But we need to get there by way of the Gospel. And the interesting thing about our Gospel reading for this morning is what Mark doesn’t say.
Pay attention to the silences. Mark tells us that Jesus “began to teach [the crowd] many things.” That’s great. But what exactly were those things? We don’t know because Mark doesn’t tell us. Mark tells us that simply touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak healed lots of people. But Mark doesn’t tell us the story of any particular healing.
Elsewhere in his Gospel Mark tells us what Jesus said and did. But not in this passage.
There is a lesson here, but what is it?
When Jesus speaks, we naturally pay attention. We think long and hard about what Jesus is saying. When Jesus does something impressive, when he miraculously heals someone, we naturally pay attention. We think long and hard about what Jesus is doing.
That is as it should be. Of course, we should pray and meditate on what Jesus said and did. But it is possible to lose sight of the forest for the trees. It is possible to get so wrapped up in what Jesus says and does that we lose sight of Jesus himself.
Jesus is a teacher, and we should learn from him. Jesus is a healer, and we want healing from him. But the most important thing of all is encountering Jesus himself, the very Word of God who comes to dwell among us as God with us.
The good news of this passage is not what Jesus says or does. The good news of this passage is that Jesus comes in the first place. This passage is an invitation for us to encounter the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the great teacher and healer. The Gospels invite us to accept Christ into our lives just as he entered into the lives of the people who saw and heard him two thousand years ago.
This brings us back to the point at which we began. Christ comes to us. And, as Ephesians says, Christ forms us into a dwelling place for God. Christ comes into our lives to take up residence in and among us.
Christ taught and healed two thousand years ago for the purpose of shaping his people into a dwelling place for himself. Christ comes to us now through word and sacrament, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to do the same today. Christ shapes us into a dwelling place for God.
That is good news of great joy. But what does it mean? What does it mean for us to be a dwelling place for God, for the God we know in Jesus Christ?
We can start with our own experience of different dwelling places. As it happens, I, who normally go nowhere, have just come back from a rafting trip on the Salmon River in Idaho. My “dwelling” during the trip, if you can call it that, was not much like home, and it gave me some perspective on what makes a dwelling desirable.
There were something like thirty people in our group. One was an old friend of Carrie’s, along with her husband. Other than them, we had never met anyone else in the group. For five nights, the thirty of us camped along the river. The nights were warm and clear, and there were no bugs, so most of us slept outside our tents. For that week, I and nearly thirty other people lived pretty much right on top of each other. We had no privacy.
Being crowded is a challenge in a lot of ways. One of them is basic hygiene. I will not describe our toilet situation, other than to say that it was rudimentary. A few of us managed to take a simple shower one time over the six days. I was not among them. Our guides strongly encouraged us to wash our hands constantly to prevent us from making each other sick. Mostly it worked, but at least one of our group went home with a viral infection that sent her to the ER.
Now, I love camping. The rafting was great. Our group was great. Carrie and I had a great time, and we’d love to do it again.
But it was also great to get back home, where I had the things I look for in a dwelling place, the things I lacked last week.
First, I want my dwelling to have enough space so that I can do the things I need to do in privacy. I don’t like feeling crowded all the time.
Second I want my dwelling space to be semi-clean, at least clean enough that I don’t have to worry about it making me sick.
And third, I want my dwelling place to be recognizably mine. Even when I camp, I like to spread my stuff around a bit so that my dwelling place for the night feels a little like home. At home, of course, my stuff is everywhere around me.
When Christ shapes us into a dwelling place for God, he wants the same things.
First, we need to create space in our lives for God. That means making intentional choices about how we spend our time. There are a million things we might be doing at any given moment. I think this is more true for us than for any people in all of human history. We are busy. For most of us, time with God will not just happen. If we do not focus, the best we can hope for is that God will be in the mix somewhere, God will be part of the crowd of options calling for our attention. In that case, we are not offering God a decent dwelling place within us.
So that’s a first question to consider: are we giving God adequate space in our lives? If not, how can we create that space?
Then, is the space we offer to God clean? Jews in ancient Israel had elaborate washing rituals. Jesus wasn’t too keen on them. But Jesus did demand a clean heart, the kind of heart from which come good speech and good actions. When our speech or our actions are not good, when we gossip and complain, or cheat and lie, we dirty our souls. We befoul God’s dwelling place in us. So that’s a second question for us to consider: are our lives “clean”? If not, what do we need to do to clean up our act?
Finally, our hope is that God will stick around, that God will “unpack,” that God will make himself at home in us permanently. This is not something we can do. We can work on providing space and doing our best to keep it clean. But “unpacking” is God’s work. God’s unpacking is the work of grace in us, grace which overflows into the spiritual gifts, especially the gifts of faith, hope, and love.
I see those gifts here at Saint David’s. God really does dwell here. Christ lives among us. We are God’s household, with Christ as the cornerstone. Thanks be to God for that.
But we do need to do our part, too. We need always to be creating space in our lives for God. We need always to work at making sure our lives truly reflect the one who dwells in us. May Christ help us. Amen.