I’ve said several times through the current Sunday morning sermon series that it has been difficult to prepare and preach these messages through Leviticus. It’s difficult to preach from the Old Testament to people who live in a New Testament context. It’s also difficult because the content of Leviticus is so foreign, written for and about people who lived 3000 years ago in a place and culture far removed from us. It’s difficult because the content seems so harsh, offending modern sensibilities with so much blood and death.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of studying and preaching through Leviticus is this idea of everyday holiness itself. By it’s very definition, holiness is a matter of separation; things that are holy are set apart from others. So when I talk about “everyday holiness,” there seems to be a paradox: how can something that is holy – separate, set apart, unique – be “everyday” or common? It’s easy to see holiness in the sacrifices throughout Leviticus; the animals, offerings, and occasions are distinct, set apart from others. It’s easy to see holiness in the priesthood in Leviticus: in the separation of Aaron and his descendants to be priests, in the consecration rituals of the priests, in the special nature of their clothing and lifestyle. It’s not merely easy but painfully obvious to see holiness in God’s commands to Moses, to the priests, and to the people, especially in the context of God’s judgment against Aaron’s sons who died because they did not obey God, when God said to Aaron:
“You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees the LORD has given them through Moses.” (Leviticus 10:10, 11, NIV 1984)
Aaron’s sons died because they did not distinguish between the holy and the common, and while that might seem harsh to us, God’s judgment on them makes it clear how important it is to approach God in holiness.
With that kind of distinction – between life and death – how can we understand and pursue holiness in everyday life? The key, it seems, is the presence of God. Again, it’s easy to understand holiness in the context of going to God to worship, to bring offerings, in prayer – set apart actions done in set apart places and times – but that shows we’ve forgotten that we’re not really going to God but responding to God because he has come to us.
Remember that it was God’s desire to live among his people Israel (Leviticus 26:11, 12). God has always initiated his relationship with people: he created Adam and Eve; he rescued Noah and his family; he called Abraham; he saved Israel; he sent Jesus. At the end of the regulations for cleanliness in Leviticus 11-15, God makes it clear that his expectation for their everyday holiness is because he was already there among them; he said, “You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them” (Leviticus 15:31, NIV 1984).
The problem with understanding and living in everyday holiness is that we try to be holy by maintaining separation when God actually makes us holy by his presence. For example, we try to be holy by going to church, when God lives within and among his people (1 Corinthians 6:19). That doesn’t mean we don’t have to go to church; it means we need to live every day as the church. It means that everything we say and do is in the presence of God, everyday things said and done every day. Paul reminds the church, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God,” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV 1984).
As we strive to be holy as God is holy, let’s not focus on how many more “holy” things we can say or do to get closer to God. Instead, let’s focus on God’s presence – within us and among us – and make everyday living more like worship to bring glory to God.