In my early years of ministry, I served a small congregation that practiced the tradition of having a children’s sermon during the worship service. As the second reading from the bible concluded each Sunday, the organist would start to play “Jesus Loves Me,” the congregation would sing those old, old words, and the children would make a beeline for the front of the worship space. The children loved this time with the pastor, and I loved the time with the children.
I had heard all the warnings from my seminary professors about asking questions in children’s sermons. Those warnings went something like this: ask a question, and you will lose control. Ask a question, and who knows what type of winding path your message might take! I often heeded those warnings, but on occasion, I completely ignored them and asked the children a question anyway.
On one particular Sunday, the Gospel reading was from John 1 and contained these words. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
As the children sat on the steps around me, and the first verse of “Jesus Loves Me” drew to a close, I asked them, “so, where do you think God lives?” Without any hesitation, and with barely time to take a breath, one little boy shot his hand in the air and said, “I know. I know. Come, on, I’ll show you.” Before I knew what was happening, he was on his feet, shot past me to the altar and was encouraging all the children to follow him.
Now you have to know that the altar in this church was what we call an “east wall altar.” It was tall, and sat flat against the wall with a high picture on the back of it. No one ever went behind it. Or, at least I did not think they did, even though there was about a two-foot space between the altar and the wall.
By the time I gathered my robes up so I would not trip over them, this little boy was behind the altar, urging the other children to join him back there, which, of course, they did. The parents and other congregants were laughing in their pews with a sort of “how are you going to get out of this one, Pastor” look on their faces.
As I made my way to where the children were now hidden, I could hear the little voice saying, “see it’s right there. That’s God’s door. It’s locked from the inside. He lives in there, and only comes out when he wants to.” I craned my neck around the corner, and sure enough, there was a door in the back of the altar, and yes indeed it was locked from the inside with no apparent way to open it.
While I was scrambling in my thoughts, trying to figure out what to do or say, another child asked, “how do you know he’s in there?”
“That’s easy,” came the reply. “We all look this way when we’re in church. We look this way, so we can talk to God – in here, where he lives.” Who says kids don’t pay attention in church!
Somehow, I managed to get the children back to the steps, and with some words that I certainly don’t remember, I tried to rescue that children’s sermon by talking about how God dwells among us and within each of us, and how we can see the face of God in one another. I’m not sure they bought it!
It is a good question, though: where does God live?
As this week began at Candlelight on Sunday night, we reflected on this question. Doing so, we considered those powerful words from John, “and the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” We thought about the words from Revelation 21 that declare “the dwelling place of God is among mortals,” and we pondered I Corinthians 6 that tells us that “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Finally, we were drawn into the words in I Peter 2 that call us “living stones” who are being “built into a spiritual house.”
Where does God live? Among you and within you! And if that is indeed the case, then we can see the face of God in each other. We can see the face of God in and through all of the wonderful and beautiful diversity of the human family. We can see the face of God in our bodies in which God has chosen to dwell.
As a conclusion to Candlelight, we blessed our bodies with the traditional blessing uttered over of a house – Christus Mansionem Benedicat – May Christ Bless this House, and we marked our forearms as though were were marking the doorpost of a dwelling: 20+C+M+B+16. In this year, 2016, may Christ bless this house. Upon leaving, everyone took a stone to remind them we are indeed living stones, the dwelling place of God.
It was a powerful experience – to have our bodies blessed as a place where God makes a home. Why not take those words Christus Mansionem Benedicat – May Christ Bless this House – as a prayer to begin each and every day, a reminder that others can see Christ in you and through you, and in so seeing, you can be a blessing to all whom you meet.
Christus Mansionem Benedicat – May Christ bless the house that is you so that you may be a blessing to others.
Have a beautiful week.
Oct. 26, 2016
Rev. Charlene M. Rachuy Cox and Rev. James A. Wetzstein serve as university pastors at Valparaiso University’s Chapel of the Resurrection.