12: Word made flesh #Lent2021

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. (John 1:14, 16)

When I was in training, I encountered many theories about what a pastor is and does. Nouns flew around: shepherd, leader, manager. Verbs, too: healing, guiding, sustaining, reconciling. Sometimes it sounded like I was supposed to be a CEO; other times, a badly trained therapist; still other times, a salesperson for the gospel. I was told to work out where I fit in the APEST model—apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd-pastor or teacher—and was told, simultaneously, that the church has no need for pastors or teachers these days. I explored Biblical metaphors—struggling Jacob, raging Jonah, and Simon’s mother-in-law, whose healing led to ministry—but the powers that be told me these reflections were irrelevant, even faintly ridiculous.

For a while there, I despaired. I believed I was called to study the Scriptures, listen to people, and facilitate worship and prayer; was I really supposed to run a café, too? Become an entrepreneur? Apply for grants which would silence me as a Christian? Or do any of the other things pastors are so often told to do? And if so, when, and how, and why?

So I fumbled my way into ministry, feeling vaguely guilty that I didn’t seem able to do more than just pastor. Yet as I reflect back on how my ministry has unfolded, I no longer feel guilty. For one thing clearly is, and continues to be, ‘the better thing’ for me: and this is the Word made flesh. Every time someone tells a story about the Word at work in their life, every time I see it being lived out, every time we pray in its presence, I sense the spirit flowing between us. This experience is always profoundly healing, sustaining, and empowering. It’s the source of all that is good in life; and I want others to experience it, too.

So how does this conviction take flesh in my work?

It means helping people notice the Word made flesh in their lives. It means curating spaces for them to witness so that other people can share in the good news, too. And it means interpreting how the Word continues to speak into and be seen in the world around us today.

This is why I preach from the Bible, and not pop psychology or management texts; and this is why we sing Psalms and pray prayers directly from Scripture. I want Biblical imagery, metaphors and language to fill each person, sloshing around inside them like Scriptural soup; I want the words of Scripture to lodge in each and every heart. I want Biblical images to shape how you see; Biblical language to shape how you speak; Biblical prayers to shape how you pray; Biblical habits to shape how you act. I want the Word to bubble up in you when you least expect it, surprising you, challenging you, comforting you, and guiding you, as you go about your daily life.

This is why I push for the Lent book each year, even when people struggle to write for it and I think it will never get off the ground: for it provides structure and impetus for members of the congregation to do solid reflective work, and to share it with others.

This is why I invite people to write Wednesday emails, and offer reflections in the worship service. It’s why I asked the small group and the youth group to focus on the Bible. It’s why I begin every leadership meeting with Biblical reflection and prayer, and why I keep encouraging people to read the Bible, and to learn the tools of slow reading, and to practice them. And this is why, when I am in conversation with people about their lives, I so often mention a Biblical story or passage and wonder aloud whether this is what we are seeing enfleshed here.

Because the Word became flesh and lived among us, and continues to live among us now, feeding, healing, reconciling, liberating, and empowering: and from his fullness we have received, grace upon grace. But unless we are steeped in the Word, letting it dwell in us as we dwell in Christ, we will not have eyes to see it or language to speak it. In short, we will miss out. Ω

Reflect: How is the Word made flesh in your life, your neighbourhood, your community? What images do you see? What metaphors do you use? What language comes to mind to describe it?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

Alison Sampson. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

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