Holy is an interesting word. It’s kind of a churchy word; those words that we use at church and we all just assume we know the meaning of so we never define them. Other examples might be words like righteousness, or justification. We don’t really know what these words mean, but we use them at church because they are churchy words. Holy is sort of like that. We all know God is holy because it says so in the Bible. God even says repeatedly, “I am holy.” God also says “be holy because I am holy” and again we all agree this is a true statement, although we aren’t sure what it really means. Holy is a confusing word. Holy means to be set apart or reserved for a sacred purpose. It’s typically reserved for talking about the divine, although sometimes it is used to express an intensive situation or even an oath: such as this is a holy mess or holy smoke. But while it can be used in different ways, we often reserve it for God. God is holy, set apart, different from everything else. Thus, if we are to be like God, we must be holy, set apart, and different from the greater culture around us.
The problem is, we don’t want to be set apart or different. We might not admit it, but we want to be like most of the people around us. We want to fit in. We wear the same style of clothes that everyone else wears. We carry the same style of bags that everyone else carries. We drive the same types of cars, and live in the same types of homes. We act very much like everyone else acts, and we live very much like everyone else live. Because in some sense we want to fit in. Not that we want to be popular, but we don’t want to stand out, and we don’t want to be considered weird.
Here’s the problem: being a follower of Christ will make you different. Following the way of Jesus, or being a Disciple one who tries to conform their thoughts and actions to their Lord and Master, will make one different from the rest of the world. We don’t like to talk about this aspect of Christianity because we’re afraid that it will be seen as zealous or fanatical, or may even push people away, but it’s true. Jesus calls us into a life that is different from the greater culture, and people will notice it’s different, and they won’t understand.
It reminds me of another churchy word, but one we don’t use as much; cruciform. As Christians, we are called into the cruciform life. Jesus tells his disciples at Cesarea Philipi that what it means to be messiah is to die for the people. Then he says, if any want to be my disciples, they must deny themselves, take up the cross, and follow. If we want to be Christians, we must embrace the life of the cross. A life where we learn to forgive others instead of holding grudges. A life where we choose suffering servanthood over lordship and dominion. A life where we choose peace instead of the weapons of war. A life in which we freely give instead of hoarding possessions. A life where we voluntarily care for the least of these: the poor, the handicapped, the mentally challenged, the prisoners, the refugees, the aged. We don’t push them to the margins of society, but instead we welcome them to sit at our own tables. We embrace this cruciform life, even though we know it won’t be easy and will require suffering, because it is the way of Jesus.
We were baptized into this life. We were baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. We were baptized into the Jesus story, and we now embrace this story as a new identity.
Each week we are renewed in this life as we partake of the body and blood of Christ. As we eat we are reminded that the path to victory is not through power and domination, but through weakness and suffering. Each week, as we partake, we are reminded of the suffering love that we are called to for the sake of the world, and we embrace the story for our lives.
As we embrace this life, the world is going to think we are strange. They may even call us names and make fun of us. But we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to the powerful, foolishness to the wise, but to those of us who are being saved, it is the power and wisdom of God. We embrace this life not because it makes life easier, but because it makes life holier.
We have been set apart for God’s purposes, to suffer with Christ for the sake of the world.