Holy Places Dave Rogalsky
Scriptures: (not Lectionary) John 4:1-26; Mark 1:35-39; Acts 2:44-3:11
Theme: There are places that are held as holy for long periods of time. Sometimes we even build buildings there to worship. But really, it is every place where we consciously focus on meeting God in “Spirit and truth” that is a holy place.
Scripture: ; Mark 1:35-39
As I’ve gone visiting around the congregation one of the questions I’ve been asking is “What does this building mean to you?” This is based on the priority which you have chosen, Stay in the Building. I’ve gotten answers all over the map to this question. For some, this is just a building like any other. For others, the place itself adds immensely to their worship and spiritual lives. Others say they can worship anywhere. Another person said that if this church wasn’t here, some other place of worship would be – it’s a holy place.
The Bible has numerous stories of holy places, a few places come up over and over again.
In Genesis 28:1-5, 10-22 we read about Jacob at Bethel. Jacob was the son of Isaac and Rebekah, and the grandson of Abraham and Sarah. He had cheated his brother Esau out of both the family inheritance which Esau was to receive as the oldest, and out of their father’s blessing. Esau was enraged and threatened to kill Jacob. Following his mother Rebekah’s advice Jacob fled to her family in Haran. Along the way he stopped to sleep. In a dream he saw God’s angels ascending and descending to the heavens. We read that then God said to him:
15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!" 17 And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel; (which means house of God). Genesis 28:14-19 (NRSV)
Certainly a holy place! It became an important religious centre in time.
Another holy place in Canaan was at Shiloh. There the people came to worship God. It was probably the place where God’s holy box, the Ark of the Covenant, was stored. It was long a holy place, probably before the Jews came there. But it was here that the boy Samuel was in the temple to hear God. Practicing a rite to hear God, an incubation rite, he was told to sleep in the temple overnight. In the night God called him but he thought it was the priest Eli who was calling. Surprised Eli finally told him, “When you hear the voice again, say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.’” God called again and Samuel was called to lifelong priesthood and the role of the prophet/teacher. (See1 Samuel 3:1-11.) Shiloh was a holy place.
Next we look at Mount Moriah. In Genesis 14:17-20 we read that King Melchizedek of Salem, later called Jerusalem, who was a priest of El, the name Abraham used for God, received Abraham’s tithe. Abraham had been attacked by local kings and their armies. After beating them Abraham took the booty and gave one tenth of it to Melchizedek.
Then in Genesis 22 Abraham went to Mount Moriah with his son. Jewish scriptures say it was Isaac, but the Quran says it was Ishmael. Either way Abraham’s plan was to offer human sacrifice to God on this holy mountain. Because of the Isaac/Ishmael difference many Jews believe that the temple mount in Jerusalem is Mount Moriah, while Muslims believe that it is a mountain close to Mecca. In both scriptures God stops Abraham’s hand at the last moment and saves the boy. Instead Abraham offered a deer which was caught in a thicket nearby.
In 2 Samuel 5:6-9 King David conquered Jerusalem, the city on and near Mount Moriah. It had been a hold out against the Jews for generations, but David took it and claimed it for his own. It was called “The city of David” afterward. Because it was David’s capital he brought God’s holy box, the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored to Jerusalem. David planned to build a temple in which to put the Ark of the Covenant as a place to worship God, and as a stone copy of the tent of meeting which the Israelites had used before they settled in Canaan. God told David he had too much blood on his hands to build God’s temple, but that his son Solomon would. (See 1 Chronicles 22:8). And so in 2 Chronicles 3:1 we read that Solomon built the temple to God on Mount Moriah.
In Jesus day there was still a temple there. When he went to worship in Jerusalem, he went to the mountain which the Jews call Moriah, and worshipped in the temple there. In Matthew 21:12-13 Jesus cleared the temple of sellers and money changers. Quoting from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 he said, “'’My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are ‘making it a den of robbers’." It was to be a place of prayer for not only Jews, but for all who believed and believe in God. (See Isaiah 56:7). Isaiah called it “a house of prayer for all the nation.”
In the days after Jesus the early Jewish Christians continued to worship and pray in that temple. (See Acts 2:44-3:11). This was certainly a holy place!
And one more place - Mount Horeb. In Exodus 3 we read the story of Moses in the wilderness, taking care of his father-in-law’s flocks. On Mount Horeb he saw a bush burning, but not being burnt up. In the bush Moses met YHWH. YHWH sent him back to Egypt to demand freedom for the Jews. After their escape, in Exodus 19, they made their way to Mount Sinai. In the version recorded in Deuteronomy 5, the place was called Mount Horeb. The place, like many ancient places, had more than one name.
Years later, recorded in I Kings 19 the prophet Elijah went to Mount Horeb. Fleeing for his life from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he was sent by God to this place. There he had this experience:
11 God said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Clearly, a holy place.
The Bible makes it clear, there are places that are holy. But what makes them so? In each of these stories, the place was holy because God met people there. It was a kind of a partnership. Sometimes it was the people who came to find God. In other cases God made Godself apparent to the people in that place.
We have stories of people in Bible times who met God, not in one of these places – Mount Horeb, Mount Moriah, Shiloh, Bethel – but in other, common places. Jesus himself seemed to meet God in many places:
At the Jordan River we read: 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Luke 3:21-22 (NRSV)
Outside Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, after Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many others, “35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." 38 He answered, "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Mark 1:35-39 (NRSV) Jesus met God, prayed, got clarity, and moved on with his ministry.
Along the shore of the sea of Galilee, after feeding five thousand men, plus women and children Jesus was exhausted and needed down time to pray. “45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.”46 After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray. Mark 6:45-46 (NRSV)
Even on the cross, after suffering for hours we read “46 Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. “Luke 23:46 (NRSV)
And the disciples, like Peter, Paul and others, met God where-ever they sought God. Peter was on flat roof praying when God met him (see Acts 10). Cornelius the Roman centurion, neither a Jew nor a Christian, met God in his courtyard as he prayed (Acts 10). Paul was stomping along a road when Jesus met him (Acts 9).
We meet God in places where we are open to God. God, who makes all places holy, meets us wherever. Our native sisters and brothers probably have it right – the Creator is everywhere in the creation. We don’t need special places. And yet, places set aside to meet God seem to attract those who want to meet God, and God meets them there. This building is one such place, set aside as a place for God’s people to meet.
Some questions to consider:
Where do you meet God?
How do you go about meeting God?
How important is this building to meeting God for you?
Do you use similar practices, incubation rites, here and other places?
What if the congregation couldn’t afford this building and moved, would you feel a sense of loss? How much? Enough to leave the congregation?
We will be looking at these questions together in coffee hour.