On becoming the fabric of your ‘hood

(NEW GUEST POST (yay!) by Curt Hinkle, long time area director of Young Life and lifelong advocate of “being Jesus with skin on” to kids. In light of the present back-to-school and election seasons, his message resonates as timely and clarifying. Indeed, as we attempt to engage a broken political system and roiling community division, the call to become the fabric of our neighborhoods is a real opportunity to mend the fractured peace we grieve. It requires that we recognize our kindred human nature and respond in kind. It is so simple that we doubt its capacity to affect change. But, what would happen if we began to invest in the people around us? What could happen if we understood that our most powerful purpose as Christians begins with the ordinary work of seeing people?)

In the world of Christianity, we tend to focus on two major events – the birth of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection. Thus churches find themselves overflowing on Christmas and Easter. Consider the famous creeds that many of us repeat regularly in worship – Apostles or Nicene. Here, a portion of the Apostles Creed:

I believe in Jesus Christ,

God’s only Son, our Lord,  

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,  

born of the Virgin Mary, 

suffered under Pontius Pilate…

The creeds skip 33 years of the life of Jesus! N.T. Wright, commenting on this, wonders if the gospel writers might say, “Wait a minute. What about all the stuff we wrote about Jesus’ life?”

Since the creeds have been turned into church curriculum over the years, much of the “stuff of Jesus” is overlooked in favor of his incarnation, death, and resurrection. As a result, I fear we have filled in the blanks with something else, likely moralism. What I mean by moralism is a focus on moral improvement, behavior modification, right behavior, becoming a ‘good Christian,’ etc. It’s all the stuff we typically think is associated with being a Christian, none of which Jesus said or even implied.

What about all the stuff written concerning the life of Jesus? What should we be doing with that? My experience suggests that we immerse ourselves in the New Testament gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Why? Consider a couple statements Jesus made to his disciples after the resurrection and prior to his ascension:

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21)

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  (Matt. 18:19-20)

Jesus instructed and expected his followers to take his lead as to how to do life and how to invite others to do the same. As we read the Book of Acts, we don’t hear the disciples asking the question, “So, how were we supposed to do this?” They knew how and what to do because they had spent three years with the One sent by the Father. They watched. They participated. When the Holy Spirit came – their “go time” – they simply did what Jesus did, “as the Father sent me, so I send you.”

For 21st Century followers of Jesus, it is imperative that we spend disproportionate amounts of our scripture reading immersed in the Gospels, hanging out with Jesus, learning how he was sent so that we can do the same. John 1:14 tells us that Jesus took on human form: “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” (NIV). However, Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase, The Message, really captures the essence of the incarnation…

“The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”

When God came in human form he indeed moved into the neighborhood! Even in a cursory read of the Gospels we can see him weave throughout the lives of people of various cultures – people of various economic and religious strata. In Luke 4, Jesus announced his mission to people outside the religious system (Luke 4:16-21). As one continues to read through Luke, Jesus, a rabbi, can be seen among the people who were outside the religious system, people rabbis did not mingle with. Jesus had become part of the fabric of the neighborhood. His very presence was good news (gospel) to the people with whom he came into contact.

“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” It’s really quite simple.* We have a great privilege in our neighborhoods/communities. As Christ-followers, God’s spirit is in us and therefore our very presence in the lives of those around us becomes good news (gospel) to them. Theologians call this incarnational witness. I like to call it “becoming a part of the fabric of the community.” It’s what we are called to do.

This concept became painfully clear to me about 15 years ago thanks to my youngest son, Jonathan. He was a freshman or sophomore in high school. I was the director of Young Life in our community. Young Life is an outreach ministry in which adults of faith walk intentionally into the world of teenagers for the express purpose of becoming good news to them. We as staff and volunteers were very good at becoming ‘part of the fabric’ of the high school community.

Jonathan and I were at Walmart one day. After checking out, the cashier said, “Thank you. Have a good day,” as they are wont to do. I grabbed our merchandise and we headed out the door. As we exited the store, Jonathan inquired as to why I didn’t respond to the cashier with a “Thank you” or “Have a nice day” also. I’m sure I gave him some sort of dad-type answer to justify myself. But God didn’t let me off the hook. As I lay in bed that evening all became clear – the cashier received no response from me because she didn’t matter to me. She wasn’t a high school kid, a possible volunteer or a potential donor to our ministry. She was nothing to me!  When we follow Jesus’ lead and become part of the fabric of our community, ALL people matter. Period. And we get to be “Jesus with skin on” to those we encounter as we do life.

*A friend of mine wrote a short epistle of the simplicity of our ‘job’ based on the “Parable of the Growing Seed.”  He has given me permission to share it here.

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