I've agreed to fill in on Sunday, January 1 at the parish where I had been rector for eight years. Anyone want to guess how many are likely to be there? It’s not just New Year’s Day; given our Pacific time zone, the services will be right in the middle of a day of bowl games. Talk about high probability for a low Sunday! I've begged and bribed my wife to be among the congregation so that there will be at least two, and we can celebrate the Eucharist. It's also the Feast of the Holy Name, which brings up two questions. What makes a name holy, and if it's holy, does it have any special power that other names don't? Jesus posed something like that when he rhetorically asked: "For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?" Is the name holy, or is it made holy by the holy one to whom it is given?
I suppose one ought to ask what holy means, and therein lies a problem. Holy is not a thing. It is a condition of a thing. It has an abundance of meanings that gravitate around while weaving in and out of an intimate presence of the divine. In so doing, things that are holy take on a character of wholeness and health that exists in a dimension not quite our own. Thus it is not always recognized as wholeness and health according to our ordinary standards. It’s not much of an answer is it? But it should give you a glimpse into the spiritual reality that has always been a part of our lives, and was briefly made incarnate for us to experience in our reality through Jesus Christ.
So, back to the main question: Is your name holy? Or perhaps your name is made holy by the one who made you holy? Are you holy? When in baptism you were sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever did that make you holy in some way that you weren't before? Did that make your name holy in a way it otherwise wasn’t? If it did, has it ever done you any good? Does being made holy mean becoming a prissy, holier than thou, self righteous prig? Can you be a scruffy, run of the mill, sometimes ill behaved human mutt, who enjoys a good time, and still be holy?
For the sake of argument, let's say that all creatures, being made in the image of God, are inhabited by the holy, but in baptism each takes on a special kind of holiness as prospective agents of God's presence in the world, each according to one’s abilities. In that sense, there is nothing that is not holy, but some holy things have been set aside for particular purposes. Paul, in his letter to the Romans made the case that the potter (God) made all of us out of the same clay, but made some for one use, and some for another use – not a better use as such, but a different use with responsibility for doing odd jobs in God’s name (9.21). My own sense is that we start out our holy lives at an infantile level, sometime literally, and gain in knowledge, understanding and skill by the grace of others who have preceded us, and our willingness to be taught, coached and disciplined under the guidance of those who have proven themselves to be masters. Consider Luke and Yoda, or Harry and Dumbledore. As those mythical stories tell, it can also go nowhere or the wrong way. Success is not guaranteed.
If you are among those who recognize that all creatures have something of the holy in them, that you are holy, your name is holy, and that in baptism you have been set aside for holy work – what then? For starters, it’s time to recognize also that the world we live in is not myth. It’s real. We’re not playing a video game or watching a movie with many sequels. What we say and do has a real impact on the lives of real people in real time. After that, stop worrying about it. Go do what you usually do. You will be led to the place you need to be, or maybe others will be led to you. It doesn’t matter. It does matter that you remain awake and pay attention.