Saturday, June 28, 2014

Why was Jesus a Small Town Guy?

(written for my church on June 20)

I'm back from Israel although I'm still jet-lagged.  Although I returned Monday evening, I continue to fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon and wake up in the middle of the night, so in case I miss Sunday worship, that's my excuse.  I am thankful to all who filled in for me during my absence: Mark Pridmore and Karon Harper for preaching and leading in worship, the church staff for doing all their good work to keep our church running, and our lay leaders and volunteers who do so much to make this community of faith a reality.

My trip was wonderful and I'm full of thoughts about it.  In the coming weeks and months, I will be sharing more about my experiences.  Suffice to say, I will never read Bible stories in the same way now that I have seen the places they are supposed to have happened.  For now, let me share this reflection with you.

 My trip started out seeing sites along the Mediterranean coast such as Caesarea, a port city constructed by Herod the Great before Jesus' birth that later became the home of Roman governors like Pontius Pilate.  (see above picture)  It was quite the city complete with a grand theater, circus mzximus for chariot races and an arena for gladiatorial combat.  We concluded our trip in Jerusalem, which was in Jesus' day as it is now, a hub of religious, governmental and commercial activity with incredible architecture that towered over its inhabitants.  Between these ancient cities, however, we visited sites around the Sea of Galilee which was an entirely different experience.

First off, the Sea of Galilee (pictured above--photograph by Sterling Severns) is not a sea but rather a freshwater lake--a big one but not a huge one.  After reading about it in the Bible my whole life, I was rather stunned by how small it is.  Don't get me wrong it's beautiful; in fact I would say the Galilee area is probably the most beautiful part of Israel, but it is not large.  We visited the ruins of the ancient villages of Capernaum (see below picture--photograph by Sterling Severns) and Bethsaida where Jesus spent most of his ministry.  These two villages and a third Korazin form what's called the "Gospel Triangle," the area where Jesus did almost all of his preaching, teaching and miracles.  Again, I was shocked by how small the villages were--really just hamlets by the lake shore in the case of Bethsaida and Capernaum.  Furthermore they aren't far off from each other, a few hours walk at most would take you between these villages and through similar ones nearby.  Now I understand why the gospels describe crowds gathering around Jesus; everybody in this very small area probably knew of his teaching and activities.

 Jesus didn't pick a metropolis for his ministry but a small rural area where fishing was the primary industry.  He could have chosen the city which represented the might of the empire or the city considered most holy but instead chose a much less "important" place for his work.  If you happen to believe in the incarnation, as I do, this means that God chose to be present in a unique and incredible manner not in the halls of power but among ordinary people in a small area.  What might that mean?

For me it means that if this God-thing is real, then any place can be a place where God can do amazing things.  Even if that place happens to be out of the way, what God does may start in an out of the way place but it doesn't stay there.  What God does matters so much, shakes the foundations of our human sensibilities and conventional wisdom so greatly, that it echoes in the powers of influence.  Jesus was the ultimate grassroots organizer that ended up changing the world by starting small, but what was small in the eyes of the world was great in its power and influence.

If this God-thing is real, that means what we do as a church among our small congregation matters a great deal.  If we allow God to be active among us, what we do together matters.  Just as what Jesus accomplished in the small villages near the lake shore impacted the world around it, so also what we do together can make a huge difference in our neighborhood, our part of the city, our metropolitan area, the states of Kansas and Missouri, our nation and our world. 

Are my thoughts too grandiose?  Perhaps.  But I walked among the small villages where God worked wonders on the shore of the Galilee, and I've learned that what matters is not the size or influence of a community but rather its willingness to allow God to work through it. 

Grace and Peace,

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