The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
He didn’t commute and then head back home to his place of comfort, to then repeat the process…he made his ‘dwelling’ among us. He ‘incarnated’ he became one of us. Jesus’ idea of incarnation, was much more than simply going to them, it had to do with dwelling with them, which literally means to be ‘fixed and to abide‘. Then Jesus does something crazy, he looks at his disciples and says,
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
So, one or two things has happened, either the Bible translators left out the part where Jesus makes multiple trips back and forth between heaven and earth, not really having to be like us, thus resembling our form of incarnation OR, we felt we had enough authority to redefine what it meant to be sent as Jesus was sent…
Today, there there is another popular phrase, ‘missional community.’ It is used and abused like bad dog. To, once again, attract people to sound like we ‘fit’ in we tag anything as a missional community as long it gathers together. But here’s the deal, usually what we call missional community could more properly be titled manufactured-gathering. Martin Luther King said this, “The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community.” In other words, God gathers us into the family of faith not only for our own sake, but also so that we might welcome justice and build beloved communities for the sake of the world. When we are committing to form families or communities around this reason, we are beginning to be missional, and when we go ‘dwell’ among, then we are beginning to be incarnational, and the truth is, I’m not sure I believe the two can exist outside of each other. Jesus’ incarnation could not be separated from is mission and his mission could not be separated from his incarnation.
Here’s the deal according to Perkins, “Not only is incarnation relocation; relocation is also incarnation. That is, not only did God relocate among us by taking the form of a man, but when a fellowship of believers relocates into a community, Christ incarnate invades that community. Christ, as His Body, as His Church, comes to dwell there.”
Often when this is talked about we have plenty of reasons why this isn’t wisdom, good-stewardship, safe, or the best use of our time, talents and resources. The truth is, relocating among the poor and broken flies in the face of the American individualism and materialism. To consider relocating, forces us to confront our own values. Have we accepted the world’s value of upward mobility? Or have we accepted God’s values as demonstrated in the life of Jesus Christ? This is the real issue behind the red-flags.
So, what should incarnation look like. Let me go back to Perkin’s word, ‘relocation.’ The first measurable of Jesus’ incarnation was ‘relocation.’ In order to become us, he had to relocate to us. In order to be the high priest that can truly empathize with us, he had to become us, he had to make our problems his problems, and to make this happen he had to relocate, he had to ‘dwell’ with us.
Here’s what we need to understand about relocating to the least of these, is that far more than the poor and broken need our money and simple projects, they need us—people. People with skills who will work with them and teach them how to become contributing members of society.
As hard as this is, we have to realize God never calls us to do something we can do in our own strength. I love the way Perkins puts it, “He always calls us to get in over our heads–to move out to where we’ll have to either depend on His power or sink.” He goes on to say, when we forsake the inner city so that our lives will not be inconvenienced by the suffering of the neediest among us, we flee the very mission fields we should be invading. We try to soothe our consciences with such token ministries to the poor that do not require living or working among the poor.
So, what is the reason and what does this look like? Again, we’ll rely on Perkins to inform us, “The work of organizing and building communities in distressed and excluded places is about celebrating the common grace of women and men, black and white, the privileged and the poor…it’s about finding ourselves together, working in common cause for a more just and human social order.” Here’s the deal, when ‘church’ is no longer defined by a Sunday gathering (I’m not suggesting we exclude it, just don’t define church by it) and real incarnation and missionality is the heart beat of what we do, then the church becomes a new distinctive social order that models the redistribution of wealth in demanding and faithful ways. When this happens, according to Perkins, there are heavy social implications to the equality expressed in God’s spiritual activity in this newly formed community. The habits and practices that sustain beloved community are the gifts of the church. Broken fallible, the church is nevertheless the one enduring source of forgiveness and reconcilliation in our violent world. When we are living life this way, then the church doesn’t just preach prophetic messages, but actually becomes a prophetic voice in response to culture and society.
Enough, what does a strategy of ‘relocation’ look like? Let’s, once again, turn to Perkins:
- Begin to build a certainty of Christian community. Take a year or two for preparation to let the Holy Spirit shape you into a united team, a strong Christian community. Meet regularly as a group to pray, to plan, to dream, to bear one another’s burdens
- Send a couple of the couples to some of the national trainings out there.
- Outline a community development target. Decide on a geographic area where you will work to reclaim a sense of community, and learn everything you can about that area.
- Build relationships in the community…start now building the relationships, and begin to listen to the people that are already there. In fact, spend your first year listening and learning.
- Move into the community! All the families in your group should move into the same neighborhood.
In closing let me take a paragraph out of Perkins book, With Justice For All,
“John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘are you the [expected] one, or shall we look for someone else?‘ Jesus in effect answered, ‘my actions speak for themselves. Go and report to John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.’ His works testified that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. The same test applies to us today. If someone were to come to your church and ask, ‘Is the Christ here or do we need to look somewhere else?’ what answer would your actions give?”