I was an anthropology minor in college, and one of the books that made a lasting impression on me was The Sacred and the Profane, written by the Russian Anthropologist Mircea Eliade. And in the book the basic idea is that the world is divided into things that are sacred and things that are profane. The profane world is most of what we do. Whether we are working, or shopping, or socializing, or cutting the grass, all these things are part of the ordinary and everyday world of the profane. But there are also things, and times, and places, that are recognized as being sacred, that are set aside as holy or hallowed. And this distinction between the sacred and the profane has appeared in every culture wherever humans have lived.
And to be honest I don’t remember much more about the book, you can certainly read it for yourself. But I think we all understand this distinction on some level. Certainly as people who go to church we know that we come here because this is a sacred place, and we receive the body and blood of Jesus because the communion is a sacred thing, and the time we spent here in worship is sacred time. I’m sure all of this makes sense to us.
But today Jesus adds another element to it, and that is what I want to focus on. Today in Matthew, Chapter 18, Jesus is talking with the disciples about what they should do when there is conflict in the community. And his basic point is that we should work to resolve conflict and find agreement and try and be together, even though it may not always happen. And, and he at the end of the passage today, whenever you are gathered, whenever you are together in my name, I will be among you. Which means that people gathering in Jesus’s name is not just good. But it is sacred.
It can be so easy to overlook what Jesus says here, or to say – well of course it’s good and holy for us to be together. But what Jesus is saying today is more than that. He’s saying that in our lives as people of the faith we can find the sacred not just in churches or in the sacraments or in times of prayer. We can find the sacred in these times of being together, in each other and that can happen anywhere and it can happen any time. It happens in the bonds between us. In the moments when we sit down to talk or plan or rejoice or cry, these are times when we find the holy.
And I think it’s true. Over the past ten years I have been at the Cathedral, I don’t know how many times I have sat and talked with someone in my office or spoken with someone at the coffee hour or chatted out in the hallway. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen people at their homes or hospitals or for lunch. I have not kept track of these conversations.
But I do know that for me these moments are the bedrock of my faith. These times of talking with you have formed me and hopefully you have found the same talking with me or with others and know what Jesus talks about today.
The sad truth is that churches close. Sacred space easily becomes profane property on a pretty regular basis in our world. ears ago, I had a friend who had an apartment. And in his living room, one of the walls had the top half of a stained glass window rising from the floor, because his apartment used to be a church until it was closed and sold and divided up into smaller units. It had been secularized, as we call it. We don’t call it profaned, but it’s the same basic idea.
You cannot count on the sacred to always be found in a place. There is no permanent place that’s always going to be sacred. But you can count on Jesus always to be found wherever two or more are gathered together in his name. Of course I have had those conversations, and I’m sure you have too, where you’re talking with someone and trying to figure out where exactly Jesus is in the conversation, because it’s not apparent. But we have to have faith that he’s there too.
Just as we have faith that he is here within us. And within us, he has given us this incredible power – the power to make him real. I hope that you are aware that within each of you, within each of us, is the power to transform something profane into something sacred simply by being present to another person and talking with them and giving them your love.
Making Jesus real is not just what the priest does when we consecrate the elements at the altar. It is what we do when we talk with someone in the context of love, when we reach out to someone who is in need, and when we just generally listen.
I think the greatest sin Christians commit has nothing to do with sex or drugs or money or anything like that. I think the greatest sin we commit is that we are too caught up in ourselves.
As we practice our faith, it is too easy for this to be just about us and our spiritual needs and our own salvation.
It used to be when the prophets in the Bible spoke of salvation, they spoke of the whole community being saved from their sins. But if you ask people today, they are more likely to say that salvation is about me. That I come to church because I need faith, and I need inspiration, and I need forgiveness or peace. And my spiritual needs are met here which is why I leave behind the profane world out there and come here.
But I want to encourage us to realize that so much spirituality also exists in that space between two people that Jesus is talking about today. And if you’re looking for the sacred, this is where its most easily find. But you have to remember to make space.
Have you ever entered a conversation with someone, and you can tell within the first few moments that this conversation is just going to be about them. And sometimes you say that’s fine, I’m going to listen to my friend for a while and I’ll support them. But then you’re talking with the next time, and you realize that it’s always going to be about them and probably never be about you.
My wife has a friend and every time she’s on the phone with her friend, I know who she is talking with because my wife doesn’t speak she just listens and this woman goes on and on and on. Sagrario jokes that she can put the phone down and go to the bathroom and come back and the woman doesn’t even notice because she is still speaking.
Jesus is not talking about this. Conversations in which Jesus is present happen when there is space for him to exist. Space for someone else. We have to remember to make space for others. We have to set aside our own need to talk sometimes and have this kind of holy curiosity about someone else if we want to know where Jesus is found.
I wonder if the reason why I so clearly find Jesus when I’m sitting and talking with someone in my life is because I am so curious about people. I want to know what’s going on. I want to know what brings you here and what motivates you and what your life is like. And more often than not, if you are curious about someone and able to make space for them in your conversation, you will see how Jesus emerges. And it’s always different.
I wonder if you could practice this. And it doesn’t have to be every Sunday, but maybe once in a while you could practice a Sunday of Holy Curiosity where you approach people here or maybe even out there as you are interacting with them, and you ask them some questions and you give them space to fill those questions with Jesus. I wonder what you would find.
Every single person who walks in here is moving from the profane world out there into a place where they can experience something sacred. Every single one of us has been beaten up by the world and challenged by life and caught up in the fear and division and anxiety of these times. And there’s not a one of us who could not benefit by having someone walk up to us and ask with love, how are you doing?
Those are holy words. How are you doing? What they mean is that I am giving you space to talk about yourself. They mean I am not just going to tell you how I am but I am going to focus for a moment on you. And what’s going on in your life. And how Jesus is with you today.
One of the things you realize about working with people who are experiencing homelessness is that almost nobody really sees them, and very few people actually talk with people who are sleeping on the streets or standing on the corner asking for change. I think part of what’s so beautiful about the work the Cathedral does at the drop in center is the love and respect that Linda and others give everyone who walks in.
May the same be true of everyone who walks in here. May we be blessed to find Jesus not only in this sacred space and the holy sacraments and in the hour of worship, but blessed to find Jesus in one another, gathered as we are in our weak and incomplete lives, asking God for something more. May we find ourselves strengthened by the Jesus we see here in each other. I know you have certainly filled my life with God’s love, and if we are able to do that for each other, we understand what sacred means.