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"A Sense of the Sacred"

John 2:13-22

Rev. Alan Taylor

Lent 3, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Mar 11, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The message this morning, entitled "A Sense of the Divine," is based on the Gospel reading from John 2, wherein Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple in Jerusalem.

A church had assembled a committee to consider plans for the construction of a new sanctuary.  The church was a relatively new congregation.  So new, in fact, that they had been meeting in rented space up to this point.  God had blessed them though with growth in numbers, so much so that they could no longer comfortably use the rented space. 

When the building committee got together each person gave their perspective on what type of building should be constructed for the congregation's future home.  As one would expect, there were a number of different opinions on the subject, ranging from an expansive, Gothic style building, to a low ceilinged, multi-use facility.  Each person, of course, had their rationale for the type of building they wanted to see constructed. 

One of the members who favored the multi-use concept over the Gothic style, made a comment about the feelings he got when he entered a sanctuary on Sunday morning.  He said, "I don't want to walk into our new sanctuary and be dwarfed by the immensity of the structure.  I want to be able to walk into the space and feel significant to God, even important.  I want to be able to hold my head up high.  In some ways, he added, I want a worship space that makes me feel at home." 

Now, this isn't a Paul Harvey moment, so, I'm not actually going to tell you "the rest of the story."  I've told you this much of it simply because I think the process, and particularly the member's comment about how we feel in worship, is significant. Frankly, I believe it's indicative of a problem that we've begun to encounter in the church, a problem that's a byproduct really of the culture in which we live.  Whether it's architecture, hymnody, or, simply general decorum, we have lost, it would seem, a healthy, Biblical concept of the sacred.  Consequently we've lost a healthy respect for the Almighty, for the grandeur and the majesty of God.

Each of us have our own view of what Christian worship should be like, what kind of hymns we should sing, whether or not the pastor should wear vestments on Sunday morning and so forth.  The unfortunate aspect of Christian Worship these days is that, in many respects, it has become a consumer driven product.  The fact is, a person can choose from a plethora of worship options on Sunday morning.  He can go to the "cowboy church" the "techno mass," or the "jazz mass."  He can attend the contemporary service, the traditional service or the blended service.  I've not tested my theory, but, as long as we insist on worshiping according to our own likes and dislikes, there must also be a "60's, 70's and 80's oldies church" out there somewhere, as well as a church with a "grunge service," the marquee out front luring in would be worshipers, advertising "grunge" at 10:30 with the "traditional service" at 8.

We have lost a Biblical concept of the sacred and divine.  After-all, the Christian Mass, or, the Divine Service as we Lutheran's would called it, shouldn't be a reflection of US, of OUR likes and dislikes.  Rather, it should be a reflection of the Divine, the One who descends in Word and Sacrament to serve us, His forlorn, embattled and weary soldiers of the cross.  In other words, the Divine Service should and must be Christo-centric, Christ being at the center of everything that happens in the sanctuary. 

The sanctuary, after-all, is a PLACE of SANCTUARY.  Thus, here, in this place, we are given sanctuary from the ordinary, the common, the base things of this world.  Here we find an oasis of unchanging truth, even unchanging form, because, like it or not, substance and form compliment and serve one another in Christian worship.  Here we are recipients of pure, unfettered grace, for here we are served by the Divine, as Jesus said, "I did not come to be served but to serve and to give My life as a ransom for many." 

The money changers that Jesus drove from the Temple interjected the common, the ordinary into sacred space.  On the Sabbath, there were creatures to be sold for sacrifice and there was a great deal of money to be made.  The Temple tradition even provided for the sale of such sacrifices in particular areas on the Temple grounds.  After-all, the Law demanded that people offer a sacrifice.  The sellers of animals served a valuable purpose at the Temple. 

The Temple proper though, was sacred space.  It was intended to reflect the Divine.  As God had said to His people long before, the Temple was the place where He would meet with them, at the mercy seat, atop the Ark of the Covenant, behind the curtain that marked off the rest of the Temple from the place called "the holy of holies."  From that space would flow the blood of unnumbered sacrifices, each one pointing the Israelites to the final sacrifice, the Lamb that God, whom God Himself would provide, the One who would be wounded for our transgressions and pierced for iniquities, whose stripes would heal us of the disease of sin. 

The money changers had overstepped their bounds and interjected the profane into the Divine and thus they defamed the Temple.  Jesus defended that sacred space, His Father's house of prayer, by turning over the tables of the money changers and driving them out of the Temple with a whip of cords. 

The question for us this morning is, what, if anything would God drive out of our sanctuaries around the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod?  It's a pretty broad question, one frankly that would be hard to answer with any precision, or uniformity, mainly because, as a Synod we have, unfortunately, lost much of the unity that we once enjoyed in terms of the way in which we worship.  As we begin to grieve and lament that loss of uniformity in worship, let me be clear and say that I'm not suggesting that there is only one way to worship as a Christian.  We cannot, as our Lutheran Confessions clearly state, link our salvation to our worship form, whether traditional or contemporary.  To do so is to confuse God's Law and Gospel and it is to bind consciences where they should not be bound. 

That said, we, whether Pastor or layman, have no license to obscure the Gospel and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor do we have license to take the sacred out of our sacred space in order to compete for would be church shoppers.

Again, in the Old Testament and early into the New, God met with His people in the Temple at the mercy seat.  Certainly, His meeting with His people there involved ritual, but it also involved a breaching of the ordinary with the Divine.  Today He has endowed the church with extra-ordinary marks of His presence, those marks being His Word, rightly divided between Law and Gospel, and His Sacraments administered according to that Word. 

To the degree that those marks define our church and to degree that they are employed on Sunday morning in the Divine Service, the sacred things of God are handled with reverence and awe, and our souls, weak and fickle as they are, are fed in such a way that we are endowed by our Creator and Redeemer with the faith we need to persevere in a world that is relentless in its denial of the sacred. 

Look up, my friends, at the ceiling of this sanctuary.  It is tall and expansive, isn't it?  In all honesty, it was built with the intention of making us feel small.  Namely because it is only then, in our smallness and insignificance, that we begin to grasp the wonder of God, who, in time, descended from on high for people the likes of us, in order to seat us as Priests and Kings before His throne in eternity.

The Temple is gone, but the Priest is here and "wonder of wonders" He is also the sacrifice. 

"The holy Lamb undaunted came

To God's own altar lit with flame;

While weeping angels hid their eyes,

The Priest became a sacrifice."

"The veil is torn, our Priest we see,

As at the rail on bended knee

Our hungry mouths from Him receive

The bread of immortality."

In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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