John 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” (The Message)
I’ve discovered that the Message can be pretty hit or miss in its translations. Sometimes I read a passage and find it appalling at the way it has been translated. Other times it’s pure gold.
John 1 is one of those times that I think Eugene Peterson is spot on. Not only does it adequately get at what I think the verse is trying to say, but communicates very clearly some strong theological directions.
When I speak on this passage, I highlight several things, but my main point is John’s announcement of a new kingdom, a new way. The Gospel of John begins with, “In the beginning…” and is meant to evoke creative ties to the beginning of Genesis 1. John is going to tell us about the fulfillment of God’s creation and he just wanted to give us a heads up. It really is a remarkable passage.
There is another important way that we can understand and be transformed by this passage. It is also an important passage to view from the mindset of being missional. Just as Christ became incarnate in this earth, so we too are to incarnate him and his love where God has called us.
It means being actively involved where we live. Let me offer an example. My wife and I have chosen to walk as many areas as possible around our neighborhood. Quick grocery runs are now a little longer because whenever possible we walk. Why? Because I have yet to be on a walk where I haven’t run into somebody and been able to start up a conversation. If we would have driven, we would have missed those chances. We get a better feel for a neighborhood when we walk, we begin to see neighbors on a more regular basis, we become a visible presence in the community, and we have the chance to meet new people.
We have the chance to become living embodiments of Christ. Driving isolates us. We ride around in a car with the windows up, music on, and we become uninterested in things that are going on around us. The destination is seen primarily something to accomplish and be done with, it’s a thing to check off.
But by walking it becomes more about the journey. We read signs, notice different houses, engage with our neighbors, and take a moment to realize that the checklist is not important, people are.
We have started up new friendships because we walk, people see that we are a part of this community too and want to know what we think about it. I’ve talked to kids selling lemonade, adults caring for their yard, and families enjoying a nice evening together outside.
Jesus cares more about our relationships with others throughout the week than he does about our worship on Sunday morning.
And that can sound a bit harsh or critical, but it’s true. If the main focus of our spirituality is to show up on Sunday and ‘give something to God’ it’s really a meaningless thing. God wants us to be on a mission where we live to be salt and light to those around us.
Which raises the issue of what it means to be missional.
The debate has been brewing and simplifies down like this.
Attractional churches try to invite in. They say, “We have the best band, coolest pastor, nicest youth workers, and best fog machine. Come check us out Sunday’s at 10am.”
Missional church say, “Let me show you what Jesus is like. Let’s get together sometime for a great dinner party.”
One is focused on you come to us and the other says, we will come to you.
One places a high level of trust in a building while the other places a high level of trust in people.
One tries to impress, the other tries to serve.
One is the opposite of Jesus, the other tries to model him constantly.
Think about it, did Jesus ever say, “Hey everyone, just wanted to announce that I will be the guest speaker this next Saturday, you won’t want to miss it. Come on by and hear a pretty sweet band too. Their tambourine player just got back from his last world tour.”
No, instead he said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Jesus invited himself into peoples lives to show them the revolutionary love that God had for them. Jesus moved into the neighborhood. He knew the neighborhood. He belonged and participated.
We should too. Here’s a good test: can you name all of your neighbors (those on either side of you, across and behind you and at the diagonals)? When was the last time you shared a meal with them? Is your home seen as a refuge from the world or the opportunity to bring people into God’s story of love and redemption?
This week, take a walk in your neighborhood. Walk slowly and intentionally. Pray as you walk for opportunities to talk to others that also happen to be out. Be open and loving to those that you meet and use it as a time to establish (or build on) contacts. Don’t wait to invite them to the next cool function at church, instead invite them into your life, your house, and most importantly, God’s story.