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  • Writer's pictureDean Moyer

My Work in Sacred Space (Part 2)

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”This line from famous “theologian” and swordsman Inigo Montoya in the movie Princess Bride challenges us to consider understanding one little word in the story of Nehemiah that has the power to change, well, everything about our work.  

When reading the book of Nehemiah, we understand the people of Israel once lived in the walled city of Jerusalem. From the north (about 900 miles away), the Babylonians invaded and destroyed much of it. They took the people into exile to Babylon. Generations later, people began to return to Jerusalem, focusing on rebuilding the city. First, the Temple was reconstructed and, most specifically, the walls. The walls get a lot of attention in the story. However, when the rebuilding progress report gets to Nehemiah, who was still in Babylon, we should notice he learns the walls remained in rubble, as did the city gates. Let’s not miss this. An entire chapter of the story gives details about the gates. Why? With a little exploration, we find these gates were a critical element of the wall construction and the flourishing of the people. Let’s take a look and heed Rev. Montoya’s caution, “I do not think it means what you think it means.” This will set the stage for the rest of our discussion.

At strategic places around this 16 foot wide wall were gates. Even today, we can find most of these gates in the city of Jerusalem. Two Hebrew words are used to describe these gates. One is a physical gate that opens and shuts. This is what was in my mind, and I suspect yours. The other Hebrew word for gate frequently used is a space created by the depth of the wall, much like a tunnel. This is the word used here. We read in the story of Nehemiah, in chapter one, that he stopped to get timber to construct the gates. His interest was not in doors but in spaces. He was leading them to build essential spaces. Why? The gates were where life happened. In the next few articles, we will see these large spaces were the places of commerce, civil matters, social justice (This deserves another Rev. Montoya caution), and even worship. This might get a little confusing because of our sacred/secular worldview. We are prone to think worship (sacred) takes place in the Temple (church), and every other activity is secular. But as stated in the first article, these divisions did not exist. Here it is: The gates were a place where the faith expressed at the Temple was lived out in real-time. The gates were not a secular place but rather sacred space. I contend we are invited to think the same about our lives, our work. (Colossians 3:17) What do you think?

 Next, we’ll head on into these gates and have a look around. In the meantime:

 1. Why do we tend not to think of our work as sacred?

2. (teaser) How does “the love of money” play into our suspicions regarding commerce?

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