In today’s readings, God says to Moses, “Be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” And Jesus reprises, “Be perfect, just as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” So what does it mean to be holy?

Growing up in East Texas, I was exposed to the “holiness” tradition. These were mostly Pentecostals who sought to achieve holiness by what they didn’t do. They didn’t drink, smoke, cuss or speak to anyone who did, except to tell them they were going to hell. Women never wore pants or makeup and seldom cut their hair. While avoiding such extremes, most of us perceive holiness in various externals of speech, dress, or political correctness. There are Anglicans who devoutly believe Elizabethan English is more holy than modern English and Catholics who see holiness in women wearing chapel veils and men kneeling erectly, rather than resting on the pew. During the Jesus Movement in the sixties we perceived holiness in how worn and faded the jeans were we wore to church, differentiating ourselves from the hypocrites in the suits.

At its core, holiness has nothing to do with external acts or appearance, but the inner presence of the Spirit of God. God said to Moses at the burning bush, “Take off your shoes, for the ground you are standing on is holy ground.” Was the dirt Moses standing on externally different from any other dirt? No, it’s all the same dirt. God’s presence made it holy. The bread and wine we receive at Eucharist is externally still bread and wine, but God’s presence makes it the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ.

Our external body was formed from the earth. No matter how we clean and polish it, we are still just walking, talking mud people. But the spark of God’s Spirit lies within each of us. St. Paul refers to us as clay pots, but pots that contain heavenly treasure. If we just relax and let it out, God’ s light will shine. To embrace holiness we must walk in the words of John the Baptist, “Christ must increase; we must decrease.”

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