by David Phelps
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa
My coworker, Dorothy, and her family have had a rough year. Earlier this year, she lost her father and a brother. More recently, her ill, elderly mother had a bad fall that left her bruised, shaken and afraid to do anything without Dorothy's help. Then, her brother was in a terrible accident at work; as I write this, it is uncertain whether he will lose the use of his right hand. My prayers have gone out for Dorothy and her family.
After she told me about her family's troubles, Dorothy said to me, "Be careful, Dave, it's rough out there." Imagine, after all her own problems, she was concerned about me. Dorothy's words reminded me of an advertisement for a chain of restaurants. The ad says that no matter what day of the week it is outside, "inside, it's Friday." the implication is that the restaurant is a place where you can go to relax and forget the troubles of the outside world.
As Christians, we have a place like that: we call it "the church." But while it's always "Friday" inside the restaurant, for us, it's always "Sunday." And while the restaurant's patrons are encouraged to leave their troubles at the door and forget about them for a while, we are urged to bring our troubles with us and lay them at the feet of Jesus (Matt. 11:28). We come to lay down our burdens, to recover from the past week and be revitalized for the coming week.
Traditionally, people who need refuge seek sanctuary. Funk & Wagnall's Standard Desk Dictionary defines "sanctuary" as "a place of refuge [or] asylum," but also as "a holy or sacred place." As our pastor, Allen Ladage, has pointed out in Usher and Liturgist Training, the sanctuary was the dwelling place of God (Exod. 25:8). Today, however, God dwells within individual Christians (Eph. 3:17-19; 1 John 4:12-16).
The word "sanctuary" in the Old Testament is translated from one of two Hebrew words: "miqdash" which means "set apart" or "qodesh" which means "separation." The sanctuary of God was a place set apart or "sanctified" (Exod. 29:43-44). Similarly, God's people were to be set apart (Exod. 19:10-14). As Christians, we "are in the world," but we "are not of the world," (John 17:11a, 14b). I remember the chorus we used to sing at the beginning of Sunday morning services:
"Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary, Pure and holy, tried and true.
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living Sanctuary for you."
We embody the presence of God. When we leave church on Sunday morning, we are called to take a little Sunday with us into the week. We "are not of the world" but we are called to touch the world. For the people around us, it could be any kind of day: a good day, a bad day or an ordinary day. But "inside, it's Sunday." And we can share that Sunday with them, carrying hope to a troubled world, offering them refuge, offering them the the opportunity to lay down their burdens and find strength to continue throughout the week.
"'I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.'" (John 17:14-19 RSV)