Monday, March 07, 2016

Safe Spaces and Holy Places; 4th Sunday of Lent

Exodus 25:1-9
Hebrews 9:1-15
John 14:1-13

"Every foundation stone that is laid for a Temple, and every Temple completed according to the order the Lord has revealed for His [people], lessens the power of Satan on the earth, and increases the power of … godliness."  George Q. Cannon

To be clear, George Q. Cannon is a Mormon elder, and the temples to which he is referring are physical structures.  Yet there is a principle in his observation that makes what he says worth hearing.  Lest we think otherwise, however, what I wish to share has nothing to do with the LDS Church or Mormon teachings.  We must, instead, strive to “listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches”.

“Divine truth always sits in plain view for anyone with eyes to see, yet it remains hidden in the places where nobody would ever think to look.”  JD Walt

Looking at the state of the world and our nation, it seems to be that the “gates of Hades” (Matthew 16:18; i.e., the powers of death) are gaining considerable ground.  I submit to you, however, that it may be more accurate to say the “gates of Hades” are not prevailing as much as they are being accommodated - not only by a society that has convinced itself it has no need for a god that does not exist but also by a Church that claims The Lord does exist but lives and acts as though The Revelation of The Lord is of no real account! 

There are many reasons for this, for it can never be said to be only one thing or one person.  It also cannot be said to be anything new, a strictly 21st-century phenomenon.  The reality of this conflict between that which is holy and that which is common requires each of us, then, to evaluate where we stand and what we intend to accomplish for the sake of Christ’s mission – or whether we intend to be in mission at all. 

Our Lord does not suggest or recommend but commands the Church (not the state) to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit those who are sick or in prison; but there should be much more involved in these acts of mercy and justice than the acts themselves.  In committing ourselves to these acts, we are creating “safe spaces and holy places” where the “last, least, and lost” can find safety and true sanctuary, and discover their own genuine sacred worth not as society sees them but as The Lord not only sees them but openly welcomes them – especially those we deem unworthy.

An earlier devotional this week brought to mind the profound difference between ancient Israel on a journey and the contemporary Church which seems convinced the journey has ended.  And the differences are accentuated between what Israel freely chose to give and what modern-day Christians deliberately choose to withhold – out of spite, vindictiveness, or just plain selfishness.

The Lord shared with Moses, as it is written in Exodus 25, what it will take to build the Tabernacle; the worship place Israel will take with them as they move along in their journey, the worship place which will serve as a reminder that The Lord is in the midst of them, the worship space that will define the very heart, the essence of Israel.  So the offerings will require the very best of what they have – AND (and this is key) what “their hearts prompt them to give” (vs 25:2); not what Moses or The Lord command them to give. 

The offerings to follow were so generous and so abundant, “more than enough” (36:5) that eventually Moses had to tell the people, “No more” (36:6)!  Then for the next three chapters are described very intricate details about how it will come together – how this “holy place” will come to be.

Now it has become a little too easy for New Testament people to consider all this of no account in the New Covenant.  Even Jews today do not abide by all the regulations of the many offerings, but this is only because the Temple itself no longer exists except for a remnant of the Western Wall where many still gather to pray. 

Of course through Christ the Living Word it is direct access to the Holy Father we have gained.  No longer are we encouraged to “fear” - as we understand “being afraid” - but are, instead, called to “approach with great respect” the Throne of Mercy.  For YHWH is still the Almighty, the Holy One who commands great respect, whose Name we are commended to glorify.  In Christ Jesus, then, there is a great and open door through which to enter.  “The Way”.

Here is the tricky part for Christians.  We may have convinced ourselves or have been convinced that it is WE who possess the “keys to the kingdom of Hades and Death” (Revelation 1:18) as we judge others worthy of being in our midst.  Consequently there are many who may not see the Holy Church as a “safe space” because we do not go far enough to help “strangers” feel so welcome, so safe; and we do not respect the “sanctuary” that is the Body of Christ, the place where all – regardless of whatever it may be that makes these strangers so different – can feel and experience the very Presence of the Holy One when they are with us.

There is a lot of doctrine we are more likely get wrong than right, but there is one component of theology – that which defines the relationship between Heaven and earth – we can always get right by sheer determination to glorify our God and Father: that of radical hospitality.  It is that sense of being in which an unfamiliar face enters into the sanctuary, and members – rather than simply stare – will fall all over themselves to welcome them … seeing not the color of their skin or the way they are dressed but, rather, seeing them through the same Eyes of Mercy which sees past the worst of us!

For, you see, that is the intricate detail with which the Tabernacle was built – everyone giving freely the very best of all they had rather than hoarding it as “their stuff”.  It is not in what we have acquired for ourselves that defines us; it is what we do with all that has been entrusted to us that defines our relationship with The Lord and establishes a “safe space”.  It is how we are equipped to “lessen the power of Satan and death” and increase godliness in a world still struggling to find its way out of the dark where only fear exists – fear which has only been magnified in this election!

But our Lord Jesus has conquered everything which can destroy us – including fear.  In Him is the “safe space” in which “sticks and stones may still break our bones” when we show kindness and mercy and hospitality to those the rest of the world has rejected; but in the perfection of sanctified Love in which we give freely of ourselves is the Safe Space created and the Holy Place defined, where the human heart is filled to overflowing, where we all feel safe, loved, and respected.

Moses and the Mormon elder were speaking of physical structures, but the principle of “attention to detail” remains the centerpiece of all we do.  We take nothing – and no one – for granted, and we no longer fear anyone or anything.  It is that very confidence we are called to act in, for it is that confidence of faith and the assurance of redemption that has opened the Temple curtain through which we – AND our neighbors – may pass.

It is the “Safe Space” our Lord has commanded; it is the “Holy Place” where our Lord resides – and we are all invited in … especially those we would try to keep out!  So let us not try to repair the “torn curtain” by our own sense of privilege in keeping others out.  For if we think ourselves “first”, we will indeed be “last of all”.  Let us glorify and celebrate the “Holy Place” that is our God and King; and let us be for the “least among us” the “Safe Space” that is Christ our Savior!  Amen.

No comments: