A Few Dirty Words: Holiness (James 1:17-27)

On September 2nd, Tim Reardon led us in a reflection on James 1:17-27 and the idea of holiness. When thinking about holiness, we may bristle a bit — hearing ideas of self-righteousness, legalism, judgementalism, hypocrisy, or seemingly superfluous rules. Holiness might make us think of self-destructive perfectionism that has racked so many with guilt. But this isn’t what James has in mind.

Exotic Landscape with Lion and Lioness in Africa by Henri Rousseau

Instead, holiness is a way of being rather than a bunch of things we must do. Holiness is an encounter with the incomprehensible God from which we cannot help but come away different. Holiness is freedom rather than perfection. In the sermon holiness is talked about in terms of encountering the sun and God tilling a garden, but the primary actor is God. We are to listen and respond, being doers of God’s peace and justice as people tilled by God the Gardener, illumined by Jesus the Sun.

We often separate “social justice” from more “religious” ideas of holiness, but Jesus does not artificially separate these. He teaches us that the tree and the fruit are intimately tied together. A tree is known by its fruit, the follower of Jesus by care for the orphan and the widow (James 1:27). But, at the same time, good fruit depends on a good tree. It matters who we are and what we do.

But this is not a call to perfectionism or self-loathing. It is not a call to beat ourselves up and each other! Rather, James tells us to develop habits of listening and reception, to develop spiritual disciplines that allow us to encounter God, who plants good seeds, who tills the garden, nurtures the soil, and grows the tree, so that we might be people of God’s action for peace and justice within the world.

The following are a few questions that Tim invited us to think about:

  1. What do you think of when you think of the word “holiness”? Is it negative? Is it positive? What are some positive ways to think about being holy?
  2. Using the gardening metaphor, how do you find ways to till the soil, to encounter God, to allow ourselves to be cultivated and grow with God?
  3. How does holiness relate to our call to serve orphans and widows (James 1:27)?

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Contact Info

Pasadena Mennonite Church
Meeting at Pasadena Church of the Brethren
1041 North Altadena Drive
Pasadena CA 91107

Sunday Services begin with fellowship at 10:00am —
Worship begins at 10:30am