Have you ever had the experience of looking high and low for something, only to discover it was right in front of you all along? I do it all the time – I’m notoriously bad at looking for things.
This blog series is about looking for something, or rather someone: God. In Part 1 I used the picture of God as a box of chocolates that’s opened in church each Sunday morning, for all attending to tuck into. The God People get some God from the church service, and then take some God back into their own lives and the lives of those around them.
But imagine if the chocolate didn’t originate in The Church, but was to be found with the God People all along? What if the very thing the God People were looking for was right in front of them after all? This is the perspective I’m going to explore in Part 2 of this series.
In an encounter with a Samaritan woman, Jesus said this:
“A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem… a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth”
He was signalling that the old order was changing. No longer would God be worshipped in the high places or the holy places or any other specific physical place. The worship of God would now occur ‘in Spirit and in truth’.
So did this mean God would now be even harder to grasp, without the visual aid of a temple or a mountaintop? Quite the opposite. The apostle Paul built further on Jesus’ teaching:
“Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst”
And Peter got in on the act too:
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house”
According to this new teaching, not only was the place of worship shifting, but the very place where God was to be found had changed. The role formerly played by the temple was now to be played by none other than the people of God.
So why do we continue to place so much emphasis on one specific place and time – a weekly church service – when seeking God?
The teaching of Jesus and the apostles means we don’t have to come to church in order to find God, but he is here with us, already in our day-to-day lives. It means that even the most mundane of activities takes on a spiritual dimension. Doing the washing up; dropping the kids off at school; a difficult meeting at work; a walk in the woods; an evening with friends; at home alone; in all these things, God’s Spirit dwells in our midst.
Does this mean the church is redundant?
No – but it does change how we think about church. To re-visit the chocolate illustration, the church now becomes an empty building, no longer endowed with a large box of chocolates ready for anyone to tuck into. Instead, it fills with chocolate precisely when the God People gather there, because we bring the chocolate of our day-to-day lives with us. What makes church special (or Life Groups, or prayer meetings, or social gatherings) is the concentration of so much chocolate all in one place!
In the same way, we don’t go to church to find God – we bring God’s presence into church with us. Church is not where we ‘get God’, it’s a place of community where we are able to share more of God with one another. Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when he said that whenever two or three are gathered in his name, then he is there with them.
This teaching also brings a different perspective to how the God People serve The Other – everyone else not part of our crowd. The Other are the people who believe something different to us, or who look different to us, or behave in ways that are different or uncomfortable for us. The Other may also be the people society has forgotten – the misfits, the refugees, the broken and the bereaved.
If God is to be found is us, then the only way for The Other to truly experience God is through us. And this will not work at a distance. We cannot simply throw the chocolate we’ve gathered casually across the room, we have to deliver it in person.
The ministry of Jesus himself was incarnational. One of his names – Emmanuel – means God with us. Through Jesus living among the mess of humankind, God’s blessings were brought upon those he met. And Jesus set the pattern we are to follow.
It was this thinking that inspired the original vision for Eternity Bullbrook. We were planted to be a blessing to the Bullbrook estate. And we would do this incarnationally – by moving to live on the estate; by sending our children to the school; by participating in and hosting community events such as the school fayre, quiz nights, and the Giveaway.
Discovering that God is to be found in us, the God People, changes everything. It transforms how we view our daily lives, how we view church, the interactions we have with those around us, and our most significant life choices.
Where is God? In some sense it remains true to say he is to be found in The Church. There’s a deeper truth though: that he can be found in The God People.
But we’ve still not reached the end of the story. In Part 3 we will peel back another layer and discover one final twist.