August 2, 1997 in Features

God Calls Us Beyond Ourselves

Paul Graves Staff writer
 

Our pastor was speaking about the “dwelling place of God.”

One of her essential points was that we are that dwelling place. We have been given the privilege and responsibility of giving God a home as well as a place where other people point to, and say, “God lives in and through you.”

That makes real sense to me. We sometimes need to be like the little girl who loved to hug her daddy, because for her, he was like “God with skin on.”

The theological word for this is “incarnation” - “God in the flesh.”

Biblically, we rightfully call Jesus the incarnation of God. But in everyday living, some of us need a tangible, visible reminder of the Holy Incarnation. We have that in each other!

So far, so good. We can rightfully get warm, fuzzy feelings cuddling up with the affirmation that God dwells in us and through us.

Yet even as our pastor was finishing her sermon in her own way, I was going off in my own direction. (Preachers listening to other preachers act a lot like normal people, you know!)

My direction was provoked by a silent, heart question: “So what happens when there’s too much God to be captured inside a single person or even a congregation?” It’s so easy to settle for the God we know resides inside of us, or inside another person whom we greatly respect.

A great thing about God - I almost said “the” great thing, thus falling into our common trap of defining God rather than merely describing something about God - a great thing about God is that God is so much greater than anything we can ever think about God.

There is a greater gap, a much greater gap between us and God, than we can ever close. I began thinking about those gaps in contrasting language like: an itinerant God for a sedentary people; an Internet God for a pre-computer people.

Get the idea? God will not be contained by our limitations, by the boxes in which we spend our daily, safe existence.

We are indeed a sedentary people. We settle into routines that often become ruts.

Our religious rituals can cleverly seduce us into believing we have at least the best, if not the only, way to worship God. We build church houses ostensibly for God, but they too often feed our own need to look important and successful.

God is indeed an itinerant God. God is not about to be boxed in by the most beautifully appointed sanctuary or the most intellectually sophisticated rationalization for a person’s non-involvement in organized religion.

Jesus reminds us that God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Do you understand just how radical that statement is?

In ancient and modern Israel, rainwater was and is such a precious commodity because it is so rare.

Rain was a tangible sign of God’s blessing. And Jesus had the audacity to say God gave his blessing unconditionally to the “just and the unjust,” the religious Jew and the Gentile.

God doesn’t settle in like we do, to serve and enjoy only those people with whom we feel most comfortable, those with whom we have the most in common. Likewise, Jesus was always on the move as well, moving freely back and forth between a religiously acceptable group and a person or group shunned by the respectable types.

The disciples were hard pressed to keep up. Because they were much more like you and me - prone to play it safe, predictable, comfortable.

But while we snuggle under the comforter of our familiar routines, cuddled up with the people we know or at least can tolerate, God and Jesus are at it again! They’re off doing their itinerant thing.

God is always beyond where we are, always calling us to get off our religious backsides and catch up to where God needs us most at the moment.

That may mean getting involved with people with whom we don’t normally associate. It may mean trying to sing a new hymn or looking at a piece of sanctuary artwork that doesn’t seem very religious.

God may not even ask us to do or say “something religious” but simply be present and compassionate with another person. God may even prompt us to say “yes” or “no” - whichever word expresses the kind of courage we normally turn from in order to “keep peace” with another.

God is always beyond where we are, calling us to catch up to where God needs us most at the moment. That’s the scary part.

The comforting part is that even while God is out front, whistling for us, waving to us to catch up, God is also right beside us, even as close as our very breath, offering to love us just as we are.

That’s right! God does indeed love us just as we are.

And because that’s true, God also loves us too much to want us to stay just as we are.

xxxx


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