Jesus isn’t held hostage in holy places,
but fills the world!
John 6. 1 – “Jesus went to the other side of the sea ….” John 6. 3 – “Jesus went up the mountain ….” John 6. 14 – “The prophet who is to come ….” Who is to come and go! Go and come! There are a few more verses I could highlight. But I think you get my drift.
Anyway, last Sunday, during the congregationCouncil meeting, we got to talking about worship during the pandemic. Particularly, how other congregations have been doing it. Some this way. Others that. But when we got to Midland Lutheran, the worship style was referred to as “Where’s Waldo?” Where’s Waldo! After a year-and-a-third, I guess it’s become a kind of MO. My ‘modus operandi!’ My way of working! But in all honesty, I feel more like Charles Kuralt than Waldo! “On the Road,” one Sunday morning after another!
It began those first few Sundays of staying-at-home, of sheltering-in-place. I decided that I wanted to do something that would remind us that life goes on! The sun shining! The wind blowing! Trees budding! Flowers blooming! And a few times, you were, even, with us on trips! Montana! Wyoming! WashingtonState! NewMexico! Colorado! But somewhere along the way, all that changed. And I did it – am still doing it – because I’ve discovered that this – THIS – is where Jesus is! Out here! Away from the buildings! Out from behind walls! Out from under rooves! On this side of the windows and doors! This is where Jesus is! Free! Unobstructed! Unhindered! In the midst of all this craziness! In the midst of all this clutter! Where it’s easy to be distracted! To be interrupted!
And I have to admit, if it hadn’t been for these last seventy-some weeks, I don’t think I’d’ve noticed … noticed how much moving around happens in the story! We come to church … on the same day … at the same time … in the same building … sit in the same pew … And except for a few words, it’s always the same! Nothing’s different! Nothing changes! Then, it’s easy, expected, to imagine it’s the same for Jesus! Stationary! Static! Believing is more like looking at – listening to – a painting hanging on the wall! A baby lying in a manger! A man hanging on a cross! A savior standing at a door, knocking. Softly. Tenderly.
For three generations, Midland Lutheran Church has been an address. A pair of coordinates on a map. Our home unmoved. Our place unmoving. Everything we say, said there. Everything we do, done there. Anchored in, chained to, that little piece of earth. And right from the start, our biggest concern was how to get people to come to us. How to get them through the doors and into the pews. And for a while, it worked. But then, slowly, surely, people stopped coming. Even our own. Children. Grandchildren. Now, we’re here in the wilderness. Wondering through cyberspace. Somewhere between mud pit and promise.
For sixty years, we had our own Zion. With god locked away inside the Temple. Save and sound behind the curtain. And we … we were the gatekeepers deciding who would be allowed in and who would be kept out. If they wanted god … needed god … they came to us. But the wanting stopped. The needing ended. We got smaller. Grew grayer. We widened the doors. We stood on the threshold and waved. A few stopped. Most never noticed we were here. But, you know, it was something Jesus never did! He never had an address! A latitude. A longitude. “Foxes have holes,” he said, “birds have nests.” But love … love has only the ones loved!”
That’s what jumped out at me, this week. Jesus going to the other side of the sea! Jesus going up the mountain! Jesus coming! Jesus going! And it wasn’t just Jesus. It was his disciples, too! Going down to the sea! Getting into the boat! Starting across the water! Coming, going! Going, coming! Here, one moment! There, the next! The crowd following! The crowd running ahead! Waiting! The passage’s full of action! Just like Waldo!
Truth is, faith isn’t fixed; it’s fluid! Always flowing! Flooding! Along the contours of life! Faith’s a journey! Up one mountain; down another! From one side of the sea to the other and back! A venture unending! Paths untrodden! Perils unknown! And the one thing certain, the only thing sure, is the love! Leading! Supporting!
Jesus didn’t spend a whole lot of time in the Temple. At least, not that the story tells. But when he did – that Sunday before – well … It didn’t go well! And he’s not pictured as a regular synagogue-goer, either. He was, at the start. But after a while, he was no longer welcomed, no longer wanted. So. Instead. He went to the places people were! To the places people went! Especially those who weren’t good enough to get into the Temple! He went to the people! Because that’s what love does! It goes and it comes! It comes and it goes! Living! Energetic! Active! Mighty! Bigger than any building can hold!
But since Emperor Constantine, we’ve tried. To keep god in a building. And people have had to come to us. For seventeen centuries, we grew and we prospered. We had chapels and congregations and cathedrals. And we huddled together. Inside them all. Just like the disciples. That first Easter evening. We thought it was strength. We thought it was strength. But it was weakness. We thought it was gospel. GoodNews. It wasn’t. Instead, the walls held us back. They hemmed us in. We became their captives, their prisoners. And even worse, like the Holy of holies, they confined god, as well.
But this past year, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the curtain has been torn, once more! Torn not from the top down; but, this time, from the bottom up! And god has gone out in the world, again! Going to the other side! Climbing the mountain! Going to where the people are! And for the first time in a long time, we’re going with him! But then, that, my friends … that is what love does, isn’t it?