• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

What is Sacred? What is Secular?

Updated: Nov 10

Religious people did not like Jesus. Odd isn't it? The whole point of religion is to honor God. Jesus is God among us. Yet, religious people judge Jesus as being too secular, not respectful enough of sacred traditions.


In Matthew 15, religious people ask Jesus, "Why do your disciples break the traditions...?" Sacred tradition expected everyone to wash religiously. Jesus did not make his disciples wash. So, they judged Jesus as being sacrilegious, disrespectful of the sacred, because he did not honor the religious traditions.


Can we know what is or isn't sacred? Are religious traditions sacred? Are things outside traditional religion inappropriate for worship, since they are secular?


Let's imagine we've never done worship before. We gather together for the very first time. We have great intentions. We want to worship and honor God. We want to say thank you to God, and to ask God for help with our lives and our world. We want to tell ancient stories and some current ones, to say honest prayers, and to sing heart-moving songs. We sit together and design an order of worship. We choose prayers, texts, and songs. Then, we worship together. It feels good. We honored God together.


Now, imagine we keep doing that, or something similar to it, over and over again for years, for decades. If we worship that way long enough, it becomes our tradition. Does that mean that way, those stories, prayers, and songs are sacred? What about all the other stories, prayers, and songs we didn't choose? Are they not sacred enough for worship, too secular?


Religious traditions start for good reason, to point people toward God. Religious traditions continue for good reason, to give people comfort and a sense of belonging. Eventually, though, the traditions themselves become confused with the God they were meant to honor. The traditions themselves are considered sacred, when only God is holy. When we protect our traditions, they have become idols.


Jesus replies to those who challenged him, "Why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your traditions?"Jesus knew the religious traditions had become idols. Religious people were willing to complain and fight over traditions rather than worship one God together.


Jesus also says, "Its not what what goes into someone that defiles them, but what comes out of them." Songs, prayers, readings, creeds go into us, but they cannot defile us, whether they be traditionally religious or radically secular. What can defile us is our reaction to those prayers, songs, scriptures, and creed. If our response to prayers, songs, liturgies, scriptures in worship is justice, peace, and love, then we are honoring the sacred. If our response to those same songs, scriptures, prayers, and creeds is complaint, critique, and judgment, then we are defiled.


In prayer today, wonder honestly with God:

Do I have a traditional way of worshipping God, a preferred order or style of worship?

Do I have a preferred traditional way of praying, or of saying the Lord's Prayer?

Do I have a preference for the traditional liturgy and songs in worship?

Do I prefer the traditional version or translation of the Bible?

Do I expect only traditional religious music for worship?

Do I expect Communion or Baptism to be done a specific, traditional way?


Listen for God's honest, gentle response. In the weeks to come, let all styles, forms, and content of worship flow into you. Give them room to connect you to the love of God, love of yourself, and love for one another. Then see if you can let something sacred flow out of you. Our response to traditions, or those things that break tradition, mean more to God than the traditions themselves.


Blessing, Laughter, and Loving be yours,

Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

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