Unfortunately, we read Jesus and the Incarnation through the lens of the Epistles which is less of a ‘kingdom’ lens and more of a personal lens. So we, as a Church, tend to emphasize the difference Jesus and the Christian way makes in our individual lives. I have come to believe that this is one of the things that makes the Church more inward looking. We focus on the intellect (which is also a reflection of the influence of the societies in which the early Church struggled – intellect was part of the male and therefore superior. Experience, life lived in the messiness of the world was more the realm of the feminine and therefore inferior – a bit simplistic way of putting it, I realize.) I know a very dear woman with the heart of a deacon who constantly struggles with the structures of the church that see outreach as a pouring out of money rather than an engaging in the community around us. In this way, I very much feel my vows as a deacon – even though they were as a transitional deacon. I don’t see my vows as a priest changing the focus of my vows as a deacon but rather as a broadening.
We tend to hold ourselves distant from the struggles of the community around us. For St. George’s, and this is true of many churches, those struggles are separate from us because most of us do not live in the community in which our church is situated. Case in point being that although I serve in a core community, I live in a new suburb almost as far removed from the realities of my geographical parish as I can be.
Paul taught us well on how to live in Christian community. But Paul did not do much to teach how to continue Jesus’ incarnational ministry in the larger community context. Jesus did but we tend to follow Paul’s emphasis rather than Jesus'. Is it any wonder that we can’t get our congregations to look beyond themselves. For years we have taught through the lens of Paul’s writings. Even the call to discipleship in the Gospels is seen in that light.
And it might even be one of the reasons why so many people have cut their connections with the Church. They don’t see a continuity. The teachings and the call to the Christian life are not reflecting the reality in which they live. But this is not something we can blame Paul for. Paul, interestingly enough, was the one that reached outside the traditions of the church to be relevant to the larger community around him. (Did I mention that I live in a creative tension with Paul and his letters). It was actually the Jerusalem Church that wanted people to conform to the Jewish traditions ie. circumcision.