Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sacred

There are many things being revealed in the beginning of Genesis. The most obvious is that God created all of this. But there is something else that is too often missed. The beginning of Genesis also explains how God intends to run His creation. So, we've already looked at God granting to humanity dominion over the rest of creation. That means that God expects us to care for the earth. We've also looked at how God has made us as His image both in the male variety of that as well as the female variety. That reveals that He has certain expectations of females and different expectations of males.

Today, we are going to look at another aspect of how God runs things here. Listen now as God reveals more about how His creation works.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2.1-3

There are several aspects of how God runs His creation expressed here. Here's a quick look at one. God established a week of seven days. God could have skipped the idea of weeks all together so that all you have are days. Try to imagine living in a world with only days, no weeks, no months, no years. It's just day after day after day. That would feel very different. How would you get any sense of progress? God's decision to have time divided into weeks makes a difference. It's how He runs creation.

The aspect that we are going to look at this morning is expressed in these words.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy …

God has sanctified the seventh day. He has separated this day from the rest, making it special.

I'm going to use a different, but related, word to express what is going on here. I'm going to use the word 'sacred'. God made the seventh day sacred. In doing this, God is introducing another aspect of how He runs creation. He makes some things sacred. Here, He has made sacred time. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, God also creates sacred places and sacred people. Today, we're going to look at this idea of sacred as an aspect of how God runs His creation.

First, let me clarify something. Some people understand sacred in terms of a contrast between what is clean and pure, and what is dirty and foul. That's not what I mean. Sacred is in contrast with what is ordinary or common or your normal everyday sort of thing. So, the other days of the week are quite fine. There is nothing wrong with them. They are your normal expression of what it means to be a day. And the seventh day is very much like those others. It's just that the seventh day has something extra. The seventh day is sacred.

God has a particular purpose in making certain things sacred. It's in the realm of the sacred that God acts and touches our souls in profound ways.

A good example of this is the Day of Atonement. This was a holy day that God instituted when Israel was in the desert. God decided that the Day of Atonement was to occur each year on the tenth day of the seventh month. By His decree this day became a sacred time. The special events of the day were to be done in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle, a sacred place. And all of this was to be done by the high priest, a sacred person.

Now, what was the point of all of this? Was anything actually accomplished by the use of this sacred time in a sacred place by a sacred person? Something very important was accomplished. Moses explains.

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before Yahweh from all your sins.

God acted in a special way, using sacred things to accomplish something very important, forgiveness.

Now, let's consider a different question. What made these things sacred? It wasn't that they were so very different from what was common. The tenth day of the seventh month was just like the ninth day and the eleventh day. The Tabernacle wasn't all that different from other tents. It was fancy but still just a tent. The high priest was a man like all the other men. What made them sacred was that God declared something about them. He declared them sacred just like He declared the seventh day of each week sacred.

God did something to the seventh day - as well as that tenth day, the Tabernacle and the high priest. God declared that these things would be sacred. It's simply God's declaration that separates sacred things from common things.

Now, why did I decide to preach on this? There are several reasons. Here's one. This is different from how people these days think. Most people have no category of the sacred. Everything for them is common. Everything is normal, everyday stuff. They are unaware of one way that God runs His creation. Often, for these folk, this means that God doesn't act in special ways anymore. Life just goes on, day by day. Now, that might make sense if we're talking about your general run of the mill pagan. But there are way too many Christians who live this way. One day or place is pretty much the same as the next. They might make distinctions. This day they celebrate someone's birthday, and that's the place where they usually enjoy their picnics. These might stand out a bit, but they are still common. There is nothing that is sacred. But if everything is the same old, same old, then does God actually do anything anymore?

There are those Christians who will answer that question with a very loud, 'Oh yes, God still does lots of stuff!' However, for these folk what God does isn't associated with sacred times, sacred places or sacred people. God acts when He feels like it. And He usually acts privately, individually. So, there are those really special times of prayer and Bible reading that they remember from days gone by, or that time at a retreat where God felt so very close. In those moments God touched them, and they felt it. But it had nothing to do with times, places or people. After all, there have been other times of prayer and Bible reading, and other retreats where nothing special happened. So, they will say that God still does stuff, but it isn't tied to sacred times, sacred places or sacred people.

But remember the example of the Day of Atonement. On every tenth day of the seventh month when the high priest took the blood into the Holy of Holies something happened. Every year, on the Day of Atonement, the people's sins were forgiven. Sacred time, sacred place, sacred people. It's how God runs His creation.

Now, we no longer have a Day of Atonement. But that does not mean that God no longer uses sacred things. What we do have is Sunday worship. We meet in an ordinary room, at an hour that is no different from the other hours on the clock, and are led by people that are just like everyone else. And yet, by God's declaration, at His call to worship, that ordinary room becomes a sacred place - a sanctuary; that ordinary hour becomes a sacred time; and those ordinary folk who lead become sacred people. And God does something. He comes down and meets with us in order to bless us, in order to do us good. God touches our souls. And that happens every Sunday.

Will there be that emotional high like at that amazing retreat? Probably not. Will God feel as close as those great times of personal prayer and Bible reading? He might, or might not. But will something happen? Will there be a blessing? Oh, absolutely! On those Days of Atonement the people may have felt something or maybe they felt nothing. But regardless, God acted. He did something. And they were blessed. Something happens every Sunday when we get together here. You may feel it or you may not, but regardless, it happens. God acts, and you are blessed.

This is so very different from the common understanding of what happens during a worship service. For too many, it's a time to sing songs that express what they're feeling about Jesus and to hear someone explain some aspect of what it means to be a Christian. But that makes that gathering simply a group of people doing some things together, things that hopefully most will find helpful. Thinking about a worship service in that way does not understand how God runs His creation. God uses sacred times, sacred places and sacred people in order to touch the souls of His people.

Here's one dangerous result of the common understanding of a worship service. It's pretty much up to you to mature as a Christian. To be sure, you will pray to ask God's help, but it is help that comes after you act. Christians get together. They hear something about being a Christian. So, they act. They pray. And God responds to their requests. The assumption is that they need to take the initiative and nothing will happen unless they do. Having heard the music and the sermon, they need to do something that God will respond to. That understanding is based on law and not grace.

But the Gospel is about how God takes the initiative. He acts first. He always acts first. So, He establishes the sacred as a regular part of life in order to bless, to do good, to give grace to His people. And then, having established those things He invites us in. And it is in response to that expression of His grace, at that sacred time, in that sacred place and with those sacred people, that we pray asking for more grace. He takes the initiative, and we respond to Him. That's grace. It’s grace based on God's use of the sacred. It's how He runs His creation.

So, what have I done? I've explained a little more about how God runs creation. He uses sacred things to bless His people. And while what I've said may sound really quite odd, it helps to explain how you are to grow as a Christian. God uses the sacred to make that happen.

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