Engaging the Public Arena
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in
the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and
teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to
bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to
the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go
free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 18–19)
As a parish pastor, I love the sanctuary. It holds a calming, quiet beauty. One may hear shooting in the streets but in the sanctuary people share the peace. Outside is abusive, vulgar language. Inside language is sacred. Outside is gross inequality. Inside everyone stands equal in confession and kneels equal at the altar. Outside is a maddening, chaotic pace. Inside is orderly, liturgical time. Outside are the words of politicians. Inside is the word of God. I resonate to the words of Psalm 84: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord… For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.”
Children of poverty are drawn to the sanctuary. They come, often without their parents or guardians. They come, with little encouragement or invitation. They come, often out of destructive, abusive households. They come because in the sanctuary they experience beauty, peacefulness, warmth, affirmation: the presence of God.
I am struck by the impact of the sanctuary on those who enter it. I have seen drunks, addicts, and criminals become subdued and attentive when they enter the sanctuary. Some fear it, as if they will be stricken by God for entering unworthy into a holy place. When congregants approach the altar for communion, I am moved to tears at times by the aggregate pain of the private lives made known to me as pastor. And I am struck by the hope, the determination, the trust in God that these congregants find in the sanctuary. How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts.