Tuesday, July 16, 2013
This morning I'll board a bus to Manhattan just as I did as a chaperone of a high school youth trip to the United Nations in 1996. I'll go to this city not surrounded by youth but as a solo traveler with eyes wide open and a heart that is excited to experience lots of theatre and good friends. The first time my eyes saw New York, something happened within me. My journey through the city opened me to new possibilities in life. It was on a bus departing New York after a wonderful weekend with youth in 1996 where I knew God was calling me to ministry. It was on a bus coming home where I spent four hours talking with people about seminary and the process to ordination. I've met God in New York.
Two weeks from tonight I'll board a plane for a long journey to South Africa. It is in this land where I have sensed a God who asks hard things of us. It was on a Pilgrimage of Pain and Hope to South Africa in 2004 where I met a God who reshaped a prayer on my lips, "God, take me out of my place of comfort and success. Help me be more prophetic. Give me a heart for hurting and broken people." I came home from that journey and told the Dean of Duke Divinity School that I would finish that year with joy but would then resign from my position as the Director of Admissions in order to return to the local church. It was in South Africa where God gave me the courage to embrace all the challenges that first came with being appointed to Mount Vernon Place and the city of Washington.
Perhaps I was romanticizing these return visits. Maybe I thought I would see and hear God as powerfully as I have before in these very places. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I did not find it when I walked back into my old church as a visitor who had not been there in years. The place has changed as every church should change in the course of a decade. Only a handful of faces were familiar. I left with the knowledge of how lonely it can be to walk into a sanctuary as a visitor.
But perhaps I needed exactly what I got that morning - a fresh reminder that so often we go looking for Jesus where we have last found him just as the women did on Easter morning. They assumed that Jesus' body would be exactly where they laid it. They then hear a voice asking, "Why look for the living amongst the dead?"Jesus has been on the move ever since - just as he was before.
We are tempted to believe God dwells in sanctuaries and holy temples. We so often limit the movement of Jesus to the places we have experienced him before. But our God is not bound by memories or church walls. Our God is always on the move. The winds of the Spirit blow throughout the world - touching our lips and anointing us with new words, speaking fresh challenges into our hearts, showing up just when we need to be reminded that God is Emmanuel - God with us, and causing us to go to places we once never imagined only to find that God is also there just as much as God was back there.
It's a wonderful gift to go back - to see places that have shaped and formed you. I'm incredibly grateful for these opportunities to journey. But I go now not expecting to find God exactly as I found God last. Rather, I go into each day longing to hear the voice of God and see God's hands at work. In God we live and move and have our being. That means God is everywhere - as close as your next breath and as dynamic as someone who will be kind or thoughtful to you today - showing up just when you need someone to show up.
There is fullness of joy in the presence of the Lord - and that presence is everywhere. Thank you, God.