One of the first places you meet Jesus is on the hillside. Indeed, this is one of the most frequent - and anonymous - places to meet Jesus.
Anonymity matters. To a lot of us, it does, anyway. I can't tell you how many persons I've spoken with who have told me they wouldn't mind going to church if the church wouldn't make such a big deal about their being there. And they have a point. The church got into a really bad habit about this several years ago, always taking time out of the service to draw attention to any visitors they may have in their presence. "Stand up, so we can see you." Or worse, "stand up and introduce yourself."
Then everybody claps as though you've done some amazing thing by showing up at their church, and it makes the whole situation not only embarrassing, but also a little shallow. Is the most amazing, most clap-worthy thing at this church that you chose to show up today? Yikes!
The great thing about the hillside is that it preserves your anonymity. It gives you the chance to hear Jesus speak, and it makes sure that He is the most amazing thing that's happening here.
Look at some of the hillside narratives in the Gospels. There is the feeding of the five thousand. And the feeding of the four thousand. And what's interesting about these stories is that in both of these narratives, one thing is missing: names. Not one person in the whole crowd is mentioned by name here. Not one. Nobody's saying, "And there were four thousand. And Jesus noticed Bill in the back of the crowd and waved to him." No. It's just people, coming to hear Jesus speak. Coming to be near Him. The story is not about who they are.
The longest of the hillside narratives, by far, is the Sermon on the Mount, where the crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak. Here, again, across three chapters of the book of Matthew, not one of these persons is mentioned by name. There's no Bill here. No Betty. Not even a Mary or a Joseph. There are just the "crowds," people who have come to hear the Word of God speak. And what's great about the Sermon on the Mount is that we actually hear Jesus speak. We know what He said. And these crowds, these anonymous crowds, got exactly what they were looking for.
He was speaking to them.
I've written about this before, but we need look no further than the Beatitudes for the demonstration of this. When Jesus said, Blessed are those... He know those were the very ones gathered on the hillside. He knew that around Him sat the meek, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He knew that He was speaking to the poor in spirit. They knew it, too. And because of the anonymity of the hillside, they were comfortable knowing He was speaking to them. They didn't feel called out by it. Rather, they were able to feel comforted by His words.
It's not very dramatic. It doesn't feel very personal, the hillside. Most of us think this must be a terrible way to meet Jesus, cloaked in anonymity, surrounded by the masses, tucked away in the back pew, but this continues to be the primary way that people meet Jesus and, we might argue, the preferred way for people to meet Him.
It's a chance to sit back and listen to what Jesus has to say without worrying about getting sucked up into this bigger thing that you may or may not be ready for. It's an opportunity to hear His words and let them sink into your heart, to figure out what He's really saying and, more specifically, what He is saying to you. It's a chance to enter into your own heart for a minute and understand the poorness of your spirit, your hunger and thirst for righteousness, and to contrast that ache with what He's proposing. The hillside, because it's not about you, is profoundly about God, and it gives you the chance to see for yourself, to hear for yourself, to consider for yourself who this Jesus is.
And it makes sure that the most amazing thing happening here is Jesus.
It's hard for us as churches. We want to be "seeker-friendly" and we're always thinking about numbers and making good contact and creating communities where people feel welcome. And all of that is well and good. But we have to remember that seeker-friendly isn't always seeker-sensitive and that most people who are looking for Jesus aren't looking to be dropped through a thatched roof into the midst of the whole thing.
They want to just sit on the hillside for awhile and hear Him speak.
So the best thing we can do as the church is make sure that's happening. Make sure that when people walk through our doors, tuck themselves away in our back pews, stake out a piece of the hillside for themselves, they can hear Jesus speaking. Not just speaking, but speaking to them.
Because this is a great place to meet Jesus.