Part 3: The Incarnational Life: God’s “No” -continued
I picked up my reading from Part Three of So Beautiful with chapter twelve and it seemed it started in a “clap of thunder” and “full sprint.” The Incarnation is “to live in the world, but not of the world.” My reading began with a heart examination:
“Or here’s another Jesus Metaphor-Faith is the ‘saltness’ that brings every food to life and makes it pleasurable. How salty is your life? How salt-of-the-earth is your church? Or has your salt turned to basalt?
I especially appreciated the call to memory of the prophet Jeremiah’s words to the exiled peoples of Jerusalem as they were being carried away captive to Babylon; “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters.” In other words, become a part of that community. (p.180)
“Incarnants are cheerful pessimists: We see the world as it is, and as it could be, while enjoying the world as it is, and as it could be.” Len Sweet (p.183)
This chapter is extremely thought-provoking. Culmination of the MRI model (missional, relational, incarnational) is in this final part of the book, So Beautiful. It is a call to action and I have found it very difficult to stay focused on the words without my mind wandering…interacting, and considering how my routines and attitudes might change in order to be more malleable and useful in the advancing of God’s Kingdom. I want to be a builder and beautifier of the Bride that is Christ’s…His Church.
This Incarnational section borrows the structure of part two, rephrasing and representing the “idea” of incarnation over, and over, and over, and over, and over again…living in-not of; becoming part of culture, but not losing identity In Christ. Metaphors, analogies, and various other illustrations flood the pages appealing to the senses and learning style of almost any reader. The inclusion of so much diversity and description in mission stands as a clarion call to Be the Church; almost begging the rhetorical question “what else is there to do in life; or what is life really all about?” This is it: allowing permission to the Spirit of the Living God to live in and through us in order to redeem, reconcile and restore all of creation. This, to me, is incarnation.
A secondary and very critical point underscored time and time again is the “not a formula and no templates allowed” directive. We must be fluid… “liquid” -living water. What works as an embodiment of Christ to the world in which you have been planted may not (and probably will not work) in a different culture and context. As I was reading this part of the book, another book came to mind that I have been enjoying this year, Ancient Christian Devotional. An excerpt I read just a few days ago from that book illustrated in a very beautiful and thoughtful way this “liquidity” of person and mission. Hear the following words from Cyril of Jerusalem:
“One and the same rain comes down on all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, red in the rose, purple in the violets and the hyacinths, different and many-colored in manifold species. Thus it is one in the palm tree and another in the vine, and all in all things, though it is uniform and does not vary in itself. For the rain does not change, coming down now as one thing and now as another, but it adapts itself to the thing receiving it and becomes what is suitable to each. Similarly the Holy Spirit, being One and of one nature and indivisible, imparts to each one his grace ‘according as he will.’ The dry tree when watered brings forth shoots. So too does the soul in sin, once made worthy through repentance of the grace of the Holy Spirit, flower into justice.” (Catachesis 14.12)
In the end, we are gardeners. Actually, in the beginning, along the way, and in the end…we are gardeners. Gardeners are what we are created to be. Isn’t it amazing how many parables and illustrations are used in the Bible and elsewhere to describe our relationship with our Creator? It amazes me and it makes me take notice. I will close this portion of my book discussion with a few final quotes and a plan to wrap up this review by the close of the weekend. Consider the divine gardener metaphors as you read these closing comments from So Beautiful…
“He who seeks the Bird of Paradise must put down a little seed.” -African saying.
“No matter who you encounter in life, Jesus has preceded you and prepared the way for whatever you are to accomplish. But the soil must receive the seed, or there will be no harvest. The seed must be planted into soil. You can’t get crops out of rocks. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,’ Jesus said, ‘it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ We must die to self to rise and bear ‘much fruit’ in the grace and love of God. And the smallest of seeds can become the greatest of shrubs and bear the greatest fruit: ‘The kingdom of God…is like a mustard seed.’” Len Sweet (p.211)
…i Crucified – yep.