Where Did You Expect Me to Be?
When we come to church, do we expect to encounter and experience the love that restores and redeems the world?
God is everywhere. It’s true.
If you hike through a forest, or climb a mountain, or walk through the park, God is with you. If you take a deep breath, or sing along with the radio, or sit in silence, God is with you. If you are hanging out on the couch with a glass of wine and a Netflix original series on a Saturday night, God is with you. And if you snuggle under the covers in your nice warm bed on a Sunday morning, God is with you.
God is everywhere. God fills the whole cosmos. It’s true.
But… the truth is… God is everywhere can be a rich truth or a flimsy excuse. It can be a path into finding the sacred in our daily lives or a way of avoiding the sacred altogether.
After all, I can hike through a forest, or climb a mountain, or walk through the park, surrounded by God, and not see God at all. I can take a deep breath, or sing along with the radio, or sit in silence, and not experience God at all. I can hang out on the couch with a glass of wine and a Netflix original series on a Saturday night and not feel God next to me. And I can snuggle under the covers in my nice warm bed on a Sunday morning and ignore God altogether.
Because God is everywhere. But I really don’t expect to run into her everywhere. In fact—and I’ll be honest here… I’ll be vulnerable here… because I expect that some of you feel the same way—I don’t always expect to run into her at church.
You may already know this… but I am weird.
I am forty-two years old. I am on the border between two generations. If I were a couple of years older, I would be firmly in Generation X; and if I were a couple of years younger, I would be firmly among the Millennials. But, instead, I am on that border. I’m a little bit of each and not quite either.
But that’s not what makes me weird. What makes me weird is that I’m a forty-two year old who is part of the church. A lot of us—maybe even most of us—are not.
I am forty-two years old. I am close to the average age for this community. In fact, I am close to the median age for this community: about half of the people who live in and around DeWitt are older than me, and about half are younger than me. And, every year, there are fewer people who are older than me and more people who are younger than me.
And you just don’t find a lot of forty-year-olds… or thirty-four-year-olds… or twenty-six-year-olds… in church.
And there are reasons for that, but…
A lot of people my age believe in God. A lot of people my age like this Jesus guy. We might be foggy on the details… but still. We just don’t expect to encounter God—to encounter Christ—in church.
We expect to find a lot of things. We expect to find judgment… and people asking for money… and boring old-fashioned ideas that aren’t relevant to our lives. But we don’t expect to find God.
So we go out into the forests and mountains and parks… we take deep breaths and sing along with the radio and sit in silence… we hang out on the couch and we snuggle in our beds… and we face a world where we are lonely… and stressed out… and worried about the future… and unbalanced.
And we might believe that God is everywhere. We might even know that God is everywhere. But we don’t really expect to run into her. So we don’t notice her. And we end up feeling like we’re on our own. ‘Nones’ by default.
For a few weeks, we have been following Mary and Joseph as they heard the news, and went to Bethlehem, and welcomed their son into the world. And now, over the course of a week, we have leapt forward a dozen years. Mary and Joseph aren’t new parents anymore. They’ve been at this for a while; they have a twelve-year-old.
And I’ve never been a parent. But I imagine that Mary and Joseph are going through one of the most frightening experiences that a parent can have: they have lost the kid.
Every year… every year… they meet up with a big group and travel from Nazareth to Jerusalem for Passover. It’s about seventy miles if you can take a straight path; a few days’ travel for a group that’s on foot. And a big group can watch over each other, and protect itself from thieves, and all that stuff.
So every year… every year… they meet up with a big group and go to Jerusalem. They stay with friends and relatives. They celebrate the time when God led their ancestors out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And when the celebrations are over, they meet up with the big group again and head home.
They know what they’re doing. They have a routine. They’ve done this a dozen times before.
And Jesus is old enough that they don’t have to keep an eye on him all the time. He’s a responsible kid. He knows where he’s supposed to be and when he’s supposed to be there. And there are plenty of adults around to keep half-an-eye on him.
So it’s the end of the first day of their journey home when they start asking, among the tents and pack animals and families, “Hey! Um… sorry, excuse me, but… have you seen our son anywhere?”
And as they ask, again and again, the question morphs, “Did you see him at all today?”
And then it’s back to Jerusalem. And checking in with all of their friends and relatives. And did he mention where those kids he was hanging out with live? And, O my God, where is he?
And, finally, they end up at the Temple. And I don’t know if they’re still looking for him at this point… or if looking has turned into hoping… and hoping has turned into praying. And if you’re going to implore God to help you find your son, then you might as well go to the Temple.
And there he is… sitting among the rabbis… listening and asking questions… understanding and answering questions… being amazing.
And Mary goes to yell at him. And Jesus responds, “Where did you expect me to be?”
And then they went home.
Jesus is the messiah, of course. Jesus is God-with-us. And maybe the words of Gabriel and Simeon and Anna—words that we’ve heard over the past few weeks, and words that Joseph and Mary heard twelve years ago—had faded a bit.
But… Jesus is the messiah, of course. Jesus is God-with-us. And this is the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. So, ‘where did you expect me to be?’ is a fair question to pose to Mary and Joseph.
And, maybe, it’s a fair question to pose to all of us… especially now… especially as we—God willing—near the end of this pandemic and prepare to open our sanctuary doors again… but also… always.
When we come to church—whether that means watching a video, or listening to a podcast, or sitting down in a pew, or just hanging out with the community in our little consulate of the kingdom of God—when we come to church… do we expect to find Christ?
Do we expect to run into God?
Do we expect to meet the Lord; the God of Israel; the Creator of Heaven and Earth; the one who leads people out of the house of bondage; the one who comes into the world as one of us; the one who calls out to the world, “You are loved and worthy of love;” the one who calls us to be good news to the poor?
Do we expect to encounter and experience the love that restores and redeems the world? Do we expect that love to listen to us and ask us questions? And are we prepared to understand what we hear and give answers?
Because here’s the thing.
We live in a world full of loneliness, and stress, and worry, and anxiety. We live in a world full of demons that are nipping at our heels and our souls. We live in a world where we have been told God is everywhere—and that is true—but where we never expect to run into her.
And there are whole generations in this world—there are whole generations and more in this community—who are desperate for someone to say, “You are loved and worthy of love. In the midst of all of this, I’ve got your back.”
And that starts with us. We can say that. We can be the people who love. We can be the people who have our neighbors’ backs.
But we can only say that… we can only mean that… we can only do that… when we know that we are loved and worthy of love… when we know that someone has our back… when we know where we can go when looking turns into hoping and hoping turns into praying.
When we know where we can find love. When we know where we can be filled with love. When we know where we can overflow with love.
And I know I’m weird. And I know that God is everywhere. But I believe that place can be the church. Not the video… or the podcast… or the building… but the church.
We can come to our community expecting to find Christ. And then we can turn back to all of those desperate souls and say, “You are loved and worthy of love… I’ve got your back… now come and meet the one who has mine.”