Flesh one with spirit.
Nature reveals the Divine.
All is connected.
But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God… — John 1:12, JB
One thing that has always delighted/frustrated me about my religious tradition is the Incarnation. This is the event in which the Word (Greek: Logos) of God becomes flesh in Jesus Christ. I find it to be an absolutely beautiful statement of God’s love for this entire creation, that in it God is pleased to dwell and even suffer as we do.
What irritates me is that belief in that Incarnation is the litmus test for faithful Christianity. If we simply believe that it happened historically, this one time, we can believe what Jesus says and all else is will work out. This aggravates someone like me who prefers there to be a practical component to religious ideas.
Now don’t get me wrong, beliefs are powerful, but mostly because they influence how we behave. When the Incarnation is taught as just a historical moment that we either accept or not and that that determines our level of faithfulness, I feel like we are missing a crucial, transformative point. Luckily, Jesus is good about pulling us back on track.
In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, it is said that Jesus gifted us with “power to become children of God,” literally “sons of God.” Now wait a minute… Jesus is the Son of God, yes? But if there is only one like Christ and it is because of the Incarnation, are we then offered power to be lesser children of God? Maybe…
But I don’t think so.
Jesus indicates that just as the Father sent him, so he sends us (John 17:18). He prays, “may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you” (17:21). After washing the feet of the disciples (including Judas), Jesus says, “I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you” (13:15). Indeed we are to love one another as he loves us (13:34), and he promises we “will perform the same works as I do myself… even greater works” (14:12).
All this indicates that Jesus didn’t expect us to simply believe in his historical and theological Sonship. Rather, we are encouraged and expected to participate in it! As Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, the love of God revealed in the flesh, so we are supposed to embody that Divine Presence!
Humans were created with the image of God upon them (Genesis 1:27) and the breath/Spirit of God within them (Genesis 2:7). In my Quaker expression of faith, this Divinity is always there, waiting to be awakened and embraced. What Jesus offers his followers is a reclaiming of that Divine image and breath. It is the recognition of the power of God within us and the rest of our fellow humans; a chance to take hold of our calling as those who are to care for creation and one another.
We are all supposed to be the Word of God incarnate. All of us are invited to embody the love, justice, and righteousness of God in our flesh by how we think, speak, and act toward this world and those who reside in it. The story was never supposed to end in Christ. He gave us a pattern for exhibiting unity with God that all of us are to strive for, whether consciously or unconsciously, by recognizing and acting upon the inherent worth that each of us has.
So here is what I want you to know: Yes, the Incarnation is a powerful teaching about Jesus. BUT. It is powerful precisely because it’s not just about Jesus. It’s about us and who we are/who we can be. We are beloved, powerful, wonderful beings called to use our gifts for the benefit of each other and the rest of this world. When we pursue such a calling, we join Jesus in embodying Divine unity as children of God.
You are loved, beautiful, and full of the Spirit of God. So let’s go out and live accordingly!
Peace be with you!
…That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving power among all nations. — Psalm 67:2, RSV
People have a habit of looking to our human institutions to solve problems. A good example would be this past week’s General Conference for the United Methodist Church. It should be known that every person had already decided how they were voting with regard to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ members in Christian ministry and marriage. While the circus may have been moving, as various speakers took to sharing their perspectives and beliefs on the matter, no one was going to be swayed away from what they had previously decided.
For myself and others, the results were disappointing, but certainly not surprising. The United Methodist Church serves the god of numbers, and whether it’s money, members, or votes, the biggest number is the clear winner, and obviously symbolizes the approval and work of God. Now, the UMC is not the only denomination or institution to function this way. Most human-based structures operate with the same basic understanding of power, and we look to such places as if this is where God has made His ways known.
The problem is this isn’t true.
As God declares in Isaiah 55, “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (verse 8). Indeed, God’s “ways are higher than your ways, and [God’s] thoughts than your thoughts” (verse 9). Just as God’s ways differ from our own, so the way God reveals Himself runs counter to human expectations, and there is no better example than Jesus.
When God made Himself known to us in the One who would be called “Christ” or “King,” He didn’t choose the way of Roman royalty. When He decided to deliver us, He didn’t become a general of legions, or the charismatic leader of an insurrection. When God wanted to teach us His ways, He didn’t spend all His time in the established Jewish synagogues or Roman temples, re-iterating the same old teachings.
No, all of Christian belief and practice began as a response to the God that shouldn’t have been. Our faith is dependent upon the child who shouldn’t have lived from a place that shouldn’t have mattered. We learn from the Teacher who shouldn’t have taught, the Healer who shouldn’t have healed, and the Prophet who shouldn’t have prophesied. Our King washes feet, our Deliverer suffers death, and the condemned Man brings us to new life in God.
Christian institutions have arisen in response to this story, and that is not a bad thing. It’s good to have a community with which we can grow in our journey. What is bad, however, is that for far too many people, the institution has now become synonymous with the God it intends to serve. Christianity has been represented by powerful organizations that look more like those who would try to silence Jesus than the people who initially embraced Him.
We have forgotten that the Spirit of God goes where It wants, and does what It wants. The Spirit cannot be wrangled or possessed, and it is not beholden to the written code of any church or government. Further, God’s Church is not confined to one set of walls. The Church is a people, filled with and guided by the Spirit of God, and it reaches across every boundary we humans try to erect.
If we want to see a change in the way the world seems to work, we must take our place as members of God’s Church and citizens of His Kingdom. Instead of looking to our government or church policies to heal this broken world, the task falls to us to live out our lives and relationships in the life-giving way of Christ. We are called to imitate the Incarnation, allowing the Spirit of God to become “incarnate” in us as we live according to the selfless example of Jesus.
This is not a call to abandon your denomination. This is not a call to anarchy. Rather, it is a plea for us to seek change from the bottom up, beginning with us and the way we choose to love God and others. As the UMC and other others have learned, human institutions have their limits, even when attempting to express something sacred. They will not always get it right, and they are not always the chosen method by which God reveals His will. Religions and governments may get things wrong, but when the people of God seek diligently after what is right, the Spirit of God still has plenty to work with.
It is my prayer that my brothers and sisters in the UMC will find comfort in the fact that God is God, with or without the votes. I also hope that those who are distressed due to governmental, political, or social issues will remember that no human power or authority has the final say. Instead, we should live intentional lives of service to each other in the name of the One who really is in charge, that His “way may be known upon earth,” and His “saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:2).