This post is part of the ‘Re-Imagining Discipleship’ Series: Insights and reflections from Seed’s 2023 Summit.
“I know I am who I am because somebody loved me. Somebody cared for me. Somebody attended to me…. I cannot conceive of whatever witness I have been able to bear of the cracked vessel I am without acknowledging I was born into love”
Words I am consistently struck by of Dr Cornel West when he introduces himself in a public event. It cuts to the very heart of what it is to be human, in relationship with others and the kind of impact we can have when we choose to love. Love in a way that is beyond any romantic notions, loving in a way that has a reckless generosity, a deliberately sacrificial love that seeks a shalom (complete wellbeing) in another, a nurturing intent with a purpose of thriving, a consistent choice to attend to another that humbly supposes a result and doesn’t merely hope for a pleasant experience. This is my understanding of the love first shown to us by our God. A love that is central to God’s story unpacked throughout scripture.
At Seed’s summit in November, we held a conversation about the challenge for any organization or group who wants their action grounded in Christian identity but has a significant portion of stakeholders who don’t share that story.
How do we effectively, meaningfully, and appropriately carry good news among our non-believing colleagues and clients? How do we invite people who don’t know or share our story to join in?
Assumed in the discussion was a framing of the Good News, as the love of God directed toward us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Through these three movements: the life of Jesus, His death and His resurrection given as a gift that shouts, we are known and can know of a love that can shape all our lives.
Our discussion reflected on how this kind of love is expressed best by Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas when she declares “we have been loved into loving”. As we considered how we might invite people into God’s story we recognised the importance of embodying this other-centred love. How it can form people in incredibly powerful ways and encourage them toward thriving in their lives. We reflected on 1 Corinthians 9:19 and 22 (loosely translated from the New Living Translation): When I am with those who are other, I share their otherness, for I want to bring the other to know Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to sozo some.
Sozo in Greek is translated often as “save”. Yet I think that translation can be unhelpful because the word sozo has a depth of meaning that includes keeping one safe and sound, to make well, heal, restore to health, to make whole, a flourishing.
For much of my walk in the Christian faith, I struggled with this notion of sharing the Good News. Somehow a sales process snuck into my formational understanding. I had to convince people, win them, convict them of their sin and tell them they needed to repent. It was a neglected duty I regularly felt deep guilt about as I have never really been any good at selling anything. As I have reflected on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and their central place in the Good News, a paradigm shift in my thinking has begun. The dominant movement in all three is the embodiment of this mysterious love of God toward us. Intense and unrelenting. Full of grace and mercy. So, in our discussion I chose to focus on what it means to invite people to share in God’s story, focusing on three qualities of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that embody Good News. Those qualities are i) intentional, ii) sacrificial and iii) liberative.
His life – Intentional
Jesus was deliberate and guided by His Father’s purposes. He appears to have, from a young boy, been determined to discern what His Father’s will was and to be completely obedient to that1. We considered Brown’s thought in her work Braving the Wilderness; especially bridging gaps of difference where she says “It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt. We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us… We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”
In our workshop, we considered Jesus’s life, a strong feature was His ability to intentionally be with people that, we the readers, would have been considered as different to Him. The persistent result of an encounter with Jesus was shalom, healing, joy, peace, and transformation. We discussed how in the context of Australia, difference has become a dividing force and people seem to be seeking tribe for safety more than ever. We explored how this is driving a deeper desire to belong. The experience of togetherness has become extremely important.
We reflected on a couple of questions to consider how to better understand our relationship with those we hope to invite into God’s story:
How does any gap between you impact ’togetherness’?
- What makes them uncomfortable?
- What makes them feel connected?
- How are they different?
- What opens connectedness?
This opened some rich reflections on how shared values, important life moments, hardship and great joys provide a sense of connection. How we make sense of moments in our lives, both good and bad. How these moments provide an opportunity to explore how we make meaning of key events. Of importance was the power of going through experiences together in team environments, how this can deepen connection and chance to embody the way of Jesus and infuse those relational experiences with hope, and joy. How they open dialogue about what it is like to have a loving God who is always with us, no matter the circumstance. Importantly, much was also shared about going through the mundane together. Doing our lives as faithful servants and just being consistently present in another’s life brings us many chances to see God’s love and purpose in our lives.
His death – Sacrificial
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). I am not sure of a more poignant definition of the love of God that Jesus embodied. It’s difficult to process that we have been died for as an act of love. It’s an extraordinary truth with transformative meaning.
Thanks to Scripture, we do not have to guess what Jesus expects for His sacrifice for us. To abide2. To follow3. To live an abundant life4. We explored what it means for our relationships with folks who know little of or have chosen not to accept this love. How might we embody a sacrificial posture toward them? During our discussion, we used Seed’s persona tool to better understand those we hope to embody a sacrificial love toward. It is so refreshing to consider their hopes, needs, challenges, and longings and how we imagine God might reveal his ways and purposes during that person’s life either directly or through our relationship with them. Again, folks described wonderful moments of simple generosity, supportive accompaniment in work settings, providing and receiving assistance in moments of struggle and celebrating other seasons of joy. Perhaps what was most encouraging was the understanding that sacrificial love is often not a one-off, dramatic event, but a consistent kind and faithful presence, a generous attending, and a disposition toward the wellbeing of another that Jesus seems to use very powerfully.
His resurrection – Liberative
Throughout Seed’s summit, we took time to imagine. Imagine what God will do in our contexts, in our sectors of ministry and work, in the lives of those we serve, and those we do life with. How might Jesus break into our worlds, disrupt systems and have a liberating impact on realities that are far from what He designed them to be, and how might we participate in those moments?
I have deeply valued the work of N.T. Wright and others on unpacking the meaning of the resurrection. For much of my faith journey it meant primarily the forgiveness of sins. So true. However, I have come to see that the resurrection also holds the tremendous hope of new creation. Best put in Wright’s words “The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbour as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”5
In my experience of Summit and having the chance to listen to the imagined futures many shared for their work, ministry, families, and professional and personal relationships, I was reminded that this encouragement of Wright is very much alive in the minds and hearts of those who attended. It was so genuinely encouraging to see the commitment and optimism people have for God’s work, our participation in it and how we can embody the ways of Jesus for redemptive impact in the world.
A final thought on Summit
Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas offers this amazing framing of Mary’s experience when she was pregnant with Jesus. How extraordinary it was that in a “first-century world that a young girl without a husband would be pregnant and live to proclaim it. For an unwed pregnant woman in Mary’s world was subject to being stoned to death. And even more impossible would be the thought that this unwed girl would be pregnant with the Christ child.” She beautifully describes Mary as being pregnant with impossible possibilities6.
In our awe-deprived society, we can live out a life that is pregnant with impossible possibilities, not because of our capabilities but because we are invited into God’s purposes, His kingdom at work on earth as it is in heaven, and we get to witness in wonder and awe and be thankful for our chance to join in.
For further scriptural reflection:
- Luke 2:41-52; John 14: 27-31; John 8: 28-30; Phil 2:1-11; Hebrews 5:7-10.
- John 15:4
- Matthew 4:19
- John 10:10
- N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church