I love grocery stores. I have always loved grocery stores. I don’t know why. Perhaps it comes from watching too much “Supermarket Sweep” (a game show) in the late 80’s/early 90’s with my sister. Maybe because I live in a country where I always have my choice of food, it’s clean, it’s processed, it’s okay for me to eat. So, of course, I love Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee is our local grocery store. It’s a mid west institution (similar to H.E.B., Trader Joe’s, and Food Emporium in other parts of the country). It’s based out of Des Moines and has been part of my life for some time. Even in high school I worked at Hy-Vee. Besides my beloved United Market Street grocery store in Wichita Falls, TX, I love this place. You may think I’m weird or whatever, but I love grocery stores. Deal with it.
So, I like to frequent our Hy-Vee. They have recently done some remodeling. It looks pretty amazing. They now have this awesome Hy-Vee Market Cafe which is basically a sit down restaurant. Anyone visiting the Cafe can order off a menu or bring in food from the smaller venues (Italian, Chinese, fried chicken, salad bar, etc…) and have a sit and eat.
I usually have breakfast at the Hy-Vee before I go to therapy. (Going to therapy is a totally different blog post for a totally different time). I think I’m becoming a regular there because my awesome waitress, Nikki (shout out to Nikki) usually greets me with a smile, and a casual greeting “hey Pastor! Coffee?” I answer back “yep” as I get settled into my seat. Nikki knows that I don’t want cream with my coffee. She knows I like my hash browns extra crispy. She knows I don’t want butter on my toast. It’s a weird relationship. Nikki knows a lot about my eating habits; she knows I’m a pastor; she knows I like to read; she knows I have a husband and a child. I know she works at Hy-Vee and is dealing with some family issues.
I watch Nikki go about her work with the regulars. I am amused by the dance that happens. Older, retired men (usually men) come in and take their seats, ready to discuss the issues of the day (luckily, it seems, FOX News is on–what seems like–every station!) She knows all of them by name, and they all know her. “Want a cup for your coffee, Stan, or did you bring your own today” Nikki asks as another regular shuffles in. He removes his VFW cap (it seems this is part of the “uniform” for a lot of the regulars). The regulars are sassy with Nikki and she gives it back. And it hits me….
What is the difference between gathering at church every Sunday and gathering at the Hy-Vee Market Cafe every day (or even every week)? It would be easy to say “Jesus” and just leave the argument at that. But really, Jesus doesn’t just show up in churches (thank goodness). And other people might say “it’s communion.” And so I say what makes the hashbrowns and coffee that this group of men share any less Holy than the bread and wine we drink on a Sunday. Maybe someone would say “but we have fellowship at church–we are in a relationship with one another.” Yep–and so are the folks that gather at the First Holy Church of Hy-Vee.
So, what is the difference? Is there a difference? Is the gathering of friends old and new, over coffee and eats, any different than the gathering of friends (old and new) over bread and singing? Some might say “at Hy-Vee there’s no preaching” and trust me, after eavesdropping (purposely and accidentally) there’s some hard core “preaching” that goes on between these folks gathered at Hy-Vee.
And maybe instead of trying hard to find the differences between these gathering places, we highlight and lift up the similarities. Why can’t Jesus be at the Hy-Vee? Why can’t he be present in coffee and hash browns? We’re often quick to limit Jesus to where we’d like him the most: all to ourselves and in our own time. We want Jesus on Sunday for one hour a day in our church. But again, Jesus doesn’t work like that (again, thank goodness). Jesus is going to show up where, when, and how Jesus so chooses.
So yes, Jesus will show up on Sunday at your church (and every church for that matter). But Jesus is also going to show up at the grocery store; and at the bar; and at the post office; and at the bank; and while you’re pumping gas (I think you get the point). Maybe that’s what I’ve affirmed by my breakfast at Hy-Vee with coffee by Nikki and conversation with the “older man” crew: Jesus really is everywhere. Trying to limit the whereabouts of Jesus is nothing but a test of your patience.
Part of my operating theology (the idea that is core to my belief in God) is the scripture from Matthew 28:18-20 “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'” This is often called “the Great Commission.” And I take it very seriously. The most important word for me in this scripture is “Go.” Not “sit and wait for people to come to you” or anything of the sort. Go! Go to the places where Christ’s people are and encounter them (and thus, the risen Christ).
Yes, something amazing and special happens in church. We gather, we confess, we are forgiven, we hear the Word read, proclaimed, and sung. We offer, we eat and then we are sent. There is a rhythm to our gathering. But, it’s not enough to encounter Christ in worship and then expect him to stay there. It’s to us to follow Christ out into the world, attempting to spread the good news and doing work for the good in his name. So, be on the lookout for Christ next time you’re out.
I hear he likes to hang out at Hy-Vee.