What might you feel if you heard that God had moved in down the street? How would that feel like to you? Would you be glad? Would you invite him round for dinner? Would you invite him onto the Neighbourhood watch scheme? Would you sing and dance or perhaps hold a street party?
Or might you actually be a bit concerned about God being on the same street as you? After all, there wouldn’t be anywhere to hide. What if you accidentally met on the street corner? What would you say? What shouldn’t you say or do?
Today’s readings bring us different impressions of what it’s like when God moves in amongst us.
When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, we see a mixed story. What had started out, as a celebration is marred when the Ark in v7 apparently kills Uzzah. It is an odd part of the story to make sense of in 21st C Britain, it must seem that God acted in a way that we would deem to be totally unacceptable. After all, wasn’t Uzzah trying to stop the Ark from falling? The thing about getting to grips with ancient scriptures is that often you need to try and get into the mind of the people for whom the story was written in the first place. It is generally a bad idea to read it solely from the understanding of contemporary society. Having said that, the nearest modern day analogy would be if a member of the public grabbed hold of the Queen without permission. Does anyone remember the media fuss when the Australian Premier Paul Keating put his arm around the Queen in 1992. Something that means so little today; compare the reaction to Keating’s Royal faux pas with the reaction when Michelle Obama did pretty much the same thing. Times change, and it is important to see biblical events within the context of their time. One commentary suggests that Uzzah had not shown the necessary care and precaution for such a sacred rite and that according to an early Israelite tradition he had been justifiably punished. Certainly, David was much more cautious after this event, and his dancing – with all his might – may perhaps be seen in a new light. A light of some fear and trepidation. After all, this was the same Ark that had proved itself to be unpredictable before.
The picture then that is being portrayed in the Old Testament is of a God who cannot be approached by humans without strict purity laws. Consider Exodus 19 “ Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death.13 They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.” A reminder perhaps of the vast expanse in holiness that had developed between God and those whom he had created in his own image. This was the sorry state of affairs that had become of a relationship in which initially God and human had walked together in the garden with no secrets between each other.
In Jesus, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. In Jesus, the word made flesh as John reminds us, the breach that had existed between heaven and earth was bridged. Jesus himself became the bridge via which humans could once again enter heaven, and from which the blessings of heaven can reach earth.
This image of Jesus is put forth in Ephesians where the terms “in him”, “in Christ” and “under Christ” occur 13 times. Jesus is obviously the route through which all heavenly blessings are met. Jesus is the source of the Holy Spirit, our guarantor of the state of being a child of God.
The predestination is not a suggestion of Calvinistic doctrine, rather it points to God’s love, in Christ, reaching before time and beyond the end of time, calling all creation to Him. As we respond and return to relationship with God, we are blessed, not as a reward, but simply by virtue of sharing a relationship with God. This amply explains why Jesus said of himself in John 14:6 “ I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the father except through me”.
Jesus is the anchor point, the docking point between heaven and earth, calling us to be filled by his Spirit and thus become points of intersection ourselves between heaven and earth. We don’t become equal to or greater than Jesus, that would be falling for the pride that befell Lucifer; we can only be intersections through Jesus’ action in our lives. It is only by Grace given freely by God though Jesus, via the Holy Spirit residing in us that we can be part of the healing and the blessing of creation.
As Jesus lives within each of us, we know him and we come to know each other better. So we may look differently at the new neighbour who has moved in down the street; the stranger who we are not sure of; the youngster in the hoodie loitering at the end of the road; the policeman in a line at a demo; the traffic warden looking for parking infringements, the shy person out of place at a party.
We may see that they are no as scary or as odd as we first thought they were. We may see that we actually know them better that we thought we did. We may start to see Jesus in them. For it is Jesus and Jesus alone that creation is and will be healed.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
It is here now.
The quiet one behind you in the pew. The one wo is too shy to say hello. The one who hides their shyness with acts of bravado. Reach out and greet Jesus as he meets with you today. When you leave this place, watch out and seek out Jesus in the people whom you meet. Show them Jesus in the way you talk, in the way you act, in the way you are.
This is what it looks like when God moves into the neighbourhood. No Ark, no big Cathedral or Mosque. Just a church of people, a community of souls reaching out to each other in love, reaching out to God in worship, all because of Jesus.
God is here. Jesus is here. The Holy Spirit is here. The kingdom of God is here.