Sunday, July 23, 2017

“Marking the Sacred” (Genesis 28:10-19a)

If you take the time, you’ll see them.  A person cannot drive through Montana without seeing them.  They are everywhere.  What are they?  Well, they are “markers” . . . markers that signify and “mark” that something important or significant or historical has taken place.

Driving Interstate 90 we see them everywhere . . . Lewis and Clark Trail markers . . . Yellowstone National Park markers . . . Little Big Horn Battlefield markers . . . they are everywhere.  They are everywhere pointing out to us the historical importance and significance of a place.

Throughout Montana there are little white crosses that dot our highways.  Crosses that mark the places where car accidents have taken the lives of people.  These white crosses are placed at the scenes of car accidents where lives have been lost by the American Legion of Montana . . . there are approximately 2000 in place across Montana.

We see markers even when we stroll through our community . . . markers placed on or beside buildings and structures.  Even our church, Joliet Christian Church, has one of these markers . . . a National Historic Site marker that signifies the historical significance of our church in this community.

And, I imagine, that even in our own yards we have markers that “mark” some significant and important part of our lives.  I know that I do.  In my front yard there is a rock that sits under our aspen tree that proclaims that that piece of land has been claimed for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.  In the backyard there is a wind main with a great big “N” that claims that part of our property to be a part of Husker Nation.

Marking important, significant, and important places has been happening for forever.  It is nothing new.

Our scripture reading this morning points to this fact.  We have the story of Jacob, who is on the run from his brother Esau--from whom he has stolen his father’s blessing, and a moment in his life in which he paused to “mark” an important and significant event in his life.  Stopping from his running he places a rock beneath his head as he falls asleep.  As he is sleeping he has a dream.  In the dream angels are ascending and descending from heaven . . . above them stood the Lord.  The Lord speaks to Jacob telling him that he will be blessed . . . a great nation will come from him . . . and, that God will watch over him and protect him.

It is quite a dream!

Awakening from the dream, Jacob realizes that he is in a special place . . . a holy place.  He proclaims: “Surely the Lord is in this place and I was not aware of it.  How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”  So moved is Jacob by this dream and encounter with God that he decides that he cannot just leave without “marking” its significance and importance . . . after all, it is a holy place.  Thus it is that he takes the rock upon which he was sleeping, raised it up as a pillar, and poured oil over it to consecrate it as holy and important.  He called the place, Bethel . . . meaning the “House of God”.

It is here that Jacob creates the standard . . . that he begins the practice of “marking the sacred”.  Whether it was for his own personal remembrance or to point it out to those who came along later, the point is that Jacob took the time to “mark” that space as something important . . .something worth remembering . . . something sacred.  Each and every time that this pillar . . . this “mark” . . . is encountered it stands as a testament of something important . . . something worth remembering . . . something held sacred in a person’s or a people’s life.

I have said many times in my life and ministry that I believe that it is important to “mark” those moments in our lives . . . to mark those places in our lives . . . in which we have encountered the holy.  I have talked about the practice of sacred cairns in our life journeys in which we have marked those moments and encounters in which the presence of God was strong and noteworthy . . . those times in which we had an epiphany . . . those places where we have seen miracles . . . and, those encounters of the holy.  I truly believe we need to “mark the sacred” in our lives.

We need to mark these in order to remember and remind ourselves of the holy that surrounds us like the air that we breathe.  We need to do this because we are a forgetful people who are so busy with the world around us that we sometimes forget to pause . . . take a deep breath . . . and, remember.  God is with us.  Remember what God said to Jacob in his dream?

God said, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.  I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

We are not alone . . . God is with us.  That is the promise of God.  But sometimes we need to remind ourselves.  How we remind ourselves . . . besides showing up here every Sunday . . . is to “mark” those sacred moments in our lives so that we can be reminded from Sunday afternoon to the following Sunday morning.  Reminded that we are not alone.

So . . . how do you “mark the sacred” in your life?

My daughter, Candace, has a sacred place in her life.  It is one that is familiar to most of us here in this sanctuary . . . Pilot Peak.  Most people think of it as the “beartooth” as they drive along Beartooth Highway.  For Candace, this is a special place, and to “mark” it--much to the chagrin of her mom and dad, she got a tattoo on the back of her neck.  

One of our neighbors have several markers in their yard.  One is a young tree that they have planted for their beloved dog that passed away.  Another is a sort of sculpture and wind main of a witch . . . a witch to remind them of a relative.  No, not because the relative was a witch, but because she had a witch outside in her yard.  Whenever they see the tree they are reminded of their beloved dog . . . when they see the witch they remember their loved one.

Since Dana, my wife, won’t let me place stone pillars wherever I have encountered the holy in my life, I take pictures.  Lots of pictures because I encounter the holy and significant all around me.  With each picture I am reminded of the presence of the holy in my life and in my life journey.  Each picture prompts a memory and a story that goes with it.  As I remember and recall the story, I place myself back in the presence of the holy.  I am reminded that God is with me . . . that God does not abandon me . . . until I have accomplished with God what I have been called to do.

I imagine that there are as many ways to “mark” the sacred as there are people. Each and everyone of us has our own way of marking the sacred in our lives . . . and, that is good that we are doing this.  Good because we need those reminders.  At least I hope that is what each of you are doing . . . “marking the sacred”.

I would encourage you to pause from time to time . . . to look back on your life and your life’s journey.  As you look back, look for those “marks” of the sacred in your life . . . those moments when you were in the presence of the holy . . . when you were overwhelmed by that presence.  Pause, remember, and tell the story even if it is only for your own ears.  In doing this, I assure you, you will know and understand that you are not alone.  God is with us . . . always with us.  It doesn’t hurt to be reminded.  Amen.

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