If I were to ask you if you either knew a truly holy person, or knew about a truly person, I wonder how you might respond? Holiness is a funny word, yet it is one of our three aspirations. It is a word, I suspect, that many of us are happier ascribing to others, yet holiness of life is something we are called to. You can’t really be Christian without seeking to grow in holiness. In fact each and every Sunday right at the beginning of the service we pray in the Prayer of Preparation, that we might grow in holiness. The words ‘cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord’ speak powerfully to the call to holiness.
Holiness might be thought of as the willingness to have our hearts cleansed, an openness to the work of the Holy Spirit and a deep desire that through our words and actions we might magnify God’s holy name.
The reading from the epistle highlights the notion of willingness to have our hearts cleansed. James asks us, for instance, to ask ourselves whether we might have ‘any bitter envy or selfish ambition’ lurking in the depths of our ‘hearts.’ From a liturgical perspective this is why the confession follows on from the prayer of preparation. Growth in holiness is, I think, contingent on preparation and confession.
Growth in holiness, which is the same thing as growth in Christian maturity and wisdom, demands that we develop the ability to honestly reflect on our motives, a willingness to offer our motives back to God for cleansing, followed by confession, and of course the willing receipt of forgiveness ritually given through the act of absolution. Please can I invite you never to simply trot out the first few prayers at the beginning of the service but to instead regard them as instrumental to your growth in holiness.
In the Gospel reading we hear about the Apostles arguing about who ‘was the greatest.’ The Apostles, just like we do in the here and now, needed to learn about the art of holiness, and so Jesus teaches them. He tells them that real holiness can never be about what they might get out of it, he tells them that real holiness is about submitting our very lives to God and trusting in the power of the resurrection, and that its about service and caring above all others for the most vulnerable in society.
Jesus puts humility, service and quality of relationship right at the heart of holiness: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all……...whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ In these words of Jesus what we see is that holiness and hospitality can’t be disaggregated. In fact, authentic Christian hospitality, the kind of hospitality that is infections and evangelical, is entirely contingent on our willingness to grow in holiness.
So can I invite you, with humility, to commit to your own growth in holiness, so that with cleanliness of heart you can truly magnify his Holy Name?