Trinity Lutheran Church, Pembroke Pines, FL
Here on the mountaintop. Here as compared, one supposes to “there,” with there being everywhere else. “There” meaning life in all of its brokenness, its complications, its messiness; all that reality, it seems, setting up roadblocks in front of our desire to be with God, to draw nearer to God, to find peace in and with God. Who would want to be “there” when one could be “here?”
“It is good Lord to be here,” says Peter.
And it is good to be here. For us to be here together. To be here knowing in our heart of hearts that the Lord has promised to be here with us as we gather in Jesus’ name. To be present in our communion with one another in fellowship. Our communion at the Lord’s Table. Our communion as the word of God washes over us and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts and minds and speaks to our souls of the love and grace of God, of the hope that we share together in and through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
It is good Lord to be here.
And here, nearly 166 months ago I asked a group of adults on my very first Sunday “What is church?” Here gathered under the towering mahogany tree in front of Charter Hall as we sat on the benches and a few assorted steel-grey folding chairs and began to feel one another out, I asked my first question: What is church? Eyes flicked left and right pondering the question. Hmmmm. “What is church?” “What is church?”
And nearly all of the responses, when they came, were place responses.
Church is the place where I worship.
“It is good Lord to be here,” says Peter. Here in this place. Here with you Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Oh, and here with these other guys standing behind me, James and John. It’s all good. Peter overwhelmed to be at that place at that time with all of those people. His heart full, overflowing. Himself amazed.
Perhaps we can sympathize with Peter.
One year when I was a teenager church became for me such a place of peace and joy that I attended three straight Christmas Eve services. I wanted to dwell in that place and in that moment forever. The incarnation, God in Christ Jesus coming into the world in the flesh, was so powerful that everything else just fell away in comparison. The feeling was electric – as if joy was the very air, hope refreshed with every breath.
Like those adults in my first Bible Study class, that night if anyone cared to ask me, dared to ask me, I, too, would have answered that -
Church is the place where I worship
What if the Church isn’t a place, but
a movement? Not a mountaintop but a mission? Then wouldn’t we experience God, our
deeply incarnational and relational God, in and among the very people who are
not here? In Scripture Jesus tells us and shows us that the greatest
commandments are to love God and to love neighbor – by this Jesus says people
will know that we are his disciples if we have love for one another. Since we
are commanded to go and love in Jesus’ name then we now face the immediate
challenge that we can’t engage people with the love of Jesus and the Gospel
that bears it and declares it, if we do not know them. That beyond the four
walls of this building, out in this community in which God has placed us and
calls us to live out our faith, we do not know the people. To love them in
Christ’s name we must seek them and engage them and be engaged by them and
learn their names, their lives, their loves, their all.
But in time as the years and experiences shaped my faith something shattered those images for me. Broke them utterly.
Beyond the help of Elmer’s glue and gorilla glue or even crazy glue -
They were that broken. Broken like the world imagined by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah where:
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
They were that broken. Broken like the world imagined by John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus when he sees as one in which:
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Christ Jesus is not calling us to find him on the mountaintops. In Christ Jesus the mountains aren’t getting higher, aren’t remaining unchanged, but are coming down to meet us and we riding the roads and valleys are being raised up to meet him.
In this new life we have and share in and through Christ that Isaiah portends and John the Baptist declares imminent we find ourselves challenged:
What if Church is not the only and best answer as to the place where we worship; not the only and best answer as to the place where we spend our time with God; not the only and best answer as to the place where we will find peace and renewal?
If we see church as a place, as that mountaintop then that is certainly true. Church as the mountaintop will never be the best answer to the key questions that we must ask of ourselves as Christians.
But what if the Church is more?
As the mountains come down and the valleys are raised up and we find ourselves primarily not inside a building but on a road made smooth by the grace and love of God will we choose to be that church so that all flesh might see the salvation of God because of the way we choose to be church? For this, my friends, is a choice before us. Perhaps the choice before us: Will we be such a church? Such a movement? Such a mission?