You keep using the word incarnational. In your mission statement, in your blog, in your conversation, in your sermon, in your goals…all the time. It’s like your favorite word. But I’m not sure we’re totally clear on what it means…I know all the answers. God with skin on, God in sneakers, Word made flesh…I know all this because I’ve used this word a bunch, also. We’re hoping for the same thing. We’re hoping to make Christ visible. Awesome.
Except…I gave up so much chasing this idea. I built all these life choices around it. I prayed about it. I read all about it in the Bible. I read books. I did all my homework, and I was sincerely trying to be incarnational about this place. I was. And yet here I am eight months later and my soul is broken. I have been trying to hang on to some scrap of believing that God is anywhere, let alone that I am making him visible to others. I had this idea of Jesus in the desert.
You are not Jesus in the desert. If it makes you feel any better, I’m not either. You see, and this took me an embarrassingly long time to conclude…If I could live and look like Jesus here in this spiritual dryness and never falter or stumble…I’d have to be Jesus. And early test results have been overwhelmingly negative with regard to that ever being even remotely close to true.
Yes, I know. The Holy Spirit helps us and gives us the power to conquer sin. But can I ask you a question? Are you winning that battle most of the time? Honestly? Or are you more like me? Do you struggle sometimes with this absolutely overwhelming failure? Because some days I’m drowning. And then I’m panicking because if I’m the living representation of Christ, then I think this particular incarnation might have the spiritual equivalent a low back tattoo reading ‘no ragrets’.
But I read the Bible a lot. I read about all these beautiful things. About the broken jar and stuff…but I also need you to realize that there if you read 2 Corinthians 4 you’ll find some distressing promises:
We are afflicted in every way, perplexed, persecuted, struck down…
This is far from ideal. And yes, we bounce back, but still…we are basically promised that it will almost kill us. Woo?
It’s a lot of pressure to be Jesus with skin on when you’re a sin prone mess of emotions and failure who has been promised persecution, perplexing things, and general affliction.
So I took the matter to someone smarter than me, just to see what he thought. He thought it was funny. I did not feel that way. In fact, I might have been a little teary eyed because, seriously? I cannot be on all the time. I am going to fail, and unlike Jesus in the desert I know myself well enough to see that I’m occasionally going to sell my soul to bring bread from the rocks.
Maybe even to feed someone else. Maybe. But even when I mean well, I’m fighting this ugly darkness.
I tell him all that. In less put together words, of course. His response is immediate
“you aren’t the body of Christ”
It is…frustrating…to hear it worded like that. It seems so obvious, now.
Paul didn’t go to the ends of the earth alone. Jesus didn’t send the disciples out by themselves. And when the Bible talks about the Holy Spirit, it describes the gifts in this communal way. Some are strong here. Some are strong in other places. And the gifts are nothing if they do not support the weak places…
We are the incarnation of Christ. We are his body. So fellow body parts, I need to be very honest with you: there are things I don’t do well. There are places I fall every time. And no matter how much I try to fix it, it’s not working. And then you tell me that trying isn’t grace, so I sit here and I pray for change and I wait for change.
And I sit here alone, waiting for God to move in a way that makes me feel like I can make Him visible again. I sit here in the upper room by myself, so long after the disciples left the building. Together. And to be honest…it’s my fault I’m here alone. I never gave you any grace. I didn’t think these relationships were worth the fight until suddenly they were all I had. And suddenly the twisted picture of Jesus I’m incarnating looks too much like me. he hates what I hate. he thinks just like I do. And he is not Jesus.
And this is on behalf of all the burned out Jesus followers who have failed and tried to hide. All those of us who are tired. Who have seen ministry turn sideways. Who have been cussed at and hated by the people we’re trying to love. Who have seen all our efforts just tangle into a mess. Who have given all to follow Jesus only to find that the only thing lonelier than leaving everything is failing with nothing to fall back on. This is from all of us who are wondering what went wrong.
We need each other. We are tired of sitting here, waiting to become the body of Christ instead of joining it. And maybe we’re an ankle sprain that just needs some time to rest and be supported. It was never that we weren’t trying. We tried everything we knew.
We want to make Jesus visible. More than anything. I have come here chasing that.
But the body of Christ is together. And I’m sorry that I forgot that it included you.
And this is for the ones of you dreaming and planning to go, carrying the name of Jesus. The ones on fire to obey:
Please do. Please go. But remember that you can’t carry Jesus anywhere. He is heavy. And He is already there. It is His presence that is calling you, even now, from the safety to the edges of your world. And you should follow. You should. But you should remember that you cannot do one thing for people that He has not done. That you cannot save a single soul on your own. You should go first following Him. Training your eyes on Him. But also you should seek out His body. You should find the ones who can be strong when you are weak. The ones who have the gifts you don’t. You should know that you will never be enough.
The story ends too often in a burned out decision to leave the church. To find God somewhere else. To question whether you ever heard His voice at all. The story ends too often in crippling doubt and anger and resentment. The story ends too often with you, all by yourself.
Don’t be all by yourself. It happens so slowly. Scooting timidly away from the Jesus people who don’t think just like you. Assuming they’re wrong and sinful and dragging you down. Assuming they have nothing to offer to your vision. Assuming you can handle this on your own better than trying to muddle through with these people. It happens so slowly, and suddenly you’ve fallen apart. You’ve realized you’ve been wrong about some things. And you’re alone.
Relationships are hard. It’s hard to trust and love people who aren’t perfect. But this is the body of Christ. This is His arms reaching to hold you. This is His shoulder for you to cry on. This is the incarnation of Christ. This is what He’s coming back for. This is the bride He loves so much. When we love each other through the impossible…that’s when those around us can finally see Jesus. Maybe together we can really be incarnational.