What if God was one of us? (Dr. Lenny Luchetti)

In 1995, Joan Osborne asked us to consider, through one of her songs, “what if God was one of us”? Here are some of the lyrics:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

These words may make us cringe. Insinuating that God might be a “slob” just like sinful humanity gets our hackles up in a hurry. Osborne, to her credit, is at least willing to explore what the church has too often ignored. She seems willing to wrestle with the implications of the incarnation of God as one of us.

The truth is that God not only was one of us but, I believe, is one of us and one with us because of his incarnation in the flesh.  There is, to this day, an embodied member of the Trinity who looks an awful lot like a first century Jew but with a glorified body. The incarnation not only cost the eternal Son something over 2000 years ago, as detailed in Philippians 2, but perhaps the incarnation of the Son as Jesus Christ has an ongoing cost. Whether or not you agree with my conviction about the ongoing cost of the incarnation, you will no doubt agree that incarnation is costly. God’s willingness to come “from heaven to earth to show the way” by becoming one of us and one with us cost him greatly. And, since we too are called to incarnational ministry, we ministers have a price to pay as well.

What does incarnational ministry entail? For Jesus Christ, it meant laying aside divine privilege to take upon himself all of the pain, angst, sorrow, temptations, and trials of the human condition (See Isaiah 53). He did ministry by getting close enough to the people he sought to serve that he became one of them and one with them. He served primarily through solidarity. Clearly, he gave up much of his privilege and power in order to elevate those without either to a new level of living. He went from heaven to earth, from Son to servant, from eternal King to peasant Jew. That’s incarnational ministry!

Thank God we will never have to travel as far south as the Son did, but we too are called to Jesus-style incarnational ministry. Christian ministers visit those in prison to incarnate good news. We are called to roll up our sleeves not only to serve the poor and homeless but to share life with them. We must be willing to resource under-resourced communities even if it means spending less money on important, but unnecessary, audio-visual worship service enhancements and fellowship hall renovations. We need the courage to be a voice for the voiceless even if it means putting our own reputation on the line. Pastoral leaders use our position and power not to build our ego but to build up the culturally undignified. Incarnational ministry is costly!

There were two internal questions that surfaced in me often during my 15 years as a pastor no matter the context. First, how can my ministry incarnate the realities of Christ and his kingdom? And the second question was, am I willing to pay the price necessitated by incarnational ministry? To be perfectly honest, there were days when I chose to play it safe in the confines of my ivory professional tower. I regret those missed opportunities to incarnate good news. But on my better days, I got it! The more I got it, the more the people I served as pastor began to get it (though some of them “got it” long before I did), and once we got it together there was no turning back. The pendulum had swung and we became a church that existed to make Christ known through incarnational ministry that cost us time, energy, money, personnel, blood, sweat and tears.

Incarnational ministry is costly, but the ultimate price was paid by the God who became one of us.

Lenny Luchetti

  • B. Whitesel

    Good words and an important reminder.

    This morning I was dialoguing with my online students, I found a church called Steel City Church that portrays a different perspective of the last supper. You can find the picture here: http://www.steelcitychurch.com/Welcome.html I wonder what other readers might think: valid, invalid?

    Soong-Chan Rah reminds us in The Next Evangelicalism that there is a Western captivity of the church, aesthetically as well as sociologically. I think your posting starts us off toward a good discussion of what this means for a church that is (in Bolger/Gibbs’ terminology), centripel verses centrifugal.

  • Lenny Luchetti

    Interesting rendition of the last supper, for sure! It’s hard to tell, but it looks like the Jesus figure has both male and female characteristics- check out the shoes. I appreciate the ethnic and gender diversity of the rendition. I could be reading too much into the picture but it seems there is also a statement about human sexuality in the picture as well.
    Lenny

  • Charles Arn

    The question Dr. Luchetti poses–“What does incarnational ministry entail?”–gets to the very heart of what it means to be “missional;” both for a church, but also for each of us as individuals.

