Friday, February 15, 2013

The Hollow and the Holy

Ageless and imposing they stand - magnificent in their grandeur.  They are the cathedrals, the hallowed monuments of men designed to elicit awe towards the celestial.  Upward their columns climb vast heights, vaulting impressive distances.  Glass artistry designed to transport the worshipper to the divine regularly penetrates imposing stone and masonry superstructure creating pockets of welcome illumination and color in otherwise immense and daunting sanctuaries.  Sculpted forms of angels, saints, men, and demons adorn as silent guardians, some climbing atop columns and transepts, others marking reliquaries or the resting places of those long deceased.  Each of these structures required generations to envision, formulate and construct.  Inestimable expense was brought to bear in the realization of each "House of God".  And yet, each of them is a shell, a hollow building that, by themselves, is no more sanctified or holy than a stable, a school or a market stall.   

These works of men were designed to bring to bear the presence of heaven on earth, but in many of them a true heavenly presence is found lacking as those within fail to realize we each carry God's Kingdom with us when we embrace our Lord and Savior and his Holy Spirit indwells each of us.   Many of those who make such proclamations have not fully embraced the calling to "be holy as I am holy".  Few are truly willing to follow their Savior into the mire of sin-laden humanity, willing to expose themselves to the desperation of searching and yearning hearts starving for significance, worth, and purpose.   Fading from their remembrance is the fact that they too, were once embroiled, helpless, and set on a path of aimless destruction. 

Comfortable in our modern-day sanctuaries, many are content to witness God's working through the hands and feet of others.  Some are moved to the necessary act of sowing funds into those works, but Jesus' words were never a calling to permit acts of financial support to substitute for the laying down of one's own life for others.  We are each of us called to these words by our Savior and Master:

"Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it."
Mark 8:34-35 NLT

And what does this "taking up your cross" look like?  Is it being burdened down and weighted with additional holy commands and platitudes?  Is it continual self-chastisement and a down-trodden demeanor?  Are these the paradoxical expectations of the author of a book that is permeated with exhortations to walk in joy and love - a book where many are commanded to "fear not" and to "be glad"? 

"This is how we’ve come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear."
1 John 3:16-17 MSG

Without God's love we are empty, our actions are empty.  We become hollow - we become the cathedral's shell.  We are each fearfully and wonderfully made, but without the substantive indwelling of God's love in our hearts and the resultant actions it produces (faith without works is dead) we are the embodiment of sanctuaries built to house the holy but echoing its vacant emptiness.  We become nothing more than tombs, pleasant to behold on the outward yet decaying from within from a lack of holy substance.  Jesus encountered many in this same state as he walked this plane.  His description of them?  "Whitewashed sepulchres" (Matthew 23:27). 

"But that was addressed to bigoted self-righteous religious leaders".  No, it was addressed to men who, like many of us, had all of the pedigree of a spiritual upbringing, circulated well in many social circles, and very many of them had the spiritual well-being of their culture impressed upon them.  Yet, they failed to notice the lowly, the hurting, those ground under the wheels of society, those barred from their circle by either economic, social, or racial walls.  They failed to give second glance to "the least of these", convinced that there were others who would care for them, there were institutions and ministries who would tend their needs.

How many sit in our modern sanctuaries in a similar state - content to display the outward but unwilling to transform the internal.  Unwilling to engage "the least of these" among us within our church, beyond its walls to our homes and work, beyond our borders to the world?  There is sterility in rote obedience in putting funds in an offering plate or teaching Sunday school, but God never did want or need our sacrifices or our money.  He desires that we support our churches and vital ministries but more than this, he desires our hearts that we should put footsteps to knowledge and hands to convictions as we take up our crosses and follow. 

In this, the church is filled with love's holy purpose and empowered to transform the world around it.  Oppression is lifted from those under demonic weight and and worth is instilled such that we begin to see the value in each other and ourselves that the Creator has placed within.  Walking out this "love one for another", each of us transitions from the hollow to the holy.

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