Raise My Ebenezer
Testament Reading: Genesis 28:10-22
Testament Reading: Mark 9:2-5
What is it that made
Bethel sacred? Jacob says it was the axis mundi connecting heaven
and earth. But why did he infer this? Simply that God appeared there--but
what is another way of saying this? Jacob experienced God there.
There is a subtle difference there, and I want to explore it in a moment.
To whom was this place
sacred? Only Jacob? To all Israel, surely, or we wouldn't have this story
in the Bible. How do you suppose anyone else ever heard it? It became the
site of one of the major temples of the Northern Temples (1 Kings
12:16-29). And before then it had been a renowned center of pilgrimage.
And of course it is not impossible that the Jacob story was a later
explanation for the sacredness of the place, or one of several; cf.
Protestants, as Weber
said, have largely disenchanted the world. Catholic Medievalism had
populated the world with angels, saints, and devils. Every day was holy,
being the feast of some saintlet or other. Every occupation had a patron
saint. Every crossroads had a shrine.
Protestants rejected all
this in the name of a growing rationalism. We felt that all space must be
equally holy because God is omnipresent. He is no place more than another.
And to think otherwise had patently bred superstitions of the most
extravagant kind. Thus the Puritans would not celebrate Christmas,
rejecting it as a concession to popish superstition. You didn't even get
the day off in Puritan Massachusetts!
There is a tension here,
since the very same Protestants wanted to be as Biblical as they could be,
and the Bible as we have seen, surely assumes the reality of certain
especially sacred places.
I do not think we can
move from the insight that God is equally present to every inch of ground.
Yet I do not think we can deny that certain places are especially sacred
to us. How can we explain their peculiar holiness?
I think the answer must
be psychological in nature. It must be that certain places are sacred
because of the many layers of memory that linger there, memories of
religious experiences. They need not even be our own experiences! All we
need to know is that many have had their eyes opened to the ever present
shadow of the Almighty as they stood here.
We hope, perhaps, to
experience what they did when we go to a shrine, a cathedral, whatever. It
opens us up to the divine. The divine is always there. But at certain
places where others have been attuned to it the veil wears thin and we,
too, put up the antenna. This is why many of us are attached to this
building. It has been the locus for many spiritual challenges. I want to
ask you to help me unlock some of those precious memories. I want to ask
you to help enter into what I call a spirituality of memory. I
believe that if we
revisit those experiences in memory, we will be attuning ourselves to
receive more of the same.
In fact I can't help but
think of that verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews where the writer says
that in our spiritual struggle we are surrounded by an invisible cloud of
witnesses, cheering us on. Who are those witnesses? For my purposes this
morning, they are precisely the ghosts of our own spiritual experiences as
members of this church family, whether past or present. As dwellers in
this House of the Lord.
Some of you have not been
here for some time, yet I cannot but believe that when you were here,
there were revelations, appearances of the divine, that were connected
with this place, with the religious life of this place.
It is not as if we could
not relocate to another place and have the same experiences. To say
otherwise would be mere sentimentalism, even superstition. But as part of
this church family you have no doubt had spiritual moments you cherish,
that continue to mean something to you.
I can remember particular
moments of challenge, or victory, of the warmth of fellowship going back
more than a dozen years. Farther than you might think, since for some
years I was a member of a congregation that rented space here.
I can think of places,
individual spots in this room, where I could in my mind raise up a
monument as Samuel did, christened Eben-Ezer, the Stone of Help, inscribed
"Hitherto hath the Lord Helped Us."
Can you summon from
hallowed memory any occasions like that? I ask you to do so right now.
Will you share them with us now? Stand where you are or come up to the
pulpit. If you will, then between us, I believe we can summon up the holy
past, the shadows of Bethel, and the invisible God will stand revealed.
Copyright©2009 by Robert
Carolina Web Design