“…so that I am present among them.” (Exodus 25:8)
It seems like a strange statement to us as Christians. Our theology talks about God’s omnipresence (God is everywhere), so a tent doesn’t really change that. The tent was, however, the place set aside for meeting God. As part of the rhythm of the post-Egypt life for the Israelites, the Tent of Meeting was the center of movement of the entire nation for 40 years.
After the clearing of the Promised Land, the Tent had a semi-permanent place, and still remained the primary place of worship. The aspect of being present may have been more along the lines of the focal point. Many years later, there were seers and prophets that didn’t necessarily reside near the Tent. They met with God in their own way. Ultimately, they too had to go to the Tent of Meeting for the annual worship events.
It reflects the reality that humanity needs that kind of physical center. As our lives become more digital, it is still to be determined whether humanity can really separate its psyche from the physical reality of existence.
The internet, its digital relatives, its predecessors (TV, radio, telegraph) were not the first extended form of communication. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was also extended communication. From the ancient perspective, the written letter was considered representative of the person themselves. The barriers in the ancient world (education, distance, cost) actually increased the “presence” of a mere letter. Not quite an ancient Zoom meeting.
Diplomatic letters didn’t always have a physical meeting before. A personal letter, such as Paul’s, usually did, and we can see that it certainly did. Paul’s words to the Corinthians would be treated more seriously and intimately than an email, tweet, or Facebook post.
Paul doesn’t shy away from his insecurities in this letter. We Christians often think of Paul as some great person (he was), but avoid his statements regarding his weaknesses. Without question, Paul would have been a champion blogger and writer of our day. He would not have likely been a convention speaker or YouTuber. Based upon his own declarations of his weaknesses, regardless of his writings, he may have never qualified to be a lead pastor of a church.
Lead Pastor doesn’t seem to have been his gifting, so this is not a bad thing. Through his presence, though, churches and communities were launched. Through his letters, churches were built up, disciplined, and discipled. Through his life, he brought up the next generation (Timothy) to lead. We often evaluate our ministry and giftings through the lives and gifts of others. Perhaps we ought to just evaluate them on whether we were present in others’ times of trouble when we had the opportunity to love them.
- Who is one Christian that you wish your ministry or Christian life resembled? Why? How does your life resemble theirs? Are your spiritual giftings the same as theirs?
- Who has made the biggest difference in your life? A famous Christian, or someone who loved you through your darkest times?
Lord Christ, helps our lives to be one of presence to others that they can sense your love coming from us and pouring into them. Amen.