Let me ask you a question. Who would be the most difficult people to share the good news of Jesus with? A believer of other religions? An atheist? Or just secular people around us? My pastor friend says…it’s actually someone who knows him very well, like a friend or a sibling who grew up with him, because the person saw how bad he could be. Anyway, what I heard from many missionaries is that the most difficult people to reach out to are nomads. Why? Because nomads move all the time with their livestock and they don’t live as a large group. So if a missionary wants to evangelize them, he or she must follow their journey all the way, one family at a time. Can you imagine how tough it can be?
But the amazing thing is… in spite of such difficulties, there have been the dedicated missionaries actually traveling with the nomads to share God’s love with them. In Mongolia, a missionary (James Gilmour) followed their journeys for years and finally turned some of them to Jesus. And they built a church. But this church was very unusual. There was something very special about this church. Believe it or not, the church was constantly moving along with the nomads. How come? Have you ever heard about “yurt” or “ger” in Mongolia?
It’s basically a round tent covered with animal skin or felt. For centuries, nomads in Central Asia have used it as their dwelling place. It’s portable, easy to set up and take down. So guess what, the church that this missionary built was a yurt church, a ger church. This portable and movable church that can travel wherever the nomads go…how does it sound to you?
There is no nomadic church per se in American Church history, but we can find an example of church on the move from the 19th century. Yes, I’m talking about numerous Methodist circuit riders, the preachers on horsebacks, sharing the good news and teaching the Word of God. And here I’m also talking about faithful Christians who didn’t mind traveling far and wide to make any possible opportunities for their spiritual revival.
Many passionate Christians joined in tent meetings and Methodist society meetings for the purpose of living holier life in God. At that time, from anywhere, people gathered in the name of Jesus, a church emerged. The church could happen everywhere.
Then, how about now? Is the church still on the move? Are Christians still on the move to gather and worship? We all know that’s not the case anymore. Apparently, the church becomes less mobile and more resident. And church usually owns a building and property in a town. So now the word “church” even means a building structure. But don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that’s a problem. Time has changed. And the church has become more related to townspeople and rooted in its community through its steady local missions. It’s a natural change and also, a good thing. However, what I would like to point out today is… because of such material condition of the present church, we sometimes forget what the church truly is. We know that the church is about people, but sometimes as we see the church, we just see its image, its music and ambience, its building, its programs or childcare, its wealth. We say that the church is about following Jesus, but as we grow comfortable with what we do and where we are now, we do not actually move out and follow Jesus’ lead. So in this way, sometimes, we even make the church the place we would have it to be—not the place that it should be.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law, cures the sick, and casts out many demons in town. So what happens then? The Gospel tells us, “the whole city was gathered” around the house of Simon…the whole city! (Mark 1:33) What does it mean? It means, Jesus gains popularity and draws many people to him. This is a great material condition on which Jesus can embark on his ambitious enterprise. He may take that city and make headquarters of his new kingdom, build a great establishment with his followers, and grow his fame and power from there. It must be a great start. And it looks like the people in town want him to be there too. One morning, when Jesus goes out to a deserted place to pray, the Gospel says, “Everyone is searching for [Jesus]” (1:37). But here Jesus’ makes a strange decision. He says, “Let us go to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do” (1:38). Then, rather than going back to that city, he travels throughout Galilee. Jesus is on the move. Why? Perhaps, he knows that the material condition may confine him and distract him from his mission and ministry. Perhaps, he wanted to teach his disciples that to build the kingdom of God, they don’t need anything, any fame or power, but the good news.
Today, many churches face great challenges in this secular and atheistic world. Christians talk about the season of crisis. That’s true. As Christians, we should be serious. And focus on what the church truly is and check ourselves whether we are too much attached to the non-essentials, the material conditions of the church. As John Wesley defines, “the church is the body of people united in the service of God.” Wherever people gather in God, wherever people put their communal effort in following Jesus, there emerges a church. Among nomads in Mongolia, in humble places where people worship God, anywhere around us, the church can happen. I know in the future, it may be hard to keep the church door open like today. But it will be still possible to be the church together. And it will be still possible to follow Jesus’ lead and the Spirit’s guidance.
Jesus is on the move and the Spirit blows where it chooses. So let us be on the move to spread the good news and be inspired by the Spirit to touch others’ hearts with God’s love. We may see no hope. We may say we cannot do it anymore. We may seem small compared to the great challenges and changes. However, as the prophet Isaiah proclaims, even if we looks like insignificant grasshoppers, if God is with us, we shall renew our strength and mount up with wings like eagles! (And let me make sure, I’m not an Eagles fan). We all know, wherever Jesus goes, people experience the kingdom of God filled with grace, love, life, hope, joy, liberation, and healing. Jesus is on the move. So let us be also on our way with the good news to follow him. Wherever he leads us, let us go with faith. Amen.