March 20, 2022 The Third Sunday of Lent (Cycle C)
The tie in between today’s readings is: Sacred Space
God’s holiness is very mysterious. Granted, no one can really fathom any of the Almighty’s characteristics. We see His power in a tornado and run from it. We marvel at His creation from the atom to the Super Nova. But, when it comes to holiness, we are totally clueless. There is no basis of comparison. It can’t be measured as more or less of something. Holiness is a state of being at the very core of the Supreme Being. It is rigid and exclusive. You either are or you aren’t holy and if you aren’t, you’re out! For fallen mankind this is a most terrifying prospect. Biblical encounters with God’s holiness, as we see with the prophet Isaiah, are traumatic. It is only by His mercy that we are not duly disintegrated due our corrupt state against His Divine Nature. So how does a loving God even begin to have a relationship with sinful humans who, if magically transported to heaven, would make the angels vomit? Well, you start by clearing off a sacred space.
A sacred space is where God’s purifies a vicinity for His presence in order to associate with men. Our reading in Exodus 3:1-15 is full of sacred space features. On Mt. Horeb God calls to Moses from the midst of the burning bush and tells him to take off his shoes because the ground is holy. The mountain and the bush take on prominence as sacred spaces. Before Moses goes to Pharaoh for the Exodus mission, the Lord guarantees success and tells him that they will worship Him on this holy mountain where they were now standing. YHWH will make them His holy people, showing that a person can even become sacred space themselves. In their upcoming conquest of the Promised Land, the presence of YHWH in the tabernacle makes their entire camp a sacred space. Later the temple in Jerusalem turns the whole geography of Israel sacred.
There is a tension, however, between the sinner and the sacred. God is a jealous God. He is all about the relationship and the relationship must be holy. What happens when you sin? How does it affect the God to man dynamic when you break the rules? Well, those who go with the cosmic karma model conclude that God will ZAP you. Good things happen to good people, but bad people better watch out. Jesus blows this point of view out of the water in our reading in Luke 13:1-9. Taking the headlines out of the morning edition of the Jerusalem Times, He asks the crowd if they thought the people crushed by the fallen tower were worse than any of them. Jesus drives home the point “No! but, unless you repent, you will perish. also!” Our Lord then launches into a parable about a fruitless fig tree. The owner is sick and tired of this tree not fulfilling its purpose. “Why does it even burden the ground?” he asks. The nuance here gives the tree a sinful persona. A good tree cooperates with its purpose and bears fruit, the bad tree doesn’t. So, a person or a nation occupying sacred space needs to live in character with the Holy. In the parable, mercy wins out and the Master gives every opportunity for a change. The moral then is that which is unholy cannot remain in sacred space, one of two things must happen.
The sinner must be removed. 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 gives a warning. Verses 1 to 4 chronicle the religious aspects of the Exodus. They were baptized into Moses through the Red Sea, ate manna, and drank from the Rock, all of which foreshadow the Messiah, all of which tied the children of Israel to God in their sacred space. But it failed to make many of them holy because it only connected to them on a physical level. It did not penetrate to their heart. They did not allow God to change their fallen nature. So, from verses 5-10, they lusted, committed idolatry, grumbled, and tested the Lord, until they were finally judged in dramatic fashion. From their example, God speaks loudly AND carries a big stick as a wakeup call to us. WATCH OUT! There will be an ultimate removal from My holy presence and into the outer darkness. This, in essence, is what hell is all about. Fortunately, there is another side to the coin.
The sinner must be changed. Psalm 103:1-11 praises God for His mercies. The Lord, among other things, pardons your iniquities, redeems you from the pit, crowns you with compassion, and does not deal with you according to your sin. Instead of judgment, He dispenses grace. But this only comes through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Something amazing happens when you commit yourself to Christ as your Savior and Lord by faith. God changes your very nature and you become a real child of the Highest. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes your body a true temple. You actually become sacred space yourself and want to live accordingly! This change is so miraculous that the angels shout for joy every time they see it! So, my friend, the privilege of a relationship with God is ours. Repent if you need to but remember that time is short. Let none of us take His grace in Christ lightly. Be serious with the Lord. Walk in His presence. Live sacredly.