What Do We See
“When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: ‘What did you go out in the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft roes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” I tell you, among those born of women n one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.)… [Jesus said] ‘John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and [they] say “He has a demon;” the Son of Man has come
eating and drinking, and [they] say “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by her children.’” (Luke 7:24-30, 33-35)
What is the point of preaching? Why do we listen to liturgy? What value is there in teaching? I wonder if we have ever even stopped to think about the answers to these questions, the reasons behind what we do at church every single week. Coming to church should be a holistic experience; we do lots of things here. We pray, for ourselves and others; we sing songs to praise God; we share in fellowship with our community; we hear the Scriptures read and expounded upon; we learn how to live life in a way we believe will be pleasing to God. In all these things, we engage something older, bigger, and more complex than ourselves. However, if we only engage in these things through a rational, mental ascent, keeping them all at arms’ length, and not in a transformative participation, we might as well stay home.
What do we come to church to see? I hope we don’t come for the performance. Do we come simply because we like the music? Because we like the sermon? Likes can be accumulated on social media; we need more than “likes” in church. In the Scripture above, Jesus asks the crowd why they went to see John the Baptist in the wilderness. If they wanted to see something spectacular, something awesome, they would’ve gone to the Temple and seen the priests perform their religious sacrifices and duties. Instead, myriads came to the Jordan River to be baptized by an uncouth, dirty prophet. They came confessing their sins and proclaiming their allegiance to an alternative to the priestly system in Jerusalem; something called the Kingdom of God. They came to experience God.
I’ve come to see the pastor’s role in a specific light: that of experience curator. When the pastor leads in the liturgy, reads the Scriptures, prays, and offers the Sacraments to the congregants, it is with the express purpose of opening their eyes to see God. This is what John the Baptist did when he told the people that the muddy waters had washed their sins away; this is what Jesus did when he healed the sick, exercised the demons, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. This is the meaning of “the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” This is what we should come to church to see: God with us.
Cody Nygard, Associate Pastor