Where Nothing Is Sacred

open-doorThe words “holy” and “sacred” are sometimes used interchangeably. I don’t think this should be the case, as there is a huge difference between the two. Sacred comes from the Latin, “sacrum.” You might recognize that “sacrum” is also the name of the bones in your pelvis. The ancient Romans called this part of the human body “sacred.” It is where the reproductive organs are, and, particularly in the female, it is from where life springs.

Thus, as one line of thinking goes, the sacred was recognized as something that had to be protected and secured. That is an excellent picture, actually, of how we employ sacredness. Human beings create sacred rituals that draw lines, build barriers, and protect and secure our space and turf. We feel we have to keep everything that is perceived as a threat on the outside, so as to guard our life and our future.

A quick example: Not long ago I was preparing to speak at a church and had my always handy coffee cup with me. Without any thought, I sat it down on the pulpit while I was reviewing my sermon notes. This church had more than a lectern or podium. It was truly the “sacred desk.”

A person came up to me and said, “I would appreciate it if you removed your cup. This furniture is sacred.” I complied but then added, “Yes, it is ‘sacred,’ but do you know why? Because it has been designated so by a church committee, not by God. God’s holiness is not violated by a Styrofoam cup” (I didn’t mean to be snarky, but I don’t think this person became a fan).

And a second example: During one of my pastorates we moved from a shabby little storefront building to a beautiful, magnificent sanctuary. It was an incredible upgrade with actual pews, a baptistery, a steeple, and some other sacred things. In our old location we had been picking up children in our little church van and bringing them to worship. These little people were tornadoes. Turned loose in an empty room, they would find something to destroy. When we moved to our new building we kept picking up these children, but I knew it would not last.

During our first week of Vacation Bible School in the new building one of the church mothers retrieved me from my office. She was enraged. “I need you to come with me right now!” she said. She took me to a hallway, pointed at the wall, and asked, “What are we going to do about that?”

Two and a half feet above the floor was a swatch of dirt staining the white wall. It ran down the entire length of the hallway stopping at one of the classroom doors. A classroom of these “dirty bus kids” had all run their hands down the wall as they walked to class, that’s all. But I knew then that there would be no place for them in our new space.

The sacred is the ritualistic space, community, and people-dividing behavior of human beings. The holy, however, is something completely different. Something holy is something that is “whole.” The root word is “health.” In other words, holiness is something that cannot be divided. It is something that is complete, unbroken, and intact.

Thus, holiness is not something defined by lines of segregation or by different shades of acceptance. It is defined by openness and welcome. The holy doesn’t alienate, it invites. The holy doesn’t separate, it welcomes. The holy doesn’t divide, it embraces.

Whereas what is sacred is a small restricted space that must be sheltered and guarded, the old Norse word for “holy” means “a large living room,” where people are made to feel very much at home. I pray that God makes us holy: Whole, healthy, welcoming people! But I also pray that he never allow us to become a sacred people, for when we lose our ability to be hospitable, inviting the outsider in, we have lost our unique witness in the world.

Crack Pots and Cracked Pots

bearerThere is an Eastern Indian folk-tale about a water bearer who had two water pots. Each pot hung on the end of a long pole which the water bearer carried across his neck and shoulders. One of the pots was perfect and always delivered a full pot of water at the end of the long walk from the river to home.

The other pot, however, had a crack in it. It leaked terribly and only arrived at home with half its load. For years the water bearer followed the same routine: He went to the river with the pots, filled them both, but returned home with only a pot and half of water.

Of course, the perfect pot was proud of his accomplishments. He was fulfilling perfectly his purpose and design. And the cracked pot was constantly ashamed of himself, depressed that he could not do what he was made to do.

So finally, unable to endure his disgrace any longer, the cracked pot spoke to his owner one morning at the river: “I am ashamed of myself,” he said, “and I want to apologize to you.” The water bearer (who seemed unsurprised that a jar would speak to him) asked in reply, “Why?”

The cracked pot said, “I have been able, for all these years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house. You have to do all of this work, and you can’t get full value from your efforts.”

The water bearer could only smile in return. “As we return home today,” he said, “I want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path.” And sure enough, as they traveled away from the river, the old cracked pot noticed the colorful flowers on his side of the path.

At the end of the trail the water bearer asked the pot, “Did you notice that the flowers were only on your side of your path, but not on the other side? That is because I have always known about your imperfections, and I took advantage of it.

“I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the riverside, you have watered them. For years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my table. Without you being just the way you are, I would not have this beauty to grace my house.”

We are all, in our own way, cracked pots. But if we will be good stewards of our troubles, our limitations, and our imperfections, God will use these to change us and to grace his world. No, not everyone accepts his or her troubles and “cracks” as the means to something great.

We can look at what life has dealt us and be angry, bitter, mad-at-the-world, frustrated with ourselves, and bearing a grudge against everyone from God to the mailman. Or we can languish about in shame, victimized by our manufactured feelings of uselessness.

But if we do this, we waste our troubles rather than learn, grow, and develop into a more Jesus-like person. We miss out on simply doing what we can do, even if that means only watering a few flowers along the way.

I don’t think God looks outs out of heaven seeking to intentionally hurt people, no matter what some meat-headed Nimrod of a televangelist might say. He doesn’t harm us. He doesn’t cause evil. But he sure can use what has harmed us, and what is intended for evil against us, what cracks, dents, and breaks us – to transform us and change the world.

No, God isn’t after people, but God is after something in people: His infinite glory to be revealed in we, who are jars of clay. He is going to show that glory to the world, through us, the only instruments he has. And in our brokenness, our suffering, and through our cracks of weakness, the grace and glory of God will leak out over the entire world.