“Being There” is the title of a 1979 movie, starring Peter Sellers. Sellers plays Chance, a rather simple middle-aged man who has spent virtually his whole life living on a luxurious Washington DC estate where he works as the gardener for its elderly, rich owner. His whole existence amounts to tending the trees and flowers during the day and watching TV at night, and he is completely satisfied to experience nothing more.
But when his rich old employer dies, Chance’s world dramatically changes. Not knowing what to do next, he walks the streets of Washington, experiencing the outside world for the first time. Through a series of unlikely coincidences, his gardener-simplicity comes to be seen as profound wisdom, and he rises to become the key adviser to the president of the USA.
The film is full of ironies about modern culture and politics that have been discussed by film critics and serious movie-goers since its release. But for me, the main lesson of the film is expressed in its title, the importance of “Being There.” Even if you’re not too smart, like Chance, good things can happen if you’re in the right place at the right time. For some jobs, the best employee is not the most skilled, but the one who can be counted on to show up, every day, on time
As I’m writing this, Round Two of the NCAA Basketball Championships is over, and this weekend the “Sweet Sixteen” will begin slugging it out. Relatively unknown Florida Gulf Coast University barely got into the tournament as one of the sixty-four competing teams. They were considered a “Fifteenth Seed” (sixteenth is the lowest). Most sports commentators and diehard fans laughed at their chances. Why were they even showing up? But here they are, having beaten two strong teams and ready to challenge one of the best teams in the nation this weekend — the first fifteenth seed in history to reach the “Sweet Sixteen.” By being there they made it possible for their dream to come true.
The followers of Jesus felt totally at a loss. They couldn’t save their Teacher, just watch helplessly as he was dying on the cross. Yet those who stood nearby and watched, just by being there, were able to hear his “Seven Last Words” and pass them on to us. And they were mysteriously empowered by observing his confrontation with suffering and death.
Being there is also important to us in our faith journey. Many believers say, “I can be a Christian without going to church.” I guess that’s true, theoretically. But I must tell you that over the years I’ve observed many people who attended church regularly, habitually, without much enthusiasm, who have had a powerful, life-changing encounter with God as a result of being there in a magic moment when the Holy Spirit touched their souls in a supernatural way. Author C.S. Lewis called this being “surprised by joy.”
In ABC’s celebration of Holy Week, we’ve tried to provide you with significant opportunities for being there with Jesus through his mission for our salvation. We invite you to experience the suffering road he traveled while carrying his cross to the place of crucifixion. We offer reflections on his “Seven Last Words” from the cross. We encourage you to get out of bed early Easter morning, as a few of his followers did, to discover that his tomb was empty because he had risen from the dead.
Being there at one of these worship opportunities may not seem important, but you may be surprised. The Lord may have a divine appointment in mind for you. Your part is not to decide what will happen; it’s just being there.
— Pastor George Van Alstine