SUNDAY SERMON: What is holiness?

Rev. Stephen Baldwin

OT: Leviticus 19.1-2, 15-18

NT: Matthew 22.34-46

I’m going to do something today most preachers have NEVER done. Are you ready? Are you sure? You probably won’t like it…

I’m going to preach on LEVITICUS! What some people think is one of the most boring books of the Bible. 

“Isn’t that the one with all the rules that tells you what you can and can’t eat?” people might say. That’s not wrong. And do you know the first food it says you must never eat? Mayonnaise. Haha, just kidding! Inside joke from last week.

Leviticus is filled with rules and regulations. If you were to sit down and try to read it at one time, it would be awfully boring. If you were to eat a whole mess of raw brussel sprouts, it would be awfully…awful. But if you cook ‘em with some bacon and drizzle some honey on them, pair ‘em with a steak…now we’re talking! I’m getting hungry. And the same is true of Leviticus. If you cook it the right way in small quantities, it’s soooo good.  

In the beginning of chapter 19, God gives Moses a message for the people. You shall be holy, for I am holy. 

Let’s stop right there and dig down in that one sentence. You shall be holy, for I am holy. What does it mean to be holy? 

In the original language of the Old Testament, Biblical Hebrew, the word kadosh means sacred, holy, or of God. The things of God are sacred and holy. They are set apart. Set apart from what? From everything else. There are things that are of God, and then there is everything else. 

You shall be set apart, for I am set apart. You shall be holy, for I am holy. 

Being holy is the entire point of Leviticus. All the rules and regulations about animals, sickness, food, sexual practices, speech, about cleanliness are there to try and teach holiness. In fact, this part of the Bible is called the holiness code. It’s thought to be one of the most ancient words found in the scriptures. 

The thing most people get wrong about the holiness code is the complexity of it. It’s not a list of rules. It doesn’t say do this and you will be holy or don’t do that and you will be holy. It lays out everyday life scenarios, full of gray areas and complexity and tough decisions, before arriving at the right thing to do in that situation. 

Let’s look at verse 17 for a great example: “You shall not hate in your heart anyone of

your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.”

Imagine a relative of yours does something truly awful. Something that hurts you and other members of your family. How do you respond? 

According to the Holiness Code, you have a responsibility that goes in several directions. You have a responsibility not to let hate take hold in your heart. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to let it go, because you also have a responsibility to correct them. To name what was done, say it was wrong, and fix it. And if you don’t meet these responsibilities when someone does wrong to you, then you’ve wronged them. By allowing unholy things to happen without correcting them. 

Now don’t get it twisted. Don’t go out to lunch and punch Uncle Eddie in the face when he brings up family drama at the dinner table, because your pastor taught you that Leviticus says you can. That’s not what it says, and it’s not what I’m saying. 

What Leviticus says is that holiness has a price. If you want to be holy, for the Lord is holy, you have to be willing to walk the extra mile. And the next verse tells us how. 

Verse 18 says, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Walking the extra mile requires love. Anyone can lash out. It takes a special, dare I say holy, person to correct another in love. 

Here’s the way I like to think about it. Holiness is often about finding the mean between extremes. Verse 15 says you shouldn’t love someone just because they’re poor or love someone just because they’re important. You should judge everyone justly, with love in your hearts. It’s about finding the mean between extremes. 

In this way of thinking, courage is the mean between being a coward and a daredevil. For centuries from Aristotle to the Bible to C.S. Lewis, this has been the rule of thumb for being a good person–find the mean between extremes. 

Take the example from before where your family member does something awful to another family member. How do you respond? You could say something you know will hurt them and tell them you never want to see again, because you’re so upset about what they’ve done and want to take up for the person who was wronged. Or, on the other hand, you could say absolutely nothing to try and get along with everyone. 

Two extreme paths. Which point you towards the holy thing to do–being honest with the person about what they’ve done wrong, correcting them in love, and giving them the chance to make a change. 

This sermon may not have been as good as brussel sprouts cooked with bacon and honey, but I hope you see the good in Leviticus. It’s not just a book of rules and regulations. It’s a book of wisdom, teaching us that holiness is not some magical virtue reserved for angels. Holiness is the mean between extremes, which we seek to find every single day. 



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