Place, a real location in time and space, can be welcoming or hostile. Even the use of the word can elicit peace or violence. When someone says, “There is a place here for you,” it is a blessed invitation. If someone says, “Stay in your place,” it shows disrespect. The statement: “We’ll make another place at the table.” is opposite to “You are in my place.”
The difference between a place that is welcoming and peaceful and a place that is unwelcoming and hostile is the word of God. If God’s voice is heard above all other competing voices, there will be shalom. If the rants of racism and hatred dominate, there will be violence.
In Genesis 35, after Jacob experiences the presence of God, he named the place Bethel, “because God had spoken with him there.” In the Upper Room, Jesus was present with the disciples of Jesus by washing their feet and sharing the last supper. When the disciples of Jesus gathered in one place, the Holy Spirit came. (Acts 2:1)
A dedication of a home by Habitat for Humanity is a powerful message from God. God shouts that love should take on action and it was so. God says everyone should have a decent house to live in, and it happened. The power of shalom in a specific place is experienced because God has spoken.
City Church Denver began in a brewery called the Tivoli. In the midst of worship and service, that space became sacred. As the brewery coveted their space more and more, the church felt pressure to find another location. So it looked for a word from God.
Now the congregation meets in a Presbyterian Church, where only a handful of people had met and still meet in an old and neglected building. God is speaking that the house of the Lord must be treasured. God is also clear that the Christian life must be shared with others, so two congregations meet at different times in the same place. All voices of self-centeredness need to be silenced.
The brewery was not in a neighborhood, but the Presbyterian Church is. The neighborhood has a name and God speaks in it. People listen together in the city.
Joy was a member of the Presbyterian Church. In her 90’s, she was the first to welcome City Church into her space with open arms. She would sometimes stay for both church services, and even stay after the building was locked to continue to pray.
Joy had lived across the street from the church for decades. Her house is painted in striking colors with a big sign in her yard naming the neighborhood. People give directions from her corner house.
Joy died, and there was funeral. People talked and talked more. At least twenty people spoke briefly. The good news about God’s love was shared. People remembered Joy. One woman said, “I would see her walking home with groceries late at night, and I would ask if she was afraid. She made it clear that God was with her.” A neighbor said, “When the city tried to make her take the sign down in her yard, she just laughed at them, and asked us for our help.” Another said, “She could always find prizes for the next raffle to raise money for the neighborhood association.” A little girl said, “She gave me a coloring book and said I might not like it, but it did.”
Then someone commented about her life in the church. About 90 percent of the packed sanctuary did not go to the church. Someone asked, “How many of you received extreme pressure from Joy to come to this church?” Most of room raised their hand. “I think she finally got her wish.” Everyone agreed. There was a place here for them.
Of course the ultimate place is the one being prepared in heaven. (John 14) There God’s presence is full and complete. All competing voices will be no more.