Yesterday our pastor asked me to go to a certain place to help set up a large tent for a meeting taking place this weekend. A church outside of town has a rural piece of property in a lovely setting that they have dedicated to making a retreat center, a place where people can come to be healed and filled with the Spirit of God.
We spent the afternoon setting up a large tent for the meetings, as rain is expected. Afterward, about a dozen men, women, and children gathered under it to sing, praise our Father and Jesus Christ, and to pray for the gathering.
The place is called The Nest, and the gathering this weekend is called The Feast. To be specific, it is the day on which Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles, a fancy name for feast of tents. A second tent will go in tomorrow as a venue for communion. Young families from many churches will camp on the property Friday night, while we oldsters sleep in our own beds and go join them for the group activities on Saturday.
I wrote a chapter on the feasts of Israel for my book, The Two Breads. Tabernacles (also called Sukkoth, or feast of booths) is a joyous week-long celebration of the olive and grape harvests in which Jews camp outside in flimsy structures to remember 40 years in the wilderness, and to thank and praise the Lord for his blessing of provision. During this feast they read portions of the book of Ecclesiastes, as they celebrate outdoors “under the sun” a phrase that is used throughout Solomon’s book.
In my view, Ecclesiastes is the greatest book ever written on the meaning of life, but he wrote it from the point of view of an old person. I think you would have to be old to understand it well. Younger readers just find it depressing, but I don’t. It’s an acknowledgment of the last stage in life, when we review our days on the earth and realize what truly was and was not important.
Camping out, away from the clamor of daily life, has a way of reminding us to take a break and review what matters and what does not. For Jews, the feasts were also their communion services. They ate the sacrificed lamb conscious of eating a meal with their Lord, as we break bread and take the cup of wine to do the same thing.
While I was there I met a man named Malcolm from Wirral near Liverpool in the UK, who came over to help with the event. He met with some of the organizers at a similar event in Wales recently and wanted to help with this one. He has a prophetic gift, but said he just came to be a servant – to help with whatever work is needed. I inquired about his occupation. He’s an actor. He said he has done some television commercials.
I asked him,
“What do you do when you’re not acting?”
Eyes twinkling, he began several times – pleased at the question – but struggling with the best way to answer it.
“Well, I’m not married, you see, so I just live by faith.”
“That’s fantastic!” I replied, because I knew what he was going to say next would be awesome.
“Some of me friends give me money to take trips like this and spread the message of the Gospel. I sleep in the back room of a church where I help with what they need, and they let me stay in exchange.”
I couldn’t help but feel I was transported into the world of Mary Poppins, and had just met a chimney sweep whose soot would make me very lucky. By the Spirit of God that lives in him and in me, I loved him.
As we continued the work of putting up the tent – holding up the poles, driving axels into the ground for stakes and tying them off – he shared that he had many God stories he would like to tell, stories about things God did in his encounters with people over his life in Jesus Christ.
“Do you also write?” I asked.
Again, his eyes twinkled in delight as he searched for words.
“Well, I would like to, but I don’t know.”
I pointed to his chest and said,
“If it’s in your heart to write your God stories, then nothing can prevent it. All you have to be is a witness. When witnesses come to the stand, does it matter how well they speak? All that matters is what they saw and heard.”
“Yes!” he beamed. I can be a witness! I never thought of it that way!”
After the tent was up, Malcolm called us together under it to praise the Lord, and pray. He stuttered as he prayed, and I thought he may have struggled to express himself all his life.
Perhaps writing his God stories will heal him as his stories heal others – not that I think he needs healing.
What his lifestyle says about God is already more powerful than words.