    John Stott, in his final message several years ago, made the following statement: “I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth. Here it is: Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.” Later he described “incarnational evangelism as: entering into other people’s world with Christ-likeness.”

    Thanks for your valuable reminder, Lenny,of God’s priorities… and of ours.

  • Jeffrey Askanazi

    I always have wondered why the incarnation was chosen to be in the form of a peasant Jew. Any thoughts on why the story unfolded the way it did?

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Good question, Jeff. God always seems to come to us as the under-dog. The biblical story is about Yahweh coming near to a bunch of Hebrew slaves (under-dogs), liberating them, and then coming into the world through those under-dog Jewish people. Why would God decide to show up through a peasant Jew? In short, because God seems to like when the cards are stacked againts him. It’s obvious why he came through the Jewish people. It was the fulfillment of the covenants with Abraham (“through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed” Gen 12) and David (“you will have a perpetual heir to the throne”). But the fact that God entered the world through pesant Jewish parents from podunk-ville (the sticks of Galilee), I think, points to God’s desire to give dignity to the down and out (low class shepherds were all the first witnesses to the incarnation of God).

      Good question,
      Lenny

      • Anonymous

        Thanks for the considered reply, however I remain in a quandry, which I’ll expand on by quoting 2 luminaries, the first a Danish pastor and the second, Tevya, from “Fiddler on the Roof”, the musical of a poor Jewish peasant in Russia pre WW I. The Danish pastor delivered a sermon, only partially tongue in cheek which went as follows”
        the Jews are a hard people to love, get 2 Jews together and you have 5 opinions, if I had been God, I’d have picked the Danes (for the Chosen People), they are laid back”. And no doubt they would have not rejected the Messiah. I wonder how David and Abraham, when recieved of Gods Promise would have reacted had they known their people were to have received and rejected the Messiah with calamities upon calamities to follow. My wife reminds me it was the Jews themselves that said “let His blood be upon us and our children”, but nonetheless, as Tevye said during a Russian pogrom (persecution) following his daughters wedding, as he gazed starward toward the Heaven’s “I know we are the Chosen People, but can’t you chose someone else occasionally”. So if God was one of us, I’d ask Him, “Why the Jews”?
        In any case we are where are, and no doubt the only salvation for Israel is to come to the NT, which I hope to contribute too, your program has been a real help. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Aaron Cloud

    Dr. Luchetti,

    Great ideas and challenged in this post. One thing that has stuck out to me in the Kenotic Hymn in Philippians is that not only does the incarnation of Jesus invovle an emptying but it also invovled a taking up or a taking on. For it also says in that passage that “he (Jesus) made himself nothing and took on the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” I think that this is part of the essence of incarnational ministry it is laying aside ourselves and our rights and taking up the challenges and the opressions of those to whom we are ministering. Jesus became human and as such he identifies with our sufferings, heartbreaks and trials and i believe that incarnational minsitry calls believers today to do no less.
    I am continually struck and challenged by Paul’s prayer in Philippians 3:10-11 “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

    Paul prays and desires to share in the suffering of Christ. THe suffering of Christ was on behalf of others as he ministered incarnationally. I think that if Christ suffered on behalf of those he ministered to, CHristians today are called the same standard of ministry – to share in the suffering of Christ as we take up the cause of the oppressed and face injustice in our world.

    • Lenny Luchetti

      Aaron writes: I think that this is part of the essence of incarnational ministry it is laying aside ourselves and our rights and taking up the challenges and the opressions of those to whom we are ministering. Jesus became human and as such he identifies with our sufferings, heartbreaks and trials and i believe that incarnational minsitry calls believers today to do no less.

      Well said, Aaron! Your observations actually address Jeff’s question above. Incarnational ministry, as you point out, is identifying with the plight, problems, and pains of those to whom we minister. That’s precisely what Jesus did and calls us to do in his name.
      Lenny

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