On Sunday, Lumby Dave preached about the difference between emphasizing the details of holiness and emphasizing the cultural relevance of our holiness. Basically, what is the difference between measuring out your herbs to tithe a tenth of them or practicing justice, mercy, and faithfulness. Just the fact that I can remember all of this without looking it up in my notes is a testament to the sermon’s non-mediocrity. The scripture reference, the main one, is Matthew 23:23. Basically, it boils down to focusing on inward or outward holiness. Do I want my focus to be on the things that I do for personal sanctity, or do I focus on others and recognize that part of sanctity is based on my interaction with others.
In my life I have teetered between the two extremes. I have been in the place where every little thing I said or did I weighed before my scale of righteousness. I listened to Christian music, I read Christian books, I went to seminars, I joined committees and Bible studies, and I shunned those who didn’t take things as seriously as I did. Was I ever holy! I was one of those dolls that you weren’t allowed to play with when you were little; I looked really cool, but I was still inside the package and if anyone touched me, I would become marred by their dirty fingers.
But, I have also gone to the opposite extreme where I thought that none of that mattered and all that I was doing was culturally relevant holiness—I worked in soup kitchens, I volunteered at school, I sent money to starving children in Africa. What I lacked in this extreme was any sense of inner piety. I didn’t pray. I didn’t read my Bible. I didn’t do any of those things that one would consider “over the top holy.” In fact, I cussed like a sailor, I read trash, everything I consumed was the antithesis of holiness, but I told myself it was okay because I was doing all these holy things.Inside I was rotting, sort of like when you carve a pumpkin and it looks really cool from the outside, but that green funky mold is growing all over the inside. I WAS that pumpkin.
Dave was preaching about striking a balance between the two: paying attention to your inward and outward holiness. While I will never be an advocate of the first me, and I will never be an advocate of the second me, I am an advocate of the third me. Maintaining a balance between the inward and outward life is the key, but it is also the trickiest thing about being a Christian. Imagine a life where our actions are informed by our righteousness. In the scriptures, paying attention to the law is meant to be the underpinning for our social holiness. How can we love others if we do not first love God, how can we love God if we are not also loving others? There in lies the rub!
I think the key, and what Dave said so well, is that we are not to neglect one for the other, but we are to hold them in balance. We are not to value one form of holiness over the over. We are to do our best to uphold the letter of the law, but to do that in the spirit of the law. Focus on your holistic vision and practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness, but flesh it out with the minute details that make it authentic and real: measure your tithes. Try to make your inside and your outside match. I think the best analogy that I can come up with for this is a Mobius strip. The inside looks like the outside, because the inside IS the outside. I think the goal of being a Christian is to attain that “perfection,” that “sanctification,” where our inside matches the outside and no one can see a difference between the two.