God is near. In John 1, we encounter a God, who became flesh and blood to dwell among us. God with skin on, here with us, Immanuel. It is absolutely breath-taking.
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
[I John 1:14 MSG]
All this so that we would see what God is like. So we would see this one-of-a-kind glory, this extravagant goodness, and this bountiful generosity.
This is the mystery of the incarnation (God in human form) that now by the Holy Spirit continues in us, the church. Our shared, everyday lives are to be a sign and a witness that God is near.
For are we not meant to be the community of God embodying the compassion of Jesus in the neighborhoods we live in?
Like Christ, aren't we to be faithfully present amongst our neighbors in the particularities of our places, seeking healing, peace, and the flourishing of all? Are we not called to be fit together brick by brick to be a dwelling place for the presence of God?
God is building a home. God's using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what God is building. God used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now God's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. [Eph 2:21-22 MSG]
This is why our current models of church fail us. For we are not called to be individualistic, spiritual consumers but followers of Jesus -- being formed and knit together to join God's work of transformation in the world. Much is at stake. For our current brand of Western Christianity seems to have not only lost its mooring but its spiritual vitality and social credibility. It has sold-out to nationalism, economic imperialism, and the idols of technological progress, materialism, and wanton individualism.
Alan Roxburgh, in Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World, argues that the traditional, institutional church (like other social institutions) no longer works; it is unravelling. The good news, however, is that underneath the unravelling, God is up to something.
“The Spirit is busy re-founding the church for our time... showing us how to embody a way of life that makes space for alternative patterns of organizing life together—not more and better church programming that tries harder and harder to attract people, but a thicker sense of community that joins people together more holistically and organically."
We are called to be the church.
To be an incarnational community that participates in and demonstrates God's goodness to our neighbors.
This is why we emphasize faithful presence over a slick worship gathering and formational practices over spiritual consumption. We want to join God's work already present here in our place, at our neighborhood dinners, at Turning Point community meals, at the Social Justice Book Club, at One Cup Coffee, and at the Methadone Clinic. We want to join with God's work of peace and wholeness in our community by partnering with the city, the schools, local nonprofits, our neighborhood association and other faith communities. And we want to live a way of Love here together in this place in a way that is compelling to our neighbors.
As the letter to Colossians puts it, “In Christ, the fullness of Deity is presently living in bodily form—and you [Colossians, together among yourselves] have the fullness of Christ” [2:9]. This radical vision of a local community incarnating the reign of God now, of God’s future penetrating the present through a Spirit-led extended family, was vital to the dynamic witness and power of the early church.
No one has ever seen God,
not so much as a glimpse.
This one-of-a-kind God-Expression,
who exists at the very heart of the Father,
has made him plain as day.
[John 1:18 MSG]
Jesus, our Immanuel, came to show us a God with us and among us. And as followers of Jesus, we too, are called to be God with skin — embodying the presence of God in the world. We are called to be a visible, viable, social alternative. We are to be a transformative community living life together rooted in our places, joining in God’s work of renewing all things. So that all those around us can see this God as plain as day and can experience God's love present with and among them.
by Jessica Ketola