Several weeks ago I found myself alone, walking the streets of Jerusalem. It was Shavuot, the Jewish holiday also referred to as the Feast of Weeks, and early in the morning and throughout the day, a sea of Jews in various forms of religious attire were walking from the Western Wall back to their homes and synagogues. You could hear calls to prayer from the Muslim Quarter off in the distance. Of course relevant to my own story, it was the day of the celebration of Pentecost, when God poured out the Holy Spirit on believers, giving birth to the church, and less than a mile from where I was walking was the traditional site where that occurred and Christian pilgrims had flocked to that place from around the world to celebrate.
You know, just a typical Sunday.
I had to stop and take it in and reflect on the magnitude of the place on which I was standing.
Later that night, hanging out at a neighborhood bar with some Jerusalem locals, most of whom were Jewish-American expats who had moved to Israel, I was talking about my experience that morning when someone said, “You know, this area has more people outwardly expressing their faith, more people seeking to hear from and experience God than anywhere else on this planet, and it isn’t even close.” And while he was certainly correct about the first part— we were after all enjoying beers within a stone’s throw of the singular cradle of two of the world’s largest monotheist faiths, and one of the two cradles of the other— I must admit that I kind of wanted to correct him on the second part of his statement.
Because if he had ever been at Pinewood early in the morning when the giant Study Bibles come out and the prayer time commences, or if he had every walked Baylor’s campus during the 72 hour prayer and revival week, or if he had ever been cornered in the towel section of Target with an aggressive suggestion that someone pray for him, then I think he might have reconsidered the “and it isn’t even close” part of his statement.
Waco isn’t Jerusalem, but it’s not for nothing that it has sometimes been referred to as “Jerusalem on the Brazos.”
A lot of people in a lot of places on the planet want to hear from God.
Later, after my conversation partners had left, I retreated to a corner table with my beer and ear buds. I had recently recovered from COVID, which is what kept me in Jerusalem longer than expected. But since no doctors were working on Shabbat and Shavuot, I had to wait until late that evening to get clearance to fly home the next day. It was quite a debacle, but there are much worse things for a person of faith than to be stuck in a Jerusalem bar just a stone’s throw from Mount Zion on Pentecost Sunday.
I had Jameson McGregor’s “Wild One” on repeat. I sat and sipped and reflected.
Though we try we can’t pin you down. You’re a Wild One.Jameson McGregor, Wild One
I have struggled with this idea of God my entire adult life. It began in my late teens/early 20’s when I intuited (at first) and then eventually figured out that Christian leaders used this sentiment of “God unbound” as an instrument of control and coercion. “Oh, you don’t like what’s going on here? It must be because your God is too small and too tame.” That was the company line. Without a good answer, I was faced with fight or flight, or I could join them and their “Wild God.”
I fought briefly, then I flew.
I took flight to a way of faith that, essentially, fulfilled the prophecy of their accusation. I’d show them a “Small, tame God.” I embraced the conviction that said, “Yeah, God can be whatever God wants to be. But God has chosen to be small and tame for our benefit.”
It was a true story, but it wasn’t the only story.
Fast forward through a lot of life, joy, grief, and failures, to a bar just a stone’s throw from Mount Zion. Maybe it was the buzz. Maybe it was the previous two weeks walking in the footsteps of Jesus with the saints. Maybe it was the residual effects of COVID. And maybe it was something, some one, dancing in the midst of all of those experiences, being let loose.
A lot of people in a lot of places on the planet want to hear from God. I’m one of them, and my hunch is that you are as well. I don’t know what, if anything, I’ll hear. But I’m listening.
(Adapted and expanded from a sermon I gave at UBC Waco on June 12, 2022)