Sanctuary

September 23, 2018 + Pentecost 18B

Mark 9:30-37

 

Sermon “Sanctuary”

 

We begin this morning by singing “Sanctuary.”

 

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

In thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you

 

So, what does it mean, “Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary.”  I can think of at least two things.  St Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:16, “for we are the temple of the living God: as God said, I will live in them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  God dwells inside of us, making us a temple or a sanctuary.  We often hear health club types proclaim, “Take care of your body it is the temple of God.”  So that’s one, very popular notion, and most likely the thought behind the hymn we just sang, God lives in us, making us a sanctuary.  

 

But there’s another way, a more radical way, to look at this song.  A way that takes us beyond just me and my God, a way that places us where the “Gospel rubber meets the road.”  

 

Webster’s defines sanctuary in two ways; the first is a holy place, the room in which worship services are held, the second definition, the one that is more radical, the one that will challenge us, sanctuary as a place of refuge and protection.

 

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

In thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you

 

In 1 Kings 1:50 we read that Adonijah flees into the temple and grabs hold of one of the horns on the altar and claims “refuge” or “sanctuary.”  He was afraid that King Solomon would not treat him fairly or justly, so he went to the temple for safety.  It’s not really clear how that worked, it’s not something the bible explains in depth, but there does seem to be some kind of allowance for refuge in the sanctuary.

 

Many ancient peoples recognized a religious "right of asylum", protecting outsiders, the poor, enemies, and even those accused of crime.  Perhaps Sanctuary is best known as a medieval law practiced in parts of Europe until the 1600s.   In the 1939 movie “The Hunch Back of Notre Dame,” there’s a scene where the King’s guard is chasing an accused woman in the streets, eventually she reaches the doors of the Cathedral and dashes in side.  The guards stop at the door, where the priest reminds them that they cannot go inside to capture the woman they have been chasing.  She has sanctuary.  Extremely frustrated they give up the chase and leave.  The Priest then asks the woman what she has done, “Why are they chasing you?”  She replies, “Because I am a Gypsy.”  The priest responds, “God made you a Gypsy, there’s nothing wrong with that, you may stay.” Grace filled, hospitality, sanctuary!

 

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

In thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you

 

In today’s Gospel Jesus reminds us that we are all called to be “Sanctuary” by practicing hospitality to all.  The disciples are arguing about who is the greatest, they are caught up in the way that the world orders things, the way that the world defines what is important, 

the way that the world welcomes and practices hospitality.  So, Jesus teaches them about servant hood, and then, “he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

 

Now in our day, welcoming children doesn’t seem very radical, almost everyone will stoop down to say, “Hi,” to a child. But it is important to realize that in Jesus’ time children didn’t get that kind of attention, especially from men.  Children were the lowest people on the societal ladder, even below women. They had no rights or voice.  The original text suggests that this child might have been a servant, perhaps a child laborer.  Jesus did not pick up a cute kid, he picked up someone that never gets noticed, someone that is taken 

advantage of, somebody who was nobody.

 

And Jesus welcomes this child, provides the child with some refuge, Jesus becomes a sanctuary holding the child.  And then he challenges his disciples, and he challenges us,"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”   It’s easy to welcome beautiful and popular people, it’s easy to open up your life and your things to your friends, 

it’s easy to be a sanctuary to someone who looks like you, acts like you, and might be you.  

But God calls us to be more.   (Matthew 25) “For I was hungry and you gave me food, 

I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these 

who are members of my family, you did it to me.'”

 

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

In thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you

 

People often tell me that they have a hard time finding God.  They look in the scriptures, 

they pray on mountain tops, they wait for supernatural moments.  The irony is that God is all around us, in the least of these, just waiting to be welcomed into our lives.  God is in the other, God is just outside the comfortable circles in which we abide, God is that forgotten child.  So, if you’re looking for God, if you’re serious about the hymn and prayer, 

“Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary, a living sanctuary,” stop climbing mountain tops and begin by serving your neighbor. Practice radical hospitality, inviting someone new and different into your life, to your table, bring them into your sanctuary, into our sanctuary.   Break out of your comfort zone and break into God’s kingdom.

 

I know that’s not easy, but the good news is that you have found sanctuary, God has welcomed you, and God fleshed out in this place, in these people, has welcomed you; And that welcome, that gracious opening to fellowship, worship, and prayer has made you strong and faith-filled.  

 

So, let us pray fervently that we might become a true and full sanctuary, a vessel of the good news of Jesus Christ, welcoming and providing for others, even strangers, especially strangers. Let us become sanctuary for those who are forgotten, those who are oppressed, those who are marginalized, those who are different from us, those who are alone, those who are the least of these in this world, in our society, in our community, 

here in this place of radical grace. 

 

Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, tried and true

In thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary for you

 

May God use your gifts, your talents, and your resources to make such a difference to usher in the kingdom of God, to usher in the reign of God’s peace. May God make you 

a living sanctuary. Amen.