Unexpected Places

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Before reading this article you may want to read Mark 5 v 1-20

One evening I went out for a drink with a young Christian I was mentoring. We got chatting about how we became Christians. I told him that I had become a Christian at a C of E Church. ‘You’re an Anglican!’ he exclaimed in amazement, ‘but I thought you were a real Christian’.

We believe that God is everywhere so it seems logical that he should be in the most unexpected places (even the Church of England), but we often forget it. It is so easy to see him in the wonderful thriving church initiatives, but what about Monday morning at work? Or in the supermarket? So often these places can feel like ‘godless’ places, but maybe we need to look at them again.

Mark 5 v 1-20 is a reminder that Jesus can be found anywhere, not just the obvious places.

Jesus should not have been where he was in the passage, (according to Jewish custom anyway). For starters it is a gentile territory. Also this passage takes place close to a herd of pigs – something else the Jews considered unclean. Then we have the fact that this all happens close to a graveyard (Jews considered dead bodies to be unclean). Make no mistake about it; this is the kind of place that the son of God was not expected to turn up.

My friend thought it unlikely that God would be found in the Church of England, well that’s nothing compared to the idea that Jesus would be in this place. This all serves as a reminder that God is everywhere, even in the most seemingly godless places.

Jesus’ presence in this place also displays another truth about the ‘godless’ places of this world. In the passage shows us that, even when Jesus isn’t expected, he is still needed. Just because the area wasn’t Jewish it didn’t mean that the inhabitants didn’t need the messiah.

The people who lived in Gerasenes had a problem – the nut job living amongst the catacombs. He was shouting and wailing all day and all night. At first they had managed to at least tie him up, to keep him under some kind of control, but over time he grew stronger until even the metal chains that they tried to use wouldn’t hold him.

Jesus walks into the town, and cures the demon possessed man, without being asked or expected to do anything. The only man to notice his arrival at first is the demon possessed man himself. On such a humble welcoming committee Jesus could have decided that there was nothing to do here and moved on, but he didn’t. Jesus identified a need and then did something miraculous.

I find it is the same in life. We can see God in the places you’d expect, (your Jerusalem’s if you like); the big worship sessions, the exciting mission activities, even in the odd sermon. I wonder though, are these the times that we need him the most? Or do we actually need him more in the gentile areas of our lives, in the supermarket, in work, in the rush hour traffic?

Don’t get me wrong, I need God on Sundays, in fact it often takes acts of God to get me to church, but that’s nothing compared to what I need in the cold light of day come Monday morning.

When chatting to someone over coffee at church it isn’t that difficult to smile and nod sympathetically as they tell me about how their arthritis is playing up. Actually it isn’t that much of a hassle to pack the chairs away, or be enthusiastic about a mediocre sermon.

What I struggle with is Monday morning, when I am expected to be enthusiastic about spread sheets and word documents. When my boss is on my back, when the phone is ringing off the hook. That is when I really need the power of God at work in me.

Just to remain a human being at work when instructed to do something which seems stupid and pointless requires the Holy Spirit to be carrying out its work of sanctification in me. To not communicate my displeasure at 100 decibels to the driver of the bus that is 30 minutes late is sometimes requires a full blown spiritual battle to achieve.

This passage reminds me that even the areas of my life that I don’t expect God to turn up in, God is still working in me. Even in the boring and the mundane places, God is calling us. Which means we need to respond to God in these unexpected places.

In the passage we see two responses to God. On the one hand we see the response of the town’s people who are afraid of Jesus and reject him. On the other hand we see the response of the demon possessed man who begs Jesus to let him follow him.

When we encounter Jesus in unexpected places we also face a choice. We can keep Jesus neatly boxed up in our ‘church’ circles or we can choose to let him work in us in the unexpected places as well.

As the townspeople in the passage found, responding to Jesus can be scary, but as the demon possessed man also shows, the rewards are great.

When we’re running late and we see the homeless person up ahead of us selling the ‘Big Issue’ we can cross the road and motor past or we can let God work in us, by stopping to buy the magazine. When we are stuck in a long traffic jam on the way home from work, we face a choice. Do we get home as quick as we can? Or will we let Jesus dictate our actions and stop to let in the woman who has been waiting for a space to join the traffic for 20 minutes. Every day in the most mundane, boring and unexpected settings we have the opportunity to either follow Jesus’ example, or to ask him to leave that area of our lives alone.

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