Many people, who live beyond the bypass, don’t know D.C. like I do. They’re not even aware that Dodge City still has an official marshal, or that his name is Allen Bailey. In addition to his public duties, now more promotional than policing, Marshal Bailey is a painter of western art and a very good singer and songwriter. He and his wife, Cowgirl Janey, host a show on the local public radio called Western Swing and Other Things. I’ve sat around the campfire with both, so I emailed the Marshal and asked him to refresh my memory about the title of a song I’ve heard him play. Al Goodhart and Florence Tarr wrote the song, but you can hear a lot of different folk sing it: Guy Mitchell and Rosemary Cluny, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Red Foley and Gene Autry. Shucks, I suppose the Marshal and Cowgirl Janey sing it too. Here are the lyrics:
It’s an old song, but its theme is ageless: the notion that nature makes a more worthy sanctuary than anything built by us. The problem is that we don’t become ourselves, become more human, become who we were meant to be, by our contact with nature. That’s something that human beings must do for each other
Admittedly, retreating to nature, now and again, can help that process along. The Lord Jesus does so in the gospel.
And what is that temptation? To read life on his on terms, as only the fulfillment of his needs, his desires. We emerge from nature, which means, like all else in nature, that we have needs.
The temptation then shifts to the human scene, the source and center of our deepest joys and woes. Will Jesus give himself away in love of others, or will he selfishly try to make himself the center of his world?
The Evil One does get right to the point. You can’t be human alone, you can only be human with others, and to be human is always to be directed toward something. Humans are always striving, always growing, always yearning. That’s the meaning of the word “worship.” Either we worship something worthy of ourselves, something truly beyond ourselves, an utter mystery of truth and love and beauty, or we find something small and mean and make it our God, usually without the clarity of admitting that to ourselves.
Notice where the last temptation occurs. In Israel’s most sacred precinct, the temple.
And what is the temptation? That Christ can claim membership in his people, that he comes to the temple itself, only to test God, to upturn the order of creation itself by asking that God prove his love for a man, rather than man proving his love for God. To worship is to declare ourselves open to another, to a mystery revealed in a people, a love which claims us.
Nature, the great outdoors, the animals and all creatures of the earth, render God perfect homage, true worship, because they simply are what he created them to be. We are the only spot in the cosmos that has to decide whether or not we will become what God wants of us. We alone choose to love God, and we must do that in the most human of ways: in the company of others, in the place where his community assembles.
Do you think your attendance each week doesn’t matter? Imagine if everyone who poured into church on Easter and Christmas were here every week. That sign alone would be stronger than any preaching or singing. Indeed, both of those might be rather bad, but simple to see the mystical body of Christ gathered is to look upon the face of Christ. The place where I worship is with my brothers and sisters, the only face of Christ I’ve seen so far.
Deuteronomy 26: 4-10 Romans 10: 8-13 Luke 4: 1-13