The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 


Epiphany VII...holiness...


In today’s lessons, both Leviticus and I Corinthians refer to the people of God as holy. 

“For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple. Do not deceive yourselves.”[1]  “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”[2] 

We think of God, usually in the abstract, as holy. 

We think of the scriptures as a holy literary monolith, without exploring further how holiness is manifested in the scriptures. 

We think of the sanctuary of the church building- that area within the altar rail- as holy, and do so out of an appropriate reverence. Perhaps, however, we seek no further understanding of how and why it is holy beyond the fact it is the place where serious religious stuff happens.


We may even identify specific persons as holy; these are usually leaders to whom we feel a personal allegiance, or if not them personally, then reverence for their office or position. 

But we usually do not think of ourselves as holy. 

If we’re honest, most of us have no more clue what holiness means than the Man in the Moon; when we hear Leviticus and I Corinthians describe us as holy, it is an idea we acknowledge; sometimes it makes us feel good to be regarded so highly and sometimes it scares us, and almost always that’s where we stop. 

Our understanding of holiness operates very much in the same way Justice Potter Stewarts’s concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio operates. In that obscenity case, his memorable remark became its enduring precedent. Mr. Justice Stewart said: 

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”[1] 

About holiness, we, like Potter Stewart about pornography, apply a standard that is intuitive, instinctive and internal:  we “...shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["holiness"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

That’s the point- holiness is first recognized by an internal sensibility, and that internal sensibility becomes the standard we apply in describing the outward manifestations of someone/something as holy. We hear ourselves described in the scriptures as holy when we probably don’t have that internal sensibility about ourselves. Hearing the scripture call us holy is everything from disquieting to baffling to just plain scary. But being baffled or scared by the description will not make it go away. Ignoring our holiness is not an option.  

God IS holiness. God’s internal sensibilities about Himself extend to us when the scriptures describe us as holy. We are, after all, His creation. This is perhaps the ultimate manifestation- epiphany- we can see. God’s holiness makes us holy whether we like it or believe it or want it, or not. 

Epiphany comes when holy people live holy lives pointing toward the one from whom all holiness comes- God. It is epiphany for us, His people. It is epiphany for those drawn to His holiness by us. They can’t define holiness, but they know it when they see it. Do they see it in us?



Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 19 February 2017, being The Seventh Sunday after The Epiphany

[1] I Corinthians 3:17b  NRSV
[2]Leviticus 19:2 NRSV


[1]Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964)