For Moses it was the few feet of desert surrounding the burning bush. For our United Methodist kids it's the vesper ring at Lakeshore. For some, it's sitting on a white beach, watching the sun go down. For others it's a few moments of quiet on the way to work. It could be a hiking trail in the woods at Land Between the Lakes, or a canoe on some quiet backwater. It could be a fancy cathedral with huge stained glass windows, under a tree where you felt "your heart strangely warmed," or the hospital room where your Granddad breathed his last.
Whatever it looks like, we all have holy ground...some place where we feel we need to take our shoes off because the spot where we are standing is somehow different. It's important to recognize those places, and to spend some time there every now and then. I'm learning that my holy places are changing though, and I must admit, it's not just a little disconcerting. I'm finding that the things that used to be so important to me, just don't seem to have the same effect anymore, and I didn't realize it until this week.
It always amazes me that folks actually listen to at least part of what I say on Sunday morning. It amazes me even more that sometimes they actually remember, and every now and then, something I said on some Sunday morning will come back to haunt me. This week, it happened. It's no biggie. The time/space continuum will not be affected in any way. In fact, it was almost a passing comment, but it kind of stuck with me and made me start thinking a little.
Funny thing is, I don't even remember the sermon I preached, but my wife did, and there was one thing I said that she remembered specifically. I was talking this past week about ending my chase for the elusive white tailed deer. I used to love to hunt. I would spend hours upon hours sitting in the stupid cold, waiting with breathless anticipation, following every crunch of the leaves in the woods behind me. I especially loved bowhunting. A bunch of city guys who only go into the woods for one weekend a year, all heavily armed, just makes me uncomfortable. But bowhunting, that was different. It was quiet, usually not as cold, and no one else was out there. The deer weren't spooked yet, and you could nail their patterns a lot easier. For me, sitting on the side of a tree, bow across my lap, arrow knocked and ready, was holy ground...was. The comment she made when I mentioned giving up hunting was, "That is one of your holy places, you just said so Sunday."
What do we do when the places that were once holy seem to lose their importance? It's not just the hunting thing for me. I mean, I could buy a lot of beef for what I spend hunting, and don't even get me started on what I spent getting set up for turkey hunting. This has gotten me thinking about other things, places, or activities that I once saw as holy, but not so much anymore. And what is it that makes a place holy ground?
In this morning's readings, Solomon is preparing to dedicate the temple. Construction is finished. The decorations and furnishings have been dedicated and put into place, save one. The Ark is on it's way. Once the Ark is in place, Solomon prays this long prayer of dedication, and voila'...it's holy ground. This made me start thinking about our own temples. What is it that makes them holy? Is it the stained glass? We certainly worship them at times. Is it the pews? The little brass plaques? Is it the altar rail? Goodness knows it can't be moved in any of our temples. Is it the choir loft, or the podium? There has got to be something that makes those places holy ground.
Now, I'm just thinking out loud and certainly don't expect you to agree but...if we took all of those things out, would it still be holy ground? In the Methodist Church, we have orders of worship for consecrating a building, and for deconsecrating a building. Almost like a holy switch we can turn on and off at will. This is just Jamie, but we can bless the furnishings and consecrate them for use on our holy ground, we can deconsecrate them...we can add to, and we can take away...and to me, those things are not what makes it holy ground. But that's just me. For me, we can take down the altar rail (Blasphemy!), remove the podium, do away with all of the decorations and it would still be holy. Why? Because those things are not what makes it holy in the first place. The one thing all of our holy grounds have in common is the presence of God.
But I'm wondering if God is willing to compete with those other things for our worship attention. See, I used to think that those things were what made God happy. If the sanctuary looked nice enough, and the podium was polished, the cross was in the right place, and everything was in order, God would come in and fill the place much like when Solomon dedicated the temple. But I have realized in my years of ministry that sometimes those things are merely idols getting in the way of God's presence filling the place. I'm starting to think that God might be more pleased (and please don't think I'm presuming to know what God wants) at the sounds of children being cared for while their single mom is at work, or the sound of former alcoholics finding the road to recovery in one of the rooms we aren't using. I've wondered if God would be pleased because we were using some of that holy ground to heal divorcees, or because our carpet had become tear stained during a grief support group meeting.
Maybe I think too much, I don't know. Maybe I'm still very naive in my expectations of what ministry really is. But there is a restlessness stirring within me to rediscover that holy ground, and I'm not sure worship, or even church, as it is now will ever do it. I think that I want to focus the next years of my ministry helping someone else stand on their own piece of holy ground, and not just playing the game anymore. But that's just me.