On a recent preliminary visit to Eagle Pass, I took Highway 90, mostly so I could drive through Hondo and take a picture of the famous sign, “THIS IS GOD’S COUNTRY. PLEASE DON’T DRIVE THROUGH IT LIKE HELL.” Alas, the sign was not there. Maybe it’s down for construction; it wasn’t there a few months ago, either.
At any rate, the wording on the sign raises a good question: What is God’s country? Medina County? Texas? The United States? The whole earth?
I could chalk this up to a sort of Texan pride and Lone Star hubris. Since moving to San Antonio two years ago, I’ve noticed that Texans are rather proud of their state. Take, for example, my continental breakfast at a Galveston hotel last month:
What other state does this? I’ve never eaten nor seen an Iowa-shaped waffle. I have, however, encountered Colorado- and Wyoming-shaped waffles, but I don’t think they were designed with any cartographic intentionality; they were just squares.
To be fair, I grew up hearing the quotation from Field of Dreams, “Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”
Is God only in Texas? Is Iowa really heaven? Is God specific to one specific place? Where is God?
Sometimes we Christians send mixed messages about where God is. We talk about God’s presence with us. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest.” We sing hymns with lines like “Here in the place a new light is streaming.” Yet we also pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” So what is it? Is God here or there? I’m going to cop out and be very Lutheran, saying, “Yes. It’s both/and.”
In the Bible (2 Kings 5), Naaman is a high-up Syrian military commander who gets healed of his nasty skin disease, then wants to praise the God who made it possible. Thus Naaman asks to have two mule-loads of Israelite dirt trucked back with him to Syria. He is assuming that the God of Israel can only be worshipped in Israel, and so he needs to build a “mini Israel” on the trip back home to keep praising God.
The Israelites in exile have the same question: How can they worship God when they aren’t in Israel? “How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4). I just read a new and wonderful book of sermons and writings by civil rights leader Joseph E. Lowery, Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land. In the title sermon, Lowery draws upon Psalm 137 and notes that “a strange land is more than geography. Any situation or environment, any system that denies the sovereignty of God and the dignity of his children, is a strange land” (67-68). These strange and foreign lands of oppression and injustice might be foreign to us, but they are not to God.
I don’t need to truck mule-loads of Iowa humus or Texas loam with me to worship God. I don’t need a bottle of Jordan River water to have a baptism. God’s presence transcends all our human boundaries. In this new call, I will be an international boundary-crossing pastor. San Lucas has started a mission, Cristo Rey, across the border in Piedras Negras. I will have worship at 11 a.m. every Sunday in the United States and at 4 p.m. in Mexico.
What is God’s country?
God’s country is any place where people are longing for wholeness.
God’s country is any place where love is shared.
God’s country is any place where suffering happens.
God’s country knows no human boundaries.
God’s country is Texas. It’s Mexico. It’s Iowa. It’s all sorts of places we can’t imagine, but God loves.
Welcome to God’s country.