If we look at the first reading today, the passage from the Acts of the Apostles, we find that Jesus has told his disciples that he will be leaving them, and then he ordered them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise from the Father. He tells them that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit not many days from now. Or, in other words, sometime soon. Just wait.

Jesus didn’t give them the day it would happen. We know that it happened on the Feast of Pentecost, but during these days after Jesus’ Ascension and before the Feast of Pentecost, the disciples could only wait. 

They waited without knowing when they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. They waited without knowing when their hopes and dreams for Israel might be realized. They waited without knowing even how those hopes and dreams might come about.

And what was Jesus’ response?

Jesus tells them, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” In other words, wait, because God has set things in motion. You don’t need to know when or where or even how things will happen, because God has it in control. 

But Jesus did tell his disciples one thing, and that was that when the Holy Spirit had come upon them, that they would be his  “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended into heaven on a cloud.

And so they waited, knowing only that they would be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth. That is all they knew for certain. The only clear answer they had was that they would be Christ’s witnesses. Everything else was a mystery.

You may see the way this church is structured. When you walk in, your eyes are immediately drawn to the front of the church, where the altar stands, and behind which is a cross. There’s a distinct flow of our visual energy from where we come in toward this space at the front of the church. It gives us a sense that this must be important.

Because the Eucharist was the primary focus of the church, the structures grew up to emphasize the elements at the table, and bigger and bigger churches were constructed that had the same general structure. The altars were elevated, and the area around the altar was closed off, and only the liturgical assembly – bishops, priests, deacons – were allowed near the altar. These changes in structure were intended to instill a sense of awe and wonder, to provide those attending the ability to experience the high and lofty sense of God, to emphasize the singing and music, and to draw people’s hearts and minds toward heaven.

And these construction elements certainly helped to do that.

There was an unfortunate side-effect of that sort of building structure, however. By elevating the altar, and closing off the space around it – and especially in some older churches, elevating the pulpit from which the clergy preached – people tended to also elevate the work of the bishops, priests, and deacons since they were the only ones who were allowed near this altar. This made people consider them “mysterious” and somehow “special” and that the clergy were the only ones who were allowed to do any sort of ministry. In short, it managed to make people think that bishops, priests, and deacons were somehow “set above” the rest of the congregation, rather than “set apart” for a particular ministry.

Granted, there were a fair number of bishops and priests throughout history who really pushed that idea, because they enjoyed the trappings of power and prestige that came with that sort of thinking. But this idea is false: bishops, priests and deacons are not “set above” or “more sacred” than any other person in attendance, and they are certainly not the only ones capable of ministry. They are simply “set apart” for a particular task within the church, which is the body of Christ.

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it in a moment.

The context for today’s Gospel reading is that Jesus is praying to the Father. This prayer is often called “The Farewell Prayer” because Jesus prays it in front of his disciples as part of the Last Supper, just before he is crucified.

Beginning with verse 13, Jesus says to God:

I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world

“I have sent them into the world.”

Remember the first reading? When the Holy Spirit comes, it says, the Disciples will be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the world. It would happen when the Disciples received the Holy Spirit. After the Holy Spirit comes, then the disciples would be Jesus’ witnesses in the world.

In the last seventy years or so, the church has gone through a theological renewal, in that it began to understand that the sacrament that truly encapsulates the family of God is Holy Baptism. With Baptism, you are adopted into the family of God, and receive all the rights and privileges thereof. You are made a part of the communion of all the saints, and – and this is important – you have already received the Holy Spirit. 

And this means that God has granted you everything that God granted the disciples that were with him in Jerusalem. You have everything that God granted the disciples that became his witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the world. While the disciples had to wait for the Holy Spirit to embolden their lives, you do not. The gift of the Holy Spirit is yours already, this very day.

Along with this shift in theology came a shift in how sacred spaces – church buildings – were constructed. In some areas, altar rails were removed, and altars taken down from the dais on which they stood and placed on the same level as the congregation, so that people recognize that they are merely spectators, but participants – celebrants, actually – of the Eucharist. The priest, the one who consecrates the host, is merely the presider at the prayers of the Eucharist, but the celebrants of the Eucharist includes everyone in attendance who believes. 

Some churches rearranged the pews in the buildings so that the congregation faced each other, and the altar and the pulpit were on opposite ends of the space, facing each other. The idea was a simple one, to emphasize that there is no one space that is more sacred than another, and that there is no one particular ministry that is greater than another, that the people, together, are the church. These spaces were intended to emphasize that every person in the building is a part of the Body of Christ, and that every person is a minister, every person has a ministry, and that these ministries all work together to continue Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world. From the very smallest one, to the very oldest, God has something beautiful for each of us to do, and every one of us is a sacred person in the eyes of a loving God.

The disciples in the passage from Acts were waiting for their baptism by the Holy Spirit and had no idea what it would look like for them to be witnesses for Jesus to the ends of the earth. And the promised baptism by fire came to them, and their lives were changed forever, and through the work of the Holy Spirit within them. Suddenly, they not only understood their ministry within the family of God, but they knew what their ministry would look like, and what they would be doing.

For us, the day of Pentecost might be a re-enactment of the baptism by the Holy Spirit, but that does not mean that we ought to ignore the implications of the beauty of what happened there that day.

Nor should we forget the beauty of what happened when we were baptized and received the Holy Spirit. It is at that point that we became sacred children of God and were made witnesses of God to the ends of the earth.

Is it a blessing to have a beautiful church like this one to worship in today?


We must never forget, however, that the space is made beautiful by the people who are in it, and made sacred by the virtue of their common ancestry as children of God.

The sacred people in this place are each and every one of you.

And this church building becomes a sacred space, because where two or three are gathered, God is right there with them.

It is not the building or the design that makes a space sacred, but the ministers of God who worship within it. 

And that is you: witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection to the ends of the earth.

[This sermon was delivered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ on May 12, 2024.]

About Michael

Mike was called to be the Vicar of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Wickenburg, AZ, and started this call on February 1, 2024. Before taking a call as clergy, Mike worked in IT for almost 25 years, variously working as a back- and front-end web developer, database developer and manager, and as a business analyst. If he's not engaged in the work of the church, you can find him on a motorcycle, enjoying the ride, or training for an upcoming BikeMS ride. Mike holds a Bachelor of Arts in Classical History from Seattle Pacific University, and a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. He attended Sewanee School of Theology for a year of Anglican Studies in the Fall of 2022, and graduated in May of 2023. Mike was ordained as a Transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona on January 20th, 2024, and will be ordained to the priesthood on July 27, 2024.

One thought on “Sacred People, Sacred Spaces

  1. I enjoy you writings so much as they always gives me things to think and pray about. You continue to be an inspiration to many.

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