On Being Sacramental . . .

Upper Room calls itself a “sacramental” church.  And as with most big churchy words, saying we’re sacramental elicits head-scratches from folks who aren’t familiar with the church or come from low-church traditions.  So, here’s an attempt to describe what we mean by being sacramental.

We’re going through a sermon series on the life of Jacob right now.  And I think it’s perfect for giving context to what the word sacramental means.  That’s because the life of Jacob shows God at work through tangible, earthy, things and people.  Words of blessing that Isaac speaks over Jacob have real power. Jacob sees actual sacred space at Bethel where he dreams of “Jacob’s ladder.”  When Jacob’s wives Rachel and Leah give birth to sons, they attribute the births directly to God’s action – even in the midst of a very dysfunctional family.  To be sacramental is having a worldview that recognizes God’s imminent presence and action – the worldview of Genesis.

To put it another way:  The simple definition of a sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace.  If we’re talking about a visible sign of grace we’re talking about seeing tangible, concrete, earthy things manifest the grace of God.  God isn’t good in the abstract. God’s goodness is something you experience when you taste a delicious piece of fruit, or when you exercise your body the way God designed it to move, when you hold a newborn baby and witness the miracle of life. God isn’t good in the abstract. God is good in the here and now in ways we can perceive with our senses, if we have to the faith to see it. But to say that these visible things are signs of invisible graces is to recognize that there’s more going on than meets the eye. For Isaac and Jacob and Esau a blessing is more than just words. The words would be the visible sign, but there’s something invisible as well.  In the same way, when we come to communion or when we baptize someone, there’s more going on than meets the eye. It’s a mystery – we can’t explain exactly what’s happening or how it is, but God is present and at work in much deeper ways than we realize. And being sacramental means looking at the whole world that way.

So, this is why the Chuch has seen the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist are means of God’s grace.  But the implications go far beyond that.  In worship at Upper Room, this is why we’ve recently incorporated more art into worship. Every piece of God’s good creation is something that can manifest God’s glory. So the paintings that people made and presented at Pentecost, are sacramental exercises.  We also have a canvas in our worship space now with the outline of a tree on it, and when people hear something that strikes them, they can walk up to the canvas and add those words to the tree – creating an artistic representation of the ways God’s speaking to our community this summer.  To write a word on this tree is to change ordinary matter into things that give God praise.  Doing so bears witness to God’s grace through tangible, concrete media.  It makes the invisible action of the Spirit visible. 

So what does this mean today? It means that I can look for ways in which God is at work at the cafe this afternoon during my shift.  It means that God is at work even in the messiness of our denomination’s General Assembly which is going on right now.  It means that as I prepare for Sunday’s worship and sermon, I can trust that God will show up and meet us in the words of scripture, the breaking of bread, and the fellowship of real people gathered in faith.

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