christ is holy, and he gives his holiness to those who trust in him.

Searching for happiness now is folly! You will not find it until your sinful nature is dealt with; and death and the devil are defeated in you.

Looking for happiness drives us into isolation and despair which is down right dangerous. Luther warns, "Those who are troubled with melancholy ought to be very careful not to be alone, for God created the fellowship of the church and commanded brotherliness, as the Scriptures testify, ''Woe to him who is alone when he falls.' etc. [Ecclesiastes 4:10]"

Searching for happiness ultimately leads a person into depression; and depressed thoughts are the devils bathtub. He feels right at home bathing in our suffering, and loves to wallow there. However, daily bathing in God's holiness pulls the plug on the devil and the depression our hunt for happiness always seems to deliver.

God's quest for you to live in his holiness is "remaining in" and constantly "returning to" your baptism, trusting the power of the water with the Word of God to regenerate and renew you through the cleansing power of Jesus' death and the hope his resurrection gives to you.

Therefore, believe and wait on the Lord for your resurrection into his holy perfection, purity, and peace. Once there we will receive something much greater than happiness; we will be consumed by joy and rejoicing in the glory of the Lord.

Our heavenly Father says, be holy, for I am holy! Being holy has never been easier than trusting in Jesus Christ who constantly delivers you from sin and death into eternal life and salvation. Amen.