I Was There

Posted: November 13, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

By Matt Horantickets2

I’ve been mulling over a phrase.  Frankly, there’s something about this phrase that, when I say it, just seems to have gravity.  I keep saying it over and over, trying to figure out why.  What’s the big deal?  Let me share it with you.

“I was there.”

Have you ever said that before?  Do you know what I mean?  When you say it, there’s something about it that just has impact.  “I was there.”

“How about that game yesterday, huh?  What a finish!”

You grin and nod, “I was there.”

“Did you hear that inauguration speech?”

Grin and nod, “I was there.”

Did you hear Matt’s amazing sermon this morning?

“I was there.”

What’s interesting is that you can get a better view of the event if you’re not there.  If you’re watching a sporting event on TV, they’ll zoom in to the most important things.  They’ll replay the most important moments.  They’ll show you different angles when there’s controversy.  And they’ll provide 2-3 people to tell you what’s happening and what they think about it.  You’ll be much better versed on what happened if you watch it on TV.

If you’re watching someone give a speech on TV, they’ll zoom right in on their face, and you can adjust the volume so that you can catch every word crisply and clearly.  You can even turn on the subtitles on some TVs.  Then once again, when it’s over, 2-3 people will be right there telling you what you heard and what they think about it.

And on top of all that, you don’t have to wait in line to get a snack or a drink or use the bathroom, and you don’t have to pay for parking.  There are dozens of good reasons that it’s much better to not actually be there, yet when we can, we say it with such satisfaction!  “I was there.”  What’s the big deal?  What’s so great about there that we don’t have here?

One of my favorite parts of Scripture is Psalm 139.  Hear these words:

“Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

if I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

your right hand will hold me fast.” [v. 7-10]

If we were created in God’s image, and if God is a God who is there, then it is only fitting that there is something deeply fulfilling when we can say that we were there.  We are at our best, we are most like our Creator, when we are there.

God shows his omnipresence in Jesus Christ.  God did not choose to do some sort of saving work from afar.  He didn’t watch us on TV, didn’t write us a letter, didn’t send us an e-mail.  God stepped into this world, into humanity in its entirety.  He loves us, and so He decided that He was going down there.  So He lived with us, talked with us, and walked with us.  He listened, He cared, He met people’s needs.  He healed.  He forgave.  There was disease, poverty, slavery, racism, war, hate; and of all of the places for the Creator of the universe to be, he decided that he would be there.  And next time you pray about things that have happened that really hurt you or hurt the people that you love, remember that the God to whom you speak can say to you, “I was there.”

There’s another phrase that has similar gravity.  I sat with this one as well, and it’s not one that makes you grin and nod.  Try this one:

“I wasn’t there.”

Sometimes we like saying it because it gets us out of trouble or gets us off the hook.  We throw our hands up and we announce, “Hey, it’s not my fault.  I wasn’t there.”  Saying this can relieve us of responsibility or ownership of any problems that have arisen there.

But other times, its not something that feels good to say.  Have you ever left a sporting event, thinking that it was over, only to find out later that you missed an amazing comeback?  It hurts to think that you could have been there, but weren’t.

What’s worse is when someone really would have been helped by your presence, but you weren’t there.  Maybe you have an excuse, maybe there’s a really good reason, and maybe they let you off the hook, “It’s okay, don’t worry about it.  I know that you wanted to be there.”

Do you have moments in your life when you weren’t there?  Can you feel the difference between saying “I was there” and “I wasn’t there”?  Even if not being there got you out of taking responsibility, or even if you had a good excuse, there is a vast difference between the feelings that these two phrases give us.  And as we hear the Scripture today, and as we consider who God is, and as we consider that we were created in God’s own image, the reason is clear.  We are created in the image of a God who is there.

When we are present, we are being true to who we are.

When we are absent, we try to rationalize our being someone that we’re not with reasons or excuses.

“I couldn’t be there to worship God with you because…”

“I couldn’t afford to share what I have because…”

“I can’t meet together with a small group because…”

“I don’t have room for someone new because…”

“I can’t be present because…”

“I wasn’t there because…”

There are plenty of becauses, but there is no because that can be inserted there that can change the fact that we were created to be able to say “I was there.”  No excuse can change who you are.  You were created to be there.  I have a friend who told me once that they weren’t going to be going to church on Sunday morning because they’d gone to a wedding the day before.

They said, “That counts, right?”

What if it does?  If you’re trying to check off all that you think you need to meet the minimum Christian church-going requirements, then sure, let’s have going to a wedding “count.”  So now you can say “I wasn’t there because I went to a wedding the day before.”  Unfortunately, that excuse still starts with, “I wasn’t there,” and to have to say that is to not be like Christ.

See, when we can say, “I was there,” a third and even more powerful phrase is unlocked for use.  Try out how it feels when you can say, “We were there.”  That’s the spirit of the Scriptures.  That’s the spirit of the church.  That’s what the church should always be able to say. Do you feel the power in that?  Do you feel the possibilities to effect change, to offer love, to offer reassurance, to change the world?  “Don’t worry—we’ll be there.”

Offering our presence creates a connection.  By being present in worship, present in small groups, present for those who need us, present in the various moments in the life of the church; we connect to God, and to each other.  A good excuse might get me off the hook, but it doesn’t connect me to God, and it doesn’t connect me to others.  This is who we are—people created in the image of a God who can always say “I was there.”

We are people created in the image of a God who can always say “I was there.”  Therefore, we are at our best when we can say, “I was there.”

…and the church is most able to offer hope and love to this world when it needs us when together we can say, “Don’t worrywe’ll be there.”


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