“People—they’re the worst.” That’s a famous Seinfeld line that Brian and I laugh over a lot. There’s also an old preacher joke—“The ministry would be great if it weren’t for the people.” People are everywhere—you can’t avoid them, although some people sure try!
I read something last week that I haven’t hardly stopped thinking about, an excerpt from a chapter of a book by an author I’ve never heard of, L.T. Jeyachandran. It’s part of a further unfolding of the word “community” that God has emphasized so strongly in our church, and it means so much more than hardly anyone understands.
“…Our response to the holiness of God is to reflect his character in our lives–in one phrase, the pursuit of holiness. In our endeavor in this direction, however, we need to be careful to note that what we have come to call personal holiness–what is inward–is only a potential that has to be constantly actualized in inter-personal relationships. The time I spend with God must enable me to relate to a world of people and things in the right way. In fact, I can be holy when I am by myself; it is when I come out of my room and meet the world of people and things that I run into serious problems! I am afraid that the emphasis on holiness that we often talk about is “my” preoccupation with “my” hands being clean and “my” conscience clear for their own sake, and that happens to be a pretty selfish motive. A selfish motive to be selfless, indeed! It would be almost as if Moses, on coming down from Mount Sinai, began to enjoy his shining face in a mirror!
The Ten Commandments that God gave to his people sum up his requirement in terms of relationships–with Him and with one another. The Old Testament also sums up the commandments as love relationships with God (Deuteronomy 6:4–5) and among his people (Leviticus 19:18). In other words, holiness by God’s own definition (Leviticus 19:2) is the relational commandments that comprise the rest of that chapter. Holiness is therefore not the stand-alone ascetic quality that is the hallmark of some Eastern religions but a community of people in right relationship to one another…”
Holiness—a community of people in right relationship to one another! In this privatized individualized American culture, that’s a novel concept. And the author nailed it—it’s so easy to spend a half hour in solitude, reading the Bible, and emerge feeling “holy”, but quite another thing to have to deal all day long with people who have different opinions, emphases, desires, and agendas than you do. We can develop a certain degree of tolerance, but how about learning to truly love them as ourselves? How about learning to put their needs, thoughts, wishes above our own? That’s holiness, and it doesn’t come easy or cheap. It comes from committing our lives not only to God but to His body, the church, and, like Jesus, humbling ourselves to the point of dying to ourselves.
That’s what it means to allow the CROSS to work in our lives—to die daily as we work our way through our responsibilities, through relationships, through hurt and misunderstandings. We must learn to walk in love and in wisdom, not simply to hurl ourselves down as doormats, but to learn to love with God-informed intelligence, to understand others, and to work for them also to become whole and well. We must appreciate that our perception of the way things are is not always the only truth, that sometimes our perceptions are skewed by all kinds of things–our own failings, weaknesses, hurts and sometimes just a simple failure to not be aware of all the facts. Life can be a MYSTERY, and we become ECLECTIC when we open ourselves up to all kinds of people, people with different backgrounds, families, different personality types. And when we are committed to walk in holiness in this new understanding, that it is not something simply between my God and myself, but includes all those around me, those that God identifies as the neighbors I need to love, my COMMUNITY, then we truly can become the family God has always longed for. And that’s the REVOLUTION He came to earth to start.