Putting Yourself in God’s Place (Presentation of Jesus)

What is your sacred space?  Or as some say, what is your happy place? Where is the place where you feel most at home, where you go to contemplate, to find peace, to gain a larger perspective, to hear God’s voice amid all the conflicting voice?

For some, it’s a well-known place like Sedona, Arizona; the Isle of Iona; Mecca, Jerusalem.  For others, it’s a place definitive in our nation’s history – like Gettysburg or Valley Forge.  For others, it’s simply our backyard deck on a quiet summer evening, Nickerson Park, or Long Beach.

Any place can be that sacred space, where heaven and earth meet.   Celtic Christians described thin places where the world is illuminated in divine light.  Where we, like Jacob, dream of a ladder of angels and then awaken calling the place Beth-El, the gateway to heaven.

The mystics believe that whole earth is filled with God’s glory and that any moment, encounter, or environment can burst forth with holy light.  For seven years, I have reminded our building and grounds team that although our mission is beyond the sanctuary, brick and mortar, our church’s building is also holy.  In a God-filled universe, the windows, pews, fellowship hall share in divine brightness.  These are holy spots for us- Adam and Bill running down the hallways, our children baptized here, getting married in this room, or bidding Godspeed at a memorial service.  Perhaps it was in this room, in children’s classrooms, or the church library that you discovered that God was more than a world or that God came alive for you and the path ahead became clear.

This is why we love our houses of worship.  As Gerard Manley Hopkins proclaims, the world is charged with God’s grandeur and yet right here in this sacred place, we feel it too.

For the two elders described in today’s scripture, the Jerusalem Temple was their sacred place.  Anna and Simeon, having outlived their peers and spouses, believed God would reveal God’s vision in the Temple.  Like Isaiah, seven centuries before, they would experience God’s Messiah, the Chosen, here in the brick and mortar of the Temple, God would show up.

Day after day, they came.  It felt like they lived there.  They trained their eyes and their inner spirits, attuning them to the hopes in their hearts and the message of the prophet.   It was an ordinary day, like so many,  and yet something was different, something that would change Anna and Simeon forever.

Among the scores of ordinary families, coming to have their child bless, one stood out.  Perhaps no one noticed by Anna and Simeon.  It was just a working class family, with a few pigeons they’d purchased in the courtyard, and their young child.

But, as Anna and Simeon followed their footsteps, they knew this is the ONE!  This is the coming Messiah, this little child, will save the world.

The German mystic Meister Eckhardt proclaimed that “All things are words of God.” Yet, most of the time, we live on the surface, missing the revelations appearing moment by moment in our lives. We need to put ourselves in God’s place!

This is surely as much an act of spirit as it is of the body.  When someone says, “put yourself in my place,” they are saying “look at the world through my eyes, understand my actions and motivations, experience how I look at the world.” Perhaps, that’s what God says to us as well.  “Put yourself in my place, feel my joy and pain, experience how I feel the world and experience your hopes and dreams, your actions.”

Remember the film, the “Blind Side.” Yes, it’s about football on this Superbowl Sunday.  But, it’s also about the gradual awakening of a privileged white family to the way their black neighbors experience the world.  We all have a blind side.  I was profoundly moved by the book and film “Just Mercy,” which portrays a young African American attorneys calling to seek justice for men, mostly black and all without resource, on death row and in the prison system.  Good white churchgoers could turn a blind eye to injustice in the court room, harassment on country roads, and the disparity of income, education, and civil rights, until they had a conversion of heart, putting themselves in another’s place, living without economic or racial privilege.

Morality and spirituality hinge on putting ourselves in another’s place, and discovering that God is in that place, too.  Then, empathy replaces apathy.  While we can never quite put ourselves in God’s place or another’s, we might discover the image of God shining through an unkempt person on Main Street, Hyannis; a woman in a Hijab, Muslim head dress being harassed at the filling station; a member of the LGBTQ community anxious because of political leaders’ challenging of marital rights; a Iraqi family, torn between the USA and Iran, both of which have perpetrated violence on their soil.  And of course this applies to our spouses, friends, and church members, whose behavior offends us at times.  But, although another person isn’t always understandable, they are embraceable when we part ourselves in their place, being guided by God’s vision.

In Benedictine monasteries, I have often seen a sign says, “See everyone as Christ.”  That’s what it means to put yourself in God’s place. There is no one path to seeing from God’s perspective, but I suspect it occurs when we pause to notice what’s going on in another’s life as well as our emotional response; when we regularly pray “God give me insight and vision, God let me see Christ here” and when we look for the best often hidden deeply in ourselves and others.  Then God reminds us that cannot be defined by our worse behaviors or judged according to superficial standards.  Behold, open your eyes, put yourself in God’s place.  Let every place you God be a sanctuary, a place where you expect find Jesus, and pray to act according to your highest self.

Our sacred place, our happy place, our holy place, then will be right where we are – on the move, illuminating every encounter with God’s perspective and humbly seeking to do justice, love mercy, and walk with God.