Earlier this year an intruder broke into St. Paul Lutheran Church, Waverly, Iowa. He did considerable damage. Among other things, the image of Jesus was damaged. A copy of an original created by a Danish Lutheran sculptor, the statue that stood on a pedestal behind the altar had its right arm broken.
Recently the Jesus statue, with arms extended in welcome (or benediction), was sent away to be restored. As of this writing, the pedestal is empty. Jesus has left the building.
For some members of our congregation, it's Advent in midsummer. We've entered into a time of waiting — for Jesus' return to his pedestal.
For others, it's more like Ascension Day. Martin Luther once memorably said that Jesus had to go away so he could be with us — everywhere and always.
Jesus has left the building. So where is he?
One thing is certain. He's not frozen in plaster, standing on a pedestal, safely tucked away where he can't interfere in our lives.
I see Jesus everywhere in this congregation of 1,900 baptized believers. (If you do a mental checklist, you'll see him at work in similar venues in your faith community.)
Jesus is over at the nursing home. Sometimes he looks like the students from St. Paul Lutheran School, visiting the residents. Sometimes he looks like the residents, caring for one another as effectively as does the staff.
Jesus is in the church kitchen. He looks like the women who serve funeral lunches so mourners whose souls have been fed can have their bodies nourished too.
Jesus is over at the senior center. He looks like the couple that picks up meals and delivers them to the homebound.
Jesus is over at the local college. He looks like an ambitious student who organized a highly successful campuswide campaign this past spring to help the ELCA defeat malaria in Africa.
Jesus is in a home office, composing an epistle for the editor of the local newspaper. He looks like a persistent letter writer, who reminds readers that God has a preference for the poor — and so should we.
A church sanctuary is a great place to meet Jesus. But then we need to follow him out into the world. Because Jesus has left the building.
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