By Starlette McNeill
Rainer Maria Rilke, the Austrian-German poet and novelist, said of his work Stories of God that he was “busied with transferring God from the sphere of rumor into the realm of direct and daily experiencing.” His words read like a job description for a pastor. At least to me, it seems that we forget that God has come into the world through Christ most days.
Yes, we remember during the Christmas and Easter seasons. We may have to do a recount as to the number of votes, as Santa Claus and the Easter bunny are strong contenders. However, aside from these almost wholly capitalistic times, God seems only to come to mind on Sundays and the meeting is whispered about. I guess we won’t be singing, “Go, tell it on the mountain.”
Consequently, we need to be reminded that this is not an historical event or a rumor but that there are eye-witness accounts that demand our reporting every day. This forgetfulness could be blamed on congested and multiple schedules, our current news cycle or social media’s contributions to the decline of attentiveness. But, frankly, it is the believer’s task to remember and less we forget, Christ asked his disciples personally (Luke 22.19). The food was not a bribe; instead, it connected us to a long history of meals with God and evidence of God’s faithfulness.
But, this reservation is not only made on Communion Sundays. No, God wants to be thought of and conversed with daily. Perhaps, this is why we are called to a table, called to sit and be settled, called to turn off our cellphones, called to wait and receive—not what we have ordered or have a taste for but what God has prepared for us through Christ Jesus. I wonder if the mystery and the spiritual intensity of the moment have been lost because God can be expected and in some irreverent way, we have eaten the wafer, drank the juice and forgotten to remember Christ.
In effect, we have become ungrateful guests. We start to expect God’s hospitality and before long, we behave as if we deserve it. We start to believe and behave as if we don’t need grace and mercy. “Where’s my food, God? How long on my blessings?”
Food and theology are not a new combination and neither is this brand of personalized belief systems, a kind of God-on-demand practice of the faith. There are numerous articles and books written to capture this old yet new again social phenomenon whereby we pick and choose what of Christ’s message we will align ourselves with. Or, we take from Christ’s life what best suits our own.
It is a kind of Starbucks theology. So, we will remember Christ with warmed banana nut bread (not gluten free) and a tall, five pump, whole milk, no foam, extra hot chai. When this is just one of the options, I guess the easier argument would be whether we serve grape juice or wine. This example speaks to the seeming belief of options, that God can be taken in on our terms and according to our theological taste buds.
Despite our associations, conventions, denominations and local churches, there is only “one Lord, one faith and one baptism” (Ephesians 4.5). No, God does not come in socially constructed races. No, our faith is not defined by our experience but by Christ’s experience on the cross. No, I do not have a robe that matches your shoes or makes you look thinner. Now, please get in the water.
Though there are numerous interpretations, there is but one Bible. This may be a disheartening reminder for some of us because we have become accustomed to so many choices. But, it is a necessary reminder as we cannot become Christian on our own terms. We cannot commit to live as Christ’s disciples based on our schedule and plans, according to our interests and inclinations or only if God is a member of our political party and stands with us and not “them.”
The commitment is death, death to self, to doing things our way, to things always going our way, to getting our way. Nope. Jesus is the Way (John 14.6). There is one model, a one Savior fits all salvation to offer, one set of footprints to follow, one cross to bear. These are the terms and conditions, the only covenant. Sign here and here and here.
And for those of us jaded by hypocritical leadership, rigid legalism and self- righteous traditions, Christians are not the standard. Gasp. We can be examples but we are not the model. This confusion of roles, this substitution of Christ for charisma, has led to many personality-driven churches, which are not to be confused with Presence-driven churches.
I’ve been a member of churches that are not well-attended when the pastor is not there. I’ve listened in disbelief at persons who can’t seem to find their place in church if they are not seated on the exact same pew every single Sunday. I’ve run away from many a parking lot brawl, not wanting to witness the fight over their parking spot. To be sure, they will come to church and worship but it has to be on their terms because God only speaks to the pastor and they can only feel the presence of God in the second pew on the left side and my great- grandfather paid for my parking spot. And they are willing to suffer and die for it. They can agree to these terms of believing while spreading the rumor that one day, God came to earth in the presence of Jesus.
It seems that I will never be out of a job.