Sunday Sermon

“SAD – Spiritual Affective Disorder” Sermon Series
Wk 5: “Little Altars Everywhere” Feb. 5, 2023

Where do you think God’s “dwelling place” is? The Psalmist speaks of longing to be in God’s “house.” Indeed, being in what feels like a sacred place can transform and inspire us. Instead of thinking that finding God requires us to go to a designated place like our church, what if we created spaces that reminded us of the sacred wherever we are? Our worship series this season is designed to help us see our ordinary surroundings as sacred containers for spiritual connection.

Let us pray…
Abiding God, we give thanks for your steadfast presence in all places. Open our eyes to the light of possibilities, even when the day ahead holds difficulties. Be with us, near us, beside us. And all the People said, Amen.

Opening to God (ReAssurance)
We may sometimes feel that conversations about depression and anxiety don’t “fit” within certain relationships or what we call “sacred” places. May we cultivate a community of brave and compassionate vulnerability, trusting that all feelings are welcome because God is here today and listening. May the peace of Christ be with you.
People: And also with you.
More light, more truth is breaking from Your Word.
More light, more truth, Holy Spirit, help us hear what needs to be heard.

Scripture Psalm 112: 1-9 (NRSVUE)
Praise the Holy One! Happy are those who have awe for the Lord, who greatly delight in God’s commandments. Their descendants will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in their houses, and their righteousness endures forever. They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.

It is well with those who deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever.

They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Sovereign One. Their hearts are steady; they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.

They have distributed freely; they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor.

There is a significant disagreement implicated in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) that has to do with location. Where is God?

Is God in the tabernacle that moves from place to place, or can God only be found in the temple of Jerusalem? Both of these places had a “holy of holies,” a sacred location so pure that only members of the priestly class were permitted to enter.

But if that “holy of holies” can just be picked up and moved… well, how special can it be? And, conversely, if God is so limited that God can ONLY be found in a SINGLE place in the entire cosmos God created… well, how powerful can God be? Where is God’s “dwelling place,” exactly?

Psalm 84 is actually considered one of the “pilgrim psalms,” a text expressing the longing of one far away from the temple to return to it. “My soul longs, indeed it faints!”

Let’s look at Psalm 84 which says…
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts! 2 My soul longs, indeed it faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. 4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah

5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. 6 As they go through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. 8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed. 10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

There simply just are places that feel more holy than others for many of us. Celtic Christian tradition names this sense of sacredness as being in a “thin” place. For the people of Israel, in Jesus’ time and in the time of the Psalmists, whether in exile or not, the temple is a “thin” place where the separation from God feels less powerful.

The psalmist in Psalm 84 beautifully illustrates how every crevice of the temple is an inviting place for thriving life—even the birds make their nests in this place where God dwells! (vs. 3)

And in our scripture for today, Psalm 112, psalm of praises extolling the righteous, we find how the blessings of God dwell in those who “deal generously and lend, who conduct their affairs with justice.” In this Psalm we find a sense of security not necessarily where one is located physically, but where one’s heart is located in worship and praise of God.

It is my personal opinion that two things can be true: that God’s presence is everywhere and thus God dwells everywhere—and also that there are thin places, too. Perhaps this “thinness” is perceived differently by different people. One person might find a thinness on the streets of the city helping people experiencing homelessness. Others might find it in the vaulted ceilings of a spacious and acoustically rich cathedral. For others, it might be a single seat in their home church that feels thin and made so by the repeated habit of worshipping at that church all of their lives alongside loved ones. What is your “thin” place?

I remember one time when I was on a retreat, I believe it was at Wesley Woods, and we were told to take a walk in the woods and as I was walking I found a spot right next to the lake where I sat down and just listened to the sounds around me, felt the cool breeze while the sun warmed my face and there was such a calmness that washed over me and I felt so close to God right then and there.

So, I would say that my “thin” place is when I am sitting by the waterside, listening to the water lapping on the shoreline, feeling a light breeze with the sun warming my face. That’s the place where I have felt the closest to God.

Practices for the Week
As we have highlighted today, during this series, we will use everyday ordinary practices in a more intentional way, helping us to beat the winter blah’s with a sense of heightened attention to well-being and gratitude.

This week, you are invited to spend some time assessing your dwelling, your home, to figure out ways to create a greater sense of well-being and tranquility there.

This practice of creating an altar in your home can be complicated or simple. The simple act of lighting a candle on a table changes the atmosphere and can usher in a sense of spiritual enlivening. The importance of creating an altar space has everything to do with intention—much like how the tabernacle-carrying Jews in the Torah built their traveling holy place with intention whenever they found a place to hammer their tent pegs into the ground.

Creating a space with intention has significant mental health benefits. The color of the wall can affect our moods, and altars set up in memory of a loved one can aid us in the grieving process. The space we make for our spiritual journey creates a sense of the sacred for our spirits and facilitates an experience of wholeheartedness and wellbeing for our minds and bodies.

A clergy named Wade Martin Hughes Sr. told this story…
Several years ago, my oldest son was moving out of our house, it was a sad day for my wife and I,
to see our precious son move away, he would only be about 15 miles away, and he would be moving into the apartment over the funeral home where he was in his apprenticeship, to become a licensed funeral director.

We pondered and hoped that what we had taught him was rooted and grounded beyond the lure of the world. We were loading his pickup truck and I ran across this old piece of a rock, and I said, “Marty, throw that old dumb rock away, you don’t want to carry a dumb rock all through your life, throw it away!”

Marty said, “Daddy, I will never throw that rock away!” I said, “Son, that rock is worthless, throw it away.”

Marty said, ” Listen dad, that rock means a lot to me, I picked it up several years ago, when we returned to Lee County, Virginia, when we visited where we lived when I was born and lived there.” (We had moved away from there when Marty was 4 years old, and I began pastoring in Kentucky).

Marty said, ” Remember on a return visit, we climbed over the fence and walked into the field, and visited your old altar, where we used to go and pray when I was little? That rock is a piece that I broke off that old rock where we prayed, our altar.”

I remember well, on that rock, where for 7 years I prayed, I had painted a star of David, a cross and the names of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost on the rock. Often, I spent time sitting or lying on the “rock” to pray and seek God.

Before Marty’s birth I prayed there. I prayed for my children’s spouses before my children were born.
Years after we moved away, the neighbor, Hattie, called me to tell me a neighbor, named Don, had been walking through the field and found my altar and now visited there.”

Altars don’t have to be cut and polished, God never wanted fine altars of great worth. Altars are tools to come to God, a place to visit and to come with an attitude of love and respect.

Perhaps you will create an altar in your home, as we have already suggested. Perhaps it is cleaning out a closet or corner, getting rid of clutter that you’ve been putting off, causing you ongoing dread. Perhaps it is a little rearrangement of furniture that allows you to create a new “feel” for a room. Or it could simply be putting some flowers in a vase that will remind you to delight in your dwelling and give thanks and know that God dwells in all places.

Let us pray…
God of refuge, we sometimes struggle to feel you near. At times we feel closed off from your presence, locked out of a sense of true belonging, and stumbling to find our way in the shadows.
We long to take shelter in God’s house, to draw near the warm hearth of your love, to rest our bones by your sacred fire. Help us take comfort in knowing that your door is always open, that you reside in our hearts and are with us wherever we may go. May this gathering place and our dwellings be sanctuaries of protection and mercy, offering keys to all who are seeking a place to call home. Today we pray for all those who are suffering in mind, body, and spirit. Amen.