These Holy Places
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Year B
August 27, 2006
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Year B
August 27, 2006
Let us pray: O God, may these words which I speak, and the thoughts and actions that these words inspire be ones which are faithful to you and to your will for us your people. Amen.
††† It was a full month ago that I last led worship here in this chapel. It seems almost fitting that the scripture passage from the Hebrew Bible that morning told the story of Davidís desire to build a temple that would contain the Holy of Holies - the place where the ark of the covenant was to be kept. We heard in that story that God through the prophet Nathan gave the message to David that God was not ready to be ensconced in a beautiful temple. God was quite happy with a tent, thank you very much. At the time I remarked how encouraging it was to hear of God as a restless God - a God who was not ready to settle down. That same day, the gospel passage told how Jesus wanted to find some rest after a hectic schedule of travel, healing and sharing a message about God, but he was prevented from finding it by a relentless crowd which went to great lengths to hear and experience more of what Jesus had to say and do. The irony of a story about our restless God and a Jesus who was forced out of much needed restfulness did not escape me at the time. I sympathised with Jesus who clearly needed a break from a frenetic and energy sapping itinerary, but ultimately I expressed satisfaction with the image of God as a restless God, a God unwilling to settle down in lavish luxury.
††† It seems that the irony went beyond the passages of that day - for here I am after four weeks of a certain kind of rest - considering some of the same themes from a different perspective. This time, as weíve heard, it is time for the temple to be built. The promise made in the passage some four weeks ago is fulfilled. David was not given the honour of building the temple, but as many of us heard a month ago, that responsibility would rest on Solomon - Davidís son.
††† The message of course is that perspective, if not everything, is certainly one of the major things to consider. For Jesus, tired and needing spiritual replenishment, rest was just what was needed. For God, the prospect of becoming an establishment deity - resting comfortably and firmly as symbolised by the ark of the covenant positioned in the inner sanctum of the great and beautiful temple, rest was not a helpful image. The people needed signs that God was as ready to break camp, change direction and be ready to respond at a momentís notice.
††† So the question that we can ask is this: What has changed to make it okay for God if not to settle down at least to be associated with the great and glorious temple? What perspective are we invited to view these four weeks later in our time and many years later in the biblical story?
††† As usual, we can never separate our own perspective from the one in which we are invited to participate whenever we read and reflect on the biblical story.
††† It was not exactly an intention of the people who put together the common lectionary that the readings which we have been considering over the weeks of July and August would match the season that we experience during this time. After all, the lectionary is meant to be for Christians around the world. While it may be summer for us - a time when we take vacation, enjoy relaxing days of sunshine and holiday, our sisters and brothers in the southern hemisphere are well into their winter. Iíve always wondered how much of a northern hemisphere slant might be found if we were ever to experience life for a length of time in the other half of our globe. For example so much imagery around new life and the greening of the fields and forests seems to match the Easter season and itsí message of new life. What would it be like to experience the resurrection story when all around the trees are changing colour and the earth is slowly sinking into the sleep that comes with Autumn and winter?
††† Perspective, if not everything, is certainly one of the major things to consider.
††† Thatís why it is so hard to separate culture out of the human experience. It is practically impossible to separate culture out of who we are because it forms so much of what it means to be human. It also shows once and for all how wrong it is to think that we can ever change something that is culturally endowed.
††† We experience things differently depending on where we live in the world, where we were raised, and the things weíve done in our lives. Many people take vacation time in the summer. I think I can say that this statement is especially true for people in Yellowknife. So it is that the experience of vacation time influences our perception of the stories we read from the Bible. Hearing about a restless God and Jesus who needed some rest is heard differently by us before vacation than it is after vacation, even if the difference is only slight.
††† Many of you here today have returned from vacation. Where did you go? What did you do? What were the good things that happened? What do you wish could have happened differently? Does a story of a restless God just make you tired, and are you ready instead to be inspired by a story of holiness symbolised by beauty, immovability and reassurance? Have you found the rest that Jesus so much wanted to find but couldnít? Have you discovered holy places - physical or in your heart and mind? Have your travels - far or near, been ones that invite you to travel more, or do they give you cause to settle back into a routine which provides comfort and familiarity?
††† Some of you are here on vacation. Have you found holy places that you did not know before? Have you discovered something of the divine presence in the people youíve met? Has God been revealed to you in new ways and surprising places?
††† Itís always been a surprising thing for me to observe that in an increasingly secular society when people go on vacation, especially to other countries, that churches are very common tourist stops. That may be a good reason to build large and beautiful places of worship - as a demonstration that in the hearts and minds of the people who built them, God is worthy of what is often the largest and most beautiful building in a district or community. Who knows what inspiration might come because of that to the tourist who stops by to marvel at the work of human hands, only to be taken to moments of consideration of God and the work of Godís hands.
††† But holiness is not just to be found in places. Holiness, an experience of Godís presence, a time of connection with God as creator, or spirit, or friend can come in many different ways - a sunset, a vista, sharing conversation with someone youíve never met before, finding out new things about someone youíve known for a long time. All of these and more are holy experiences - shaped by the life we live, the places we go, the people we meet, the world as seen from the window of our lives.
††† As this summer draws to a close for many of us - ready or not to begin a fall season of school, work responsibilities or return to the familiarity of home or establishing familiar routines in a new home, we discover that perspective is indeed important. We come to God seeking many different things - perhaps rest, perhaps new energy to engage in our work, perhaps courage to face troubles that have come to us over the summer months, perhaps peace to settle our minds and bodies into deeper experience of Godís presence.
††† All of these are holy places. All of these are places in which we come to find God. May we be blessed and a blessing. Amen.†