2/5/2017 Altars, Altars Everywhere

Preaching:  Pastor Rebecca Henry

Date Presented:  Sunday, February 5, 2017

Scripture Reference: Psalm 112:1-9

Sermon: Spiritual Affective Disorder: Altars, Altars Everywhere


I can remember out of all the different times my day, my mom, or my sister would go to visit my grandmother there was one thing in common. Whenever I asked them about their trip they would tell me how they took her out to the cemetery to visit PaPa. That was the one thing she always asked of them. She loved to have that time to just sit and visit with PaPa; it was a special time for her in which she felt especially close to PaPa. Only I also remember how MoMo wore this necklace with PaPa’s wedding ring every day and how she had a picture of him sitting on her bedside table. I would see her touching PaPa’s ring at different times through the day and she would tell us that every night she would talk to PaPa before going to bed. She may have treasured the times she got to go to the cemetery to be with PaPa, but she always had his ring and picture with her to help her feel close to PaPa.

I found myself thinking about this as we continue our sermon series, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and exploring practices we can do to lighten our spirits and help us feel connected to God. Certainly for many of us one of those practices is coming to church. As we heard in the opening music with Psalm 84, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord. My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord;” and indeed every week there are a number of people who tell me how good it is to be here; what a blessing it is to worship; how blessed they feel. It is hard to argue with such sentiments for there is something powerful that one experiences in worship. Being in church brings us a sense of assurance that God is with us, that God loves us, that everything will be okay. When we are in church we find ourselves feeling more confident and ready to face the week ahead, ready to live as God intended. There is something about our time in worship that often leaves us feeling more connected with God, stronger in our faith.

To be honest, I don’t think there is anything that can quite replace or have the same impact on us as worship in the church, with the power of hearing multiple voices singing or praying the Lord’s Prayer or experiencing the relationships within the community. There is something unique and powerful about worship. It is like going to a movie theater. There are just some movies you want to see in the theater with the big screen and the surround sound because it just wouldn’t be the same to watch it at home on a little TV. The same could be said about church. Only sometimes, a lot of times, it can feel like an awfully long time between Sundays. There can be a lot of things that happen during the week that leave us feeling strained, distracted from God, disconnected. We need ways to sustain the feelings and experience of worship throughout the week. Of course there are daily devotions or coming to church on Wednesdays that can help, but sometimes we need visual reminders; things that catch our eye and remind us God is with us, remind us of the life we desire.

Our ancestors of faith certainly understood how important this is such that it is a practice kept by Jews still today. It is called a mezuzah. It’s a little box that Jews have on their doorframe that they can see and touch every time they go in and out of their house, remembering to love God and to faithfully obey God. For us as Christians a cross often serves as that reminder, but maybe there are even more options for us. Maybe there are things like my jar of sand that remind me of up north and that peace and freedom I feel there, or the driftwood I’ve found. Maybe it is candlelight that has a way of settling us and drawing us in to feel that we are in God’s presence. Perhaps there are flowers or birdfeeders outside that remind us that God cares for us like the birds of the air or fields of lilies.

What difference might it make for us to create an altar space in our homes, a little tables with symbols like a Bible or our devotion book, if not even a full room for prayer or meditation? Maybe on our desk at work we have an object, a symbol that can center us and help us feel connected to God, or a window cling in our car, even something we carry in our pockets. It could be that we do our devotions or pray in this space, but perhaps it is just a matter of seeing this space or symbol that reminds us of God’s presence and to be attentive to how we are living this week.

This fall at one of our Board of Ordained Ministry meetings everyone was asked to bring an object or symbol from their faith journey that they could share with the group. It was a powerful way to get to know each other as we talked about these symbols. There was someone’s rosary from her grandmother, confirmation Bibles, broken pottery, hymnals, candles to name a few. All of these objects were placed on a table in the center of our room, becoming an altar or sacred space for us. In meetings it is so easy to get caught up in the business, the work we are doing, but I found that every time I looked across the room my eye would catch a glimpse of that table and all those symbols and I would remember this was sacred work and that God was there with us. That holy space, that altar, shaped me and the community gathers so that as Psalm 112 said, we were mindful of honoring God in our work. Yes, even that space of work was sacred space.

This week our Psalmists call us to celebrate the many places and ways we experience the presence of God. They invite us to see the signs that God is dwelling among us, and how that very truth fills us with such joy and purpose. Hear this story of a community who saw and honored the sacred among them: [show video “What Is Sacred?” from The Work of the People].

Indeed, all of creation is sacred. God is present in every time and space, but sometimes we need symbols, signs that awaken us or help us to be attuned to this truth, like cairns that the Israelites would build to identify a place where they had experienced God. For us the communion table is one of those signs and spaces for us. This is always such a holy time for us, to come around this table, the Lord’s Table, and to be aware we are in God’s presence. Only as we pray, as we eat, as we leave the Table we are reminded that it isn’t just here, that God goes with us. As we celebrate communion, eating the bread, drinking the juice, we celebrate God’s union with us, Christ within us. We remember our calling to take Christ out into the world. This holy space awakens us to the holy in our lives.

There are events in the week, run down places, distraught people that can leave us feeling God is absent. Only when we have celebrated communion, when we have worshipped together, or even our eyes catch a glimpse of a candle, a cross, a flower, even an altar, perhaps our spirits are awakened to see the sacred among us.