Those are the wonderful words of Eugene Peterson, translating the wonderful words of John 1:14. For me, they describe the beauty of the incarnation where our God gives of himself by coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. There is a scandal here that, in the incarnation, we have Jesus…who is like God. But, perhaps the bigger scandal is that this shows that we have God…who is like Jesus. So, if we want to know what our God is like and, by default, what we should be like, we only need to look at the person of Jesus. God became one of us so that we can be like God.
Throughout history we have made clear that Jesus Christ didn’t partly “move into the neighborhood.” He wasn’t merely passing through. It wasn’t a “vacation.” He wasn’t “renting property” until a spot opened up in a better section of town. He moved in fully…he abided with us, he resided with us, he lived with us, he became FULLY human. And yet, we know, all along he remained fully God. It is the theology of the hypostatic union that holds together Jesus’ God-ness and Human-ness.
Throughout the last several years I’ve really been focusing on the beauty of the incarnation of Christ, that our God would become fully one of us. There is a sense in Scripture that, God needed to be fully human so that he could fully identify with our suffering and our lives and save us from “the inside.” Hebrews 2:17-18 puts it this way:
For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[n] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. (NRSV)
In the incarnation, our God went “All-In.” He didn’t go part-way. There is a sense that, if Christ were half-God or half-human or went into the incarnation half-way, then our salvation would be in question.
Using the incarnation as a model, I have viewed ministry as being fully incarnated into a community of faith and into a larger community.
Therefore, after twelve years in Girdwood I have understood part of my role as pastor to be fully immersed in the community around me. I don’t want to merely tell a congregation that I love them and that I’m there for them. I want to show them by the way I live and breathe that I fully exist alongside of them, that I’m fully engaged, that their community is my community, that their burdens and joys are my burdens and joys, that they are not just prayers to lift up but a life to be lived.
The same holds for a church, too. An incarnational church will be fully invested in the community around them. It, too, will go “all-in” with their ministries and mission. This also allows the persons who are part of that church to recognize that their lives outside of the four walls of the church are not outside of the ministry of the church.
And, I believe it’s not something that can be done half-way. In Girdwood, I think that’s why it was so important to have a pastor who lived in the community and didn’t just commute out from Anchorage one day a week. When the church decided that we should purchase a home (when the rental that was being used had gotten sold) they were very clear that our family needed to reside in the physical confines of the Girdwood valley. The persons in the Girdwood Church wanted to know that their pastor not only loved them and looked out for them and led them but was one of them. And, after 12 years, I was. Their community was my community. It was how I saw myself. I was as “Girdwoodian” as most of the people around me.
One of the things I’m beginning to realize two months into my time at Seward and Moose Pass is that, with my family still living in Girdwood to finish out the school year I can only go so far in making this place my home. I can spend 5-7 days a week down in Seward and Moose Pass. I can peruse the community calendar and see which events I should probably go to. I can engage the congregations on Sunday mornings and afternoons. I can head out to Coffee Shop and chat with locals. I can walk around the neighborhood with my dog and go to the gym. I can do all of these things but I’m still just going part way.
I am not “all-in” until Seward is the home of both myself and my family. I’m not “all-in” until that’s really our only house and our only school system. I’m not “all-in” until I can go to school plays and sporting events and club activities that keep our family fully invested in Seward and Moose Pass.
Until that time, I feel I’ll be somewhat conflicted.
Until that time, I can’t have a truly incarnational ministry in Seward.
Until that time, I’m only going part-way.