Sunday. Time through the Year, Week 5.

O come, let us worship God and bow low before the God Who made us, for He is the Lord our God. (Psalm 95: 6-7)

Keep your family safe, O Lord,
with unfailing care, that,
relying solely on the
hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended
always by your protection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
In the sight of the angels I will sing your praises, Lord. (Psalm 138: 1).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy (קָדֹשׁ, qadosh) is the LORD of hosts (צָבָא tsabaʾ)! All the earth is filled with his glory (כָּבוֹד kabowd)!” At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.
(Isaiah 6:3-4).”

Actions, words, images and thoughts abound when it comes to a discussion of holiness. What exactly is holiness? Many will certainly acknowledge that it is an important element of Christian living. Yet nailing down a meaning that assists the human living of holiness in an authentic way is a bit harder. Christian history is filled with episodes of movements seeking holiness that actually do more harm than good. While we may not welcome a burning ember touched to our lips, Isaiah’s recollection of his call to prophetic ministry is significant in getting on the proper track of holiness.

When the sight of “the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne” unfolds before Isaiah, he cries out in a way similar to praise: holy, holy, holy. For Isaiah, the ‘thrice holy’ (trisagion in Greek and in various Eastern Rite Liturgies) is essentially a proclamation of Who God is and thus who Isaiah is not. “Holy,” as used here in the Isaian Text, translates the Hebrew word קָדֹשׁ (qadosh). Early in the history of the word’s usage, qadosh expressed ‘difference.’ It did not speak fundamentally about moral qualities or goodness in general; aspects of the word we now tend to view synonymously with ‘holiness.’ In Hebrew usage, “difference” gradually expressed cultic and covenant realities. Thus in time, qadosh came to refer to ‘anyone or anything set apart for a particular purpose’ and for Israel ‘a particular purpose’ involved living the covenant and one’s God-given mission.
In Isaiah’s experience of being called, he knows (sees) how different he is from God. God is the LORD of hosts (צָבָא tsabaʾ). tsaba’ is part of a vocabulary of Hebrew military words. In Isaiah’s day, not only did tsaba’ refer to a large group fit for military service, tsaba’ expressed the order, obedience and loyalty that all in the group had to the leader. The mighty power of ‘the hosts’ came not strictly from its massive quantity of individuals, although that certainly helped, but rather from the cohesiveness or the oneness the mass of individuals formed. Gradually tsaba’ included not only the uncountable number of angels ready to battle anyone or anything contrary to the Lord’s covenant or mission but also all of the stars of the nighttime sky. For Isaiah and other prophets, even these ‘heavenly bodies’ obeyed the ‘Creator of the stars of night’ and sang His praises.
Qadosh and tsaba’ – courtesy of Isaiah and the Lord’s call to him – provide sound elements to respond to the Creator’s effective Word summoning all to a life of holiness. The Lord first and foremost initiates holiness. That is our only starting point for a life of holiness. No amount of work or effort, no technique, no amount of spiritual reading, no amount of ‘saying prayers,’ etc … will ever effect (cause) one to be holy. The grace of holiness is pure gift that cannot be earned, only received graciously. As a gift graciously received, holiness is being or existing not primarily doing (although there will be some ‘doing’ in its proper sequence and time). Like Isaiah, holiness is seeing (knowing) the otherness of God and knowing (seeing) that I [and others!] have been called into that relationship. It is then from that perspective of being-in-relationship that any ‘doing’ is done. Thus the disciplines of holy living – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – are all done, not to earn, but to respond to the One Who has been seen (known). This response then ‘sets one apart for mission and praise’ since holiness is never a God-and-me affair. Mission and praise can be confidently done knowing (seeing) the ‘army of one’ is at our sides continuously ‘lest you dash your foot against the stone.’