While our government squawks and squabbles over the ever-looming "sequestration" of some $85 billion and over who is to blame, it may help if we would raise our view just a bit higher. Perhaps the deadlock in Washington has become so severe that nothing short of divine intervention will help at this point, or a bit of divine perspective at least. Is there not one peacemaker left in the House or the White House, for that matter?
The first definition cited in the dictionary for the word sequester is "to set apart." From an economical perspective today that means seizing a certain amount of money from the public treasury and disallowing its continued use for federal expenditures. From a theological point of view, however, the word takes on an altogether different sense; one we may stand to learn something from amidst our current debacle. It is a word that sorely needs to be dusted off and reexamined in society today. That word is... holiness.
While the words sequester and sequestration have shot up to the No. 1 most searched words category in recent weeks, holiness is a much less familiar word that has long been a part of the vocabulary of the sacred. It is doubtful that it has appeared on the Google Zeitgeist -- ever. But it does bear comparison, since the word in its simplest form also means to set apart, as in setting people, places and things apart for God and his purposes.
In a sense the concept of holiness is quite similar to the experience of wholeness in our lives and homes. From the earliest days of Moses and the Ten Commandments, God has required that the faithful practice setting things apart. He calls his worshippers to enjoin the wise disciplines of holiness and tempered moderations.
Hold on. Before you brand this column as some attempt to be "holier than thou," don't quit on my too soon. Let me assure you that I am as much in need of God and his grace as anyone else reading this.
God has long included the practice of willing sequestrations as a part of his plan to help people balance their lives and pocketbooks, as well as to display their obedience to his will and higher ways. One of the most challenging and intriguing verses in the Bible is when God says, "Be holy as I am holy" (Leviticus 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16). Who could possibly achieve such a goal? The Gospel message of Christ emphasizes that all mankind falls short of this requirement, but that Jesus and his sacrificial death redeem us from our sins and shortcomings and they "sequester" us in the transforming grace of God. Jesus' resurrection and ascension bring the means of a hope for us to live with an intrinsic commitment to holiness and a new capacity to enjoy wholeness in our lives that can only come from daily trusting Christ and depending upon that grace.
Consider this: In the biblical record from the Old Testament to the New, God has provided practical ways for us to practice holiness and to enrich the general wholeness of our life experience. The "sequestrations of God" are the things that he has called "holy" or "sacred." They are the things he has commanded us to set apart in our lives, if we are to honor him. These include:
A sequestered name. When God set out to help Moses organize a nation that would serve and honor him, he started with 10 imperatives, one of which was to honor God's name, to set it apart (Deuteronomy 5:11).
A sequestered people. "A holy people" (1 Peter 2:9).
A sequestered day. "Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Deuteronomy 5:12).
A sequestered portion. "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse" (Malachi 3:10). The Bible teaches the practice of honoring God with the first 10 percent of our income. Many Christians today practice giving the first of their income to the work of God; to the church.
A sequestered clergy. The priests in the Old Testament who were set up to assist Moses in helping the people honor God's commandments were also "set apart" to serve in God's house.
A sequestered Son. Jesus as the Messiah is seen as the "holy One" of God. He is set apart as the only sinless life ever lived and the only one who can save us from our sins and ourselves.
A sequestered book. Christians believe that the Bible is not just a Good Book, but the "God-breathed" book (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is our source of faith and practice.
While Washington dukes it out over who is to blame for any fallout from sequestration, many would argue that we have become all too accustomed in America to excess and must find a way to get our spending within the realms of our earnings. Isn't that, after all, what most families in America have desperately been working at over these past few recession-ridden years?
In the economy and plan of God, it seems that the discipline of setting aside or setting apart some portions of our lives and resources is a vital part of the practice of holiness. Perhaps in the wisdom of God there is the transcendent truth that we all need a discipline of setting apart a portion of our time, our talents and our treasures so that we not would lose touch with the sense of responsibilities with which we have been entrusted. Washington included.
When we intentionally set apart portions of our lives it keeps us from falling apart ourselves; it contributes to practices of holiness and a greater sense of wholeness in our lives, our souls and our relationships. The discipline is good for us. Augustine said, "Thou must be emptied of that wherewith thou art full, that thou mayest be filled with that whereof thou art empty."