I have a confession to make. I am a Leonard Cohen fan. He writes and sings his own songs, and I love them because they speak truth. I first came across Cohen over 40 years ago, when I was 17, when a friend of mine was very keen on him. BBC Radio 4 had played one of his songs yesterday morning, so I put my 8 CDs on to play. The first CD I played included the song “Hallelujah”, which has been covered by lots of people in recent years, though I still prefer Cohen’s own version.

Have you ever listened to the words? The song is the story of King David, another singer-song writer from around 3,000 years ago. David sang the most wonderful songs expressing the whole range of emotion, from glorious hymns of praise to God to songs in which he expressed his utter misery and despair. And we still use his songs, though we don’t have the original music any more – we call them the psalms.

But David did one thing in his life that was truly shocking. He fell in love with a married woman and when she got pregnant, he arranged for her husband to be killed. And that is the story behind the song “Hallelujah”. But the point of the song is that even though David sinned so badly, even though he was broken, he could still turn back to God and sing Hallelujah. It wasn’t hypocrisy, it was a turning back.

You shall be holy, because the Lord your God is holy.

God calls us to be holy. That means being like God, God as our role model, and that is a scary calling. It doesn’t mean being religious, by taking on the outward forms of religion while protecting your heart, your real self from God. It means letting God in, letting God shape us and guide us. Make space for God.

When things go wrong, and they will, because we all end up doing bad stuff, turn to God, again and again. And the amazing thing is, when we tell God we’ve done wrong, God always forgives us, and lets us start again. That’s why David could sing Hallelujah, even though he was utterly crushed by realising what he had done. Look to God, your creator and father, your saviour and friend, your inspiration and energy.

You shall be holy, because the Lord your God is holy.

Being holy means doing things God’s way. And that means the way we treat the people we see every day. It means remembering that each person is God’s child and we treat them like we would treat Jesus, even if you think they are treating you like mud. Like the monk who watched yet another tramp coming up the drive to the monastery and saying, “Oh Jesus, is it you again!”

Being holy means the way you deal in business and politics: it means being fair to everyone, being just, not exploiting people, not striving for your own benefit. Of course, that is exactly where David went wrong. The way he treat Bathsheba and her husband was not right or just or fair. It was completely wrong. But when the prophet Nathan pointed out what he had done, he took it on the chin and repented, and we know just how sorry he felt because he wrote a song about it – psalm 51.

Being holy is an ideal we keep coming back to.

The Pharisees were a religious group who were trying really hard to be holy. Their way of being holy was following all the commandments to the letter, and all the extra rules and regulations developed to give more detail to what it meant to live the commandments. And they weren’t all that keen on Jesus when he was preaching to the unholy, healing them and dining with them. For them, that was just not on! That’s why they are trying to trick him. So they ask him about his attitude to the commandments.

Jesus says that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.

The Pharisees can’t argue with that!

And Jesus goes on: the first commandment flows into the second one, which is to love your neighbour as yourself. There’s two things in there: loving your neighbour and loving yourself. Loving yourself is not about being selfish or self-centred, it is about loving the person God made you to be; loving yourself enough to turn back to God when you drift away, because that is where you belong.

Love is at the centre. You shall be love, because the Lord your God is love. That means not bearing grudges, or taking out your grievances on other people, or profiting from someone else’s suffering. In your own life, with your own relationships, what does it mean to love – not just your family, but the people who annoy you?

Then Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees and he asks them a question. They asked him about the Commandments, which was the foundation stone of their faith. So he asks them about the Messiah, who is the key to faith for Jesus. Jesus asks them: Who is the Messiah? And they tell him: the Son of David. David who sang Hallelujah, the great king, the flawed man. Jesus quotes scripture back to the Pharisees to show that the Messiah was someone much greater than David, that even David foresaw the Messiah and was subject to him.

The Pharisees may have been holy, but they didn’t recognise the Messiah when he was standing in front of them.

He is standing in front of us. Jesus. Messiah. Holy. Love.

Can you sing Hallelujah?

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