It was some years back (maybe ten, something like that) but without effort I can see him as though it was yesterday (“were yesterday” if you prefer). There we were, a people in dire need of being gospeled and there he was with the tone and air of someone very wise and experienced. What he had to say was so well known to him that it wasn’t exactly boring to him but it was too bad that he had to say it one…more…time. Had we gained his eminence and knowledge we should have known what he was informing us about but obviously………
There he stood very casually dressed telling us in that understanding tone that it was all right for us to want to get things “right” when we assemble (you know, our singing and reading and prayers and engaging in the Lord’s Supper—“that kind of thing”) but it’s outside the building that “the rubber meets the road.” He had his soft-covered translation opened at some text and frequently gestured with it as he held it in his fist, rolled up, the way we often hold a rolled up magazine. What we carry to the assembly is only paper and ink. (A devout Hindu Christian in India some years ago gently instructed me on some things I was not to do with my Bible and some places where I should not set it down.) It was well known to our speaker anyway, it’s not having a paper and ink copy of the Holy Scriptures, it’s living them—out where the “rubber meets the road.”
It would be tragic—beyond tragic—if we thought that the sum total of our life with and for God is what happens during our gatherings and our getting all our religious convictions correctly in line. But, dear God, demeaning what happens, what hungry and reverent hearts purpose to happen, what they seek to experience in His nearer presence when they come to Supper with the Lord Jesus and in fellowship with one another in the Lord Jesus in heartfelt obedience—to speak dismissively of all that and more, is crass ignorance of who we are and what our gatherings are about.
Our speaker with his fistful of rolled up NT, his very casual dress and his (not quite) bored tone plainly told us that he knew so well what we obviously didn’t, went on to tell us that we needed to be kind and compassionate, honest, and in general we needed to be virtuous. Even that was spoken to us in a calm lecturing fashion. Having by this time exorcised all the wonder from the rolled up NT he waved from time to time, from the hymns we sang, the prayers the Suppering with and on the living Lord Jesus and the collection that was Jesus-imaging (2 Corinthians 8:9), he patiently moralized until closing when he offered an invitation to respond to “the gospel.”
There was no revealed mystery here, there was no declaration of war in the name of God and His Holy Son against all the rulers of the darkness of this world and their influence in us or around us and on behalf of a suffering and kept-ignorant world; there was no muted astonishment about sins forgiven, no presence of burdened people who needed their hearts lifted or cleansed or assured; there must have been no happy Christians made glad and further inspired.
He needed to put all that and so much more to the side, less important than our moral response away from this sacred (yes!) gathering, and take us out there “where the rubber meets the road.” What ignorance! What injury! When the moral becomes all and the religious becomes nothing. When the moral is spoken of in patient (or earnest) tones and the lovely mystery of the religious is (virtually) dismissed in very casual dress and with the waving and pointing of a fistful of rolled up Scriptures. (See the contrast in John 2:13-17 and 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 and Malachi 3:16.)
They had been looking for Him for some days, asking friends and neighbors, (“Have you seen our son Jesus?”) and when they finally found Him in the temple they told Him, using an active imperfect verb, of their unceasing effort and concern). Bless me; he was a twelve year-old boy, the visit from up north to Jerusalem, the trip with all the excitement, his peers, the laughter, the games on the way, the running, chasing, the stories, the chores, the social joys and the anticipation of seeing the big city and the vast crowds. Wonderful! Life “out where the rubber meets the road” with its pleasures and responsibilities.
All that, without apology, and then He turned in loving religious reverence to the Temple. Just a building, and yet, not “just” a building, but a place dedicated to the telling of “the ancient story of miracle and the mystery of prophecy explained.” A place where the morally fine (and now gathered) people were reminded of their calling, of their peculiar existence as the People of God, and of their service to their God and the human family He loved so much.
“Oh,” He said, when they found Him in the Temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions, and in response to HIS PARENTS’ distress He said, “I thought you would have known I must be about My Father’s business.” Luke 2:41-49
Poor boy Jesus. No matter, He would understand better when He was older and wiser, that being in the place of worship while it was…“yes, all right,” what really mattered only happened out “where the rubber meets the road.” Sigh.
(Holy Father, help us please. Give us servant ministers who drink deeply from your Holy Scriptures and learn of you and your Holy Son so that we will be enlightened and empowered to be about your business. This prayer in the Lord Jesus.)