Keeping It Local – What does Christ’s incarnation teach us about engaging in our local neighbourhoods, committing deeply to the people around us, and transforming our communities? What would happen if we committed to our churches, each other and to our neighbours for the long haul?
A study on Isaiah 58:12 and John 1:1-14 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch. Part 2 of a series on Community
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
At the centre of our Christian faith is this idea that, at a specific point in time and in a particular place, God became one of us. A frail, tiny, crying, vulnerable human being. We call this crazy concept “The Incarnation”. By entering into our world and living as we live, Jesus was able to connect with people in a totally unique way. Despite everything else that God is, God isn’t human. We can’t see or touch Him, share a meal with him, cry on his shoulder or laugh at His terrible jokes. Jesus changed all that by showing us what God is like. For us to live as Christ did, to live incarnationally, we need commit to a particular time and place too.
So often we live totally separate, compartmentalised lives. We go to Uni here, we work over there, we play table tennis with these people, croquet with those, we worship in Cashmere in the morning, go to a bible study in Bryndwr in the afternoon and soak up a night service somewhere in Rangiora. But deeper than all this surface stuff, we find ourselves constantly in the process of ‘moving on’ to the next thing. If a friend really gets on our goat we simply won’t text them for a month… or two… or three. If a church service is boring often enough we’ll start thinking about other places we could go. At the heart of it, in practice, we really have very little commitment to anywhere or anyone.
But to live incarnationally is to fly in the face of all this stuff. It means giving up your right to ‘move on’ when the going gets tough. It says “no matter what happens, I’m going to stick this out”. When we make that decision to stick with it, we’re suddenly liberated to see the people and places around us in a new light. We begin to see how we can serve and be served. We start to have visions of what our community, church and neighbourhood could be like.
What kind of a difference would it make to your church, your life, if you were prepared to make that sort of commitment?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. John 17 says Jesus sends us into the world in the same way He was sent into the world – “As I was sent, so send I you.” What are the implications of this in the way we approach our mission in the world?
2. What difference would it have made if Jesus has just ‘commuted’ to join us for the working week, or perhaps even just one day a week, instead of fully taking on human flesh?
3. Why did Jesus become flesh as a male Jew from Galilee right at that moment in time? Why then, there at that time? Would things have been different if Jesus was a female or a Palestinian and in these modern times?
4. Is belief in the incarnation – that God took on human form – really a central pillar of Christian faith? How would Christianity be different without belief in the incarnation?
5. What examples are there in the bible that location and place are important to God? What examples are there of local Christian communities in the New Testament?
6. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” What does it mean to truly ‘dwell’ in a place? What is our own response to the incarnation?
7. God came from glory to dwell amongst us in Jesus, and at Pentecost, within us as the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Where should we dwell in the world?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. What are the implications for community in a culture that has moved from the front porch as a main place of hanging out and family outdoor life, to the back yard BBQ? What are some ways to reverse this? To what extent is it OK to have a ‘private life’?
2. Describe a situation in which someone who didn’t know you suggested a way you could have done something better. When has a friend got along side and suggested you work together to fix a mutual problem? What feelings do those different experiences elicit?
3. How would it feel to commit to one specific geographic location? What would be some of the sacrifices you would have to make? What would be the advantages?
4. It’s easy to imagine ourselves as the ‘saviours’ of our neighbourhoods, but living incarnationally also means making yourself vulnerable. How would you feel asking your neighbours for help? How could asking for help foster relationships with those around you?
5. What aspects of your location, church, home, work or study do you take for granted or see as a treasure or Taonga? Dream up five ways you, as a group, could have a positive impact on your neighbourhood. Pick one to try over the next month.
6. The internet, cheap travel, telecommunications, globalisation and suburban sprawl have all played a part in creating our spaced out, networked culture. How have these changes in society impacted on what it means to live locally? How have these things been good and bad in helping to deepen our relationships with others.
7. Many cultures celebrate dwelling with each other in different ways. In Iraq entire villages will be present in the streets and backyard of a family wedding clebrating together by dancing, singing and firing rifles into the air! How do our communities celebrate with each other? Do we see our community as an optional extra, a frustration, people to smile occasionally at, or an absolute necessity in our life?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
a) Find someone in your church or parish who has lived in the sameplace for over 20 years; if possible find someone who has been actively involved in the neighbourhood. Ask them to come to the group to be interviewed about why, and what changed for them as time went on. Ask about their connection to people, local issues and places. Ask if the way they were treated by other locals changed.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Less challenging: Print out a Google maps picture of your church and the four blocks surrounding it. Brainstorm ways you might better connect people within this area with each other. Look for strategic landmarks that may help.
More challenging: Walk the streets around your group or church or house, find one communal space that is run down or could do with some input (clean up, mural painting, fruit or native tree planting). Make a flyer for the neighbourhood and invite people to a ‘Working B’.
Many world conflicts occur as a result of clashing identity or clashing location. How should Christianity speak into these situations? Brainstorm practical and prayerful things that our group in our location could do to model community life without conflict.