By Paul Koch –
Does your church play the game of peek-a-boo Jesus? Is the Lord, through whom all things were made, treated as a hot commodity that is high in demand but short in supply? Does he make small, little appearances throughout the worship service only to be hidden just when you think he’s going to do something grand? Is the Son of God the tease that keeps you coming to church but is never fully given for fear that you might not come back again?
If so, if Jesus is treated as a limited offering that is doled out in small doses, fearing that the hoi polloi might get too comfortable and lazy, it is time to go elsewhere. I don’t care if your family has gone there for years, if it’s otherwise entertaining, if you like the music or the tempo of worship. If the presence of Christ is treated as a game, leave!
Jesus is not the icing on the cake. He isn’t that thing that we should be surprised by on a Sunday morning. He is the cake! He is the cornerstone upon which the whole foundation finds its correct alignment. He gives strength and integrity to the Church; by Christ alone the Church endures. He is the lens through which it all makes sense and by which we find meaning and hope and life in the Word of God.
Yet I fear that peek-a-boo Jesus is not just a game played in congregations on the fringe of the Christian traditions. It is game that is played in traditional, Bible-heavy congregations. Places with organ music and chanting and places with praise bands and long exegetical sermons. For the greatest place where Jesus is hidden is in a sermon that claims to preach in his name.
Back in the 50s, the theologian Gustaf Wingren got to the heart of the matter when he wrote in following in his work titled “The Living Word,”
“An authoritative Bible whose main characteristic is that it is verbally inspired is a book without a Master and consequently a book with a doctrine instead of a message, its only task to relate what God has already done instead of having to bring men into the sphere of God’s continuing activity. In that way a gulf yawns between he holy events of the Bible and the holy events awaited in the last times. Thereby the present is emptied of content. The present, on the contrary, must take its place as a worthy element within the history of redemption that the Bible reveals and that the Parousia completes, because the present is the time of the preaching of the Word and God is active in his Word.” (p.56).
In other words, in a church (even a church that respects and honors the Bible as the inerrant Word of God), Jesus can get trapped in a game of peek-a-boo in the very stories about him. Jesus becomes a history lesson on the one hand and perhaps a promise to look forward to in the future one the other, but as for here and now… well, that doesn’t much matter.
Rather, Jesus promises to be where his gifts are given. He is there in the proclamation of his Word, in the forgiveness of sins, the washing of the ungodly, and the feeding of the repentant. He is not limited in his grace or in the giving of his gifts. He is abundant. He is the one who feeds over 5,000 and has a bunch of scraps left over after everyone is full.
Church isn’t just a cute story time or a longing for better days to come. Church is the present location of Christ for you. And if he is he is being hidden from you, if he’s being slowly rationed out, perhaps it’s time to leave.