“We can’t dispense with the formalities, George—there’d be nothing left.”
From the New Yorker, 10/31/16
A month ago Linda and I went to P.F. Chang's in Ann Arbor. I ordered a meal that I mostly get when I'm at this restaurant. After completing my order the waiter said, "I am sorry, sir. We are out of rice."
I was stunned. I thought of logical impossibilities like square circles and married bachelors. An Asian restaurant with no rice?
I saw the manager walking from table to table, confessing ricelessness to the patrons. When he got to us I had to ask, "How is this possible?" He said, "They are having trouble in the kitchen."
My thought was, "Then you had better get in that kitchen and fix this barren situation!"
On a sunny morning in the 1980s, when Linda and I lived in East Lansing, we went to breakfast at International House of Pancakes. I ordered pancakes. There was no maple syrup on the table.
When it comes to pancakes I am a purist. I don't want the strawberry syrup or the blueberry syrup or the fruity syrup. So, desiring maple syrup, I asked:
"May I have some maple syrup please?"
"Sorry," said the waitress. "We're out of maple syrup."
My response was:
The Big Absence happened two summer ago.
Linda and I were driving from Monroe to Chicago. We were on the Indiana Tollway, and stopped at one of the rest areas for lunch. Linda went to one of the fast food places and got a burger. I got in line at Kentucky Fried Chicken.
I can see the scene as if it were happening now. Three of us were in line. There was a man in front of me at the counter, I was behind him, with a third man behind me.
"I want a three piece chicken dinner," said the first man.
Often, in life, we view events through the framework of what we are currently immersed in. At Redeemer I was in the thick of preaching through the book of Revelation. I was thinking about Revelation all the time! I was reading and re-reading the text, looking at it in the Greek language, and studying the very best commentaries on the subject. The Greek title of this book is The Apocalypse. Apocalypto means "an uncovering," an "unveiling." Like someone who lifts the lid on a simmering pot of stew to see and smell the ingredients, in The Apocalypse God lifts the lid of what is to happen, and John the Apostle is allowed to look inside.
"I am sorry, sir," said the hostess at the KFC on the Indiana Tollway in the summer of 2015. "But we are out of chicken."
With those words the lid was lifted, and a fiery abyss appeared to my right. I heard the hoofbeats of Four Horsemen thundering to my left. The man at the counter did respond. He just walked away, like a floating, drifting planet that just lost its sun, or perhaps his faith.
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, and a voice spoke to me. I did not turn around as the voice said, "Did you hear what I heard?" Speechless, I nodded my head up and down.
My expectation, when going to Kentucky Fried Chicken, is to be served chicken. Anything less than this is unacceptable. It is the same with God's presence.
When I am with the Church I need to encounter God. I need to experience God's presence. I am like Moses, who despaired at the thought of God withdrawing His presence from the people. Moses pleaded with God, saying,
“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Every Sunday morning at Redeemer people are there who are desperate for God. They long and hunger and pant, like deer in the Judean wilderness thirst for water, for an experiential encounter with God. Anything less than this is unacceptable.