So I awake early one day this week and, unable to go back to sleep, switch on a podcast regarding the question of the body of God, as I am sure we all would After all, Scripture speaks of the face of God, the arm of God, and when God first shows himself in Scripture he’s out for a stroll . . .
Which set me thinking. About how despite all our attempts to keep him in His place, to nail him down – or up – God is always on the move in Scripture.
God is a God who is on the move. If you’ve ever read the bewildering account of Ezekiel’s vision of the Glory of God by the Kebar river, it is if nothing else a vision of God in Motion. Creatures, Eyes, wheels, wings, moving NSEW as the Spirit commands.
Right at the beginning, when God appears in Creation He is ‘walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ – the sound of which causes the Man and the Woman to hide. They’ve just sought to secure their own existence, but God is on the move. They hide after all a moving God might disrupt their incipient ‘life on their own terms’. God is not Safe.
When God rescues Israel from Egypt, to go with Him they must go on a journey, and always ready to move. The God of the Exodus asks only for a Tabernacle, a tent. For Israel must be ready at a moment’s notice to dismantle it as the people follow the pillar of cloud and fire.
And God seems less than impressed with attempts to build a Temple for his presence in Jerusalem, to ‘domesticate’ him. To give God a place to settle down in, so we can pay attention to our own lives without wondering where he’s going. We build a place in our lives, a quiet half hour in the morning, a visit or two to church each week to visit the domesticated God. The Rest Home God . . . But God is not having anything to do with our programmes of domestication
So significant is this aspect of the Life of God, that when Paul preaches the gospel to those wise Athenians, he begins with this very point The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands . . . You and I can’t do anything for God. We can’t be busy on God’s behalf and turn up once a week to give him a progress report on everything we’ve done for him. As God rebukes King David, ‘will you build Me a house?’
And then Paul finishes off, While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. You got God wrong. He’s not your domestic household God, or even your State God with his fine buildings, he is the dynamic Living God!
The Living God is looking for a house, but not one made of stone, but a living house, one that moves, indeed that walks. It is instructive how in Greek the verb to Live is the same as that to walk, which makes one wonder if in our sedentary age – and sitting kills you – then we are less in the image of the Living God who walks, who is always and everywhere on the move, as the wind blows wheresoever it will, not according to our whims and desires . . .
So when the tabernacle, the dwelling pace of God reappears – The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us – he is moving. ‘after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee . . .’ ‘As he passed along the Sea of Galilee . . .’
As he passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘follow me’. – literally ‘Come along after me’, walk behind me . . .
The announcement of the Kingdom of God at hand and the call for repentance is followed up by a call to move, to Follow . . . of course for God is not a stationary God.
But what does that mean? What does it mean to Go after Jesus, to Follow him?
In the early years of the Church, before the faith became domesticated it was far from respectable. And so when ‘they were first called Christians’ it was a term of abuse. In these days, it must be said, for various reasons it is again becoming less than socially acceptable to be a Christian. So some folk look for alternatives, like ‘Jesus Follower’. Cool, eh?
But what does it mean? What does that phrase summon up for you? Hearing the words ‘Follow me’?
If we are at all alert, then that question begs another question, a question asked by Thomas Lord, we do not know where you are going! How can we know the way? Follow Jesus! Yes! But where?
We’ve just sung ‘Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name’ Of course in this case Jesus doesn’t even call them by name . . . But will you? . . . Are we up for being Jesus followers?
Yet the next line . . . ‘will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same’
(Much as I appreciate the ministry of John Bell, I think that if he’d left it at that, rather than supply lots of suggestions as to where this might lead it would have been a more truthful if less popular hymn . . . after all it’s a lot easier to come up with our own definitions of what it means to follow Jesus than to follow him . . .)
Jesus said to them ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men’. Jesus has fished for men, and they have followed him, they in their own part will fish for followers who will go with them . . . but where?
Come with me, where you don’t know, and I will change who you are . . .
To follow Jesus means changing location, it means moving from where we are to somewhere else . . . but where?
To move is to change. If we go somewhere else in any meaningful sense we change. Tourists never really go to the places they visit – they think that other countries exist for their benefit, and as we know all too well here in Aotearoa, we get by by existing to fulfil the fantasies of the tourists.
But when you go somewhere to live there, to live in and become residents of another country, you change.
Our story is that of Abram who is called to leave his country for a land the Lord will show him, to Live there.
Which perhaps is why we like to keep this God fixed, in a Temple, or in some convenient idea which is pretty much the same thing, so we don’t have to go anywhere. Certainly not go somewhere we don’t know.
If we know one thing about Jesus’ disciples they don’t see where he’s going, until it’s too late . . . but they go anyway.
Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately [Behold!] they left their nets and followed him. Mark’s ‘behold!’ word is ‘immediately. After all there are these fishermen doing what they’ve always done, and What?! Without a word, they just go after him? Their action would have jarred their family and friends, woken them with a jerk. The Living God is at work. Look! They left their nets and followed him . . .
To follow Jesus entails a journey of change – to become different people. Perhaps that’s why we prefer to worship a god who is happy to be in a Temple, rather than the one who moves?
On the other hand, perhaps we too like the fishermen might go with him? And allow him to make us to become different people?
Lent is soon upon us – our study material is on precisely this movement and change – we are all invited to the journey