Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Glory of God on Earth

Recently my shoulder got out of whack. I had bad posture and on top of that abused my arm and shoulder by carrying things that were too heavy, lifting in ways that I shouldn’t, and day in and day out for years using repetitive motion as a baker at work. Instead of modifying my movement and seeking help I carried on as if nothing was wrong until I could not work anymore. At that point I began going to physical therapy, I’ve had to learn how to adjust my shoulder position, and I will likely never be able to work in a kitchen again.

When my shoulder began to send signals to my brain that things weren’t right I should have acted immediately to care for it. But I didn't and things got worse. It wasn’t until I listened to my shoulder, sought help, and adjusted my behavior that my shoulder got better. Even now I need to be mindful of my posture and my movement in order to give special care to that part of my body.

Did you know that in the New Testament, the church is referred to as the body of Christ? He is the head and we are the body, joined together as one to continue advancing his kingdom on earth. The beauty of a body in this image is the way each part is necessary in its own way. For instance, even though my left and right hands are very similar, my right hand can’t act like my left and my left hand can’t act like my right. My liver has a different form and function from my kidneys. Some parts of me require extra care and protection. Some parts are good for bearing more.

Listen to this from 1 Corinthians 12:

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. 
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

I hope that you really read that passage. I’m terrible for skimming over Scripture passages in blogs and books. This one really ties it all together though. If you only glanced, go back and read it again. We’ll wait.

You good? Good. Cause we’re about to get deep here. Stay with me.

In the Old Testament, the word for “glory” was the Hebrew word “kabod.” This word kabod has connotations of heaviness or worthiness. But the glory of Israel, the nation, was not her armies but Yahweh. There are many instances of the glory of God in the Old Testament being associated with physical phenomena; the most memorable is the cloud that led the Israelites through the desert.

In the Gospels, Jesus is the glory of God. He is the physical representation of God on earth. He took on a body and walked among men and women, showing them the “glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)

Then, and here’s the good part, in the rest of the New Testament there is another example of the glory of God, the presence of God in bodily form. Have you guessed what it is?

It’s us.

We, the followers of Jesus, who make up the body of Christ and have the Holy Spirit living inside us, are the physical representation of God on earth. So, it is when we live and move and act as a body, valuing each member (each body part) as vital in their own way, that we bring glory to God.

Just like I needed to listen to the messages my shoulder was sending me and adjust my behavior, we need to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are not white North American men. They are crying out to us. They are in pain. We cannot keep carrying on as if nothing is the matter.

We must, for the glory of God, the body of Christ on earth, care for the parts of our body that are hurting. We must listen, seek help (educate ourselves), and adjust our behavior for the body to become mature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)

This is what it means to be a body. If we believe that it is Jesus and his message that will save this hurting world, we must live into our calling as his body. We must begin to function as his body. We are not called to treat each person the same, adopting a colorblind ideology, which ignores the pain in our body and our responsibility to change, this is so much harder and deeper than that. This requires great humility and sacrifice. This also means that we make space for women, people of all ages, and people of all abilities to lead and speak in the ways that God has gifted them without expecting them to adopt “traditional leadership” methods which are often reflections of the white men who have held places of leadership (power) by virtue of their entitlement then defined what it means to lead based on their own personalities.

This is good news for all of us. The body will function better, will be a more credible witness (to reference Brenda Salter McNeil) when each part is free to express the ways God has made them. For some people this will mean moving out of leadership, laying down a yoke that is heavy and ill-fitting to them. For others this will mean moving into positions of leadership, honoring the Lord with the voice he has given them.

I'm claiming this today. I am living into the ways I have been made by proclaiming this news to you. And my prayer is that you would, too. Together, we have beautiful feet. When we partner with the Lord in restoring the dignity of the image of God in every believer, inviting them to become more fully who they've been made to be, we participate in advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. And we bring good news to the world.

“How beautiful on the mountains are those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation.” Isaiah 52:7

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