From the Pastor’s Heart
of having the Church
as a meeting place
“The people of Israel camped there in front of the mountain” (Exodus 19:2).
It is simple. God wants us to be at a specific location to meet with us. If God wants to do something special, He always does it in very exact locations. God wants His people at a specific spot to speak to them and do good things for them. God could have spoken the 10 commandments to the Israelites at any of their camps along the way in the wilderness. But He brings them to this specific location, to this mountain. He does not just choose some random place. He is the kind of God who grounds His gifts in specific places. And that is something that we see over and over throughout the Scriptures. Here it is at mount Sinai where God meets with His people. Way earlier it was in the garden of Eden; then it was going to be the tabernacle, then the temple and finally it would be the church.
Yes, of course, God is everywhere; He is in all places at all times – but, He is not in all places at all times in the same way. The entire atmosphere contains water; there is water in the air we breathe, there is water everywhere. But, If I want to drink water, I have to find a well. Yes, God is everywhere, - but if you want to drink of God then you have to go where He is to be found specifically for that purpose. God has located Himself in Word and Sacrament and we find these in the His church.
Many people say that God is in all things and He is everywhere so I do not really need a specific thing or a specific place in order to have an encounter with God. But God, throughout the Scriptures, shows us that He comes to us in very specific places. The tabernacle, the temple and the church were not built because God needed a place – you and I need a place for us to encounter God, - a place where God has promised to meet with us. The reason for God to dwell amongst His people in this way was so that they can have access to Him. And so God has placed Himself in very specific things and places that there He might do good things for us.
This is the for-you-ness of the gospel. Yes, God is everywhere, but He is only in specific places and things, “for you”, that is, He is in the baptismal water – for you, He is in bread and wine – for you, and He is in the proclaimed Word – for you. We tend to think that we are closer to God when we are all by ourselves on a mountain top, and maybe we do feel that, but that does not necessarily mean that we are. It is better to take God by His Word: Go down the mountain to the valley, be amongst all the other sinners, and I, God, will have a Word and Meal there for you.
It does matter whether we have a church to go to or not, and it does matter whether we go to church or not, because that is the place where God has promised to be there for you. I hope we can re-discover the importance of having a church in these troubling times and be encouraged to return.
Das Volk Israel lagerte dort
vor dem Berg