Broken or not, we are created in the image of God and I think one of the great examples of human pride is the false belief that there is anything we could have done (like the concept of original sin and total depravity) that could ever completely destroy what God placed in our very essence.
We are not God. We are broken and fall very much short of our ideal, but we still carry within us the image of the Divine Creator. Because of this, our identity is formed not only by our difference from God but also by what we’ve seen God at work doing, who we’ve seen God revealed to be.
Before the beginning God existed as a complete Community of Love. Unlike the claims of some religions that hold the beliefs that the gods need human worshippers to maintain their power, we worship the God who needed nothing. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit share in a fully contained and unified community of Love. The full understanding the Trinity is certainly beyond us. But this much is clear, one cannot love without an object to receive love. Unlike us, God needs no external object because the Father loves the Son and Spirit, The Son loves the Father and Spirit and the Spirit loves the Father and Son. And yet, the nature of love is to make room for others to experience loving community and so God created. And when God created, God made room at the table for creation. However, this is not a story of a wealthy landowner simply throwing occasional parties at his mansion. Time and time again we see that God is not only willing, but apparently anxious to be out in the midst of those God loves.
I am grateful to Alan Hirsch for introducing me to the word communitas. It is a latin word that refers to community which develops and is cultivated among people who have a shared struggle, ordeal or mission. Like sports teams that endure long difficult seasons, or soldiers who share a foxhole, communitas refers to that bond that comes from being in a place where you have no choice but to depend on those around you. We see this in the very nature of the Triune God. Be it the act of creation or the redemption of creation through the cross, we find Father, Son and Spirit with a shared mission and apparently even a shared struggle. It doesn’t take away from God’s greatness to acknowledge struggle – because the struggle doesn’t come from God’s inability to overcome, but rather from God’s willingness to neither overwhelm creation nor abandon it.
If we are the people of God, created in God’s image, then communitas is going to be a vital component of our lives. When it isn’t, we know something is missing. This is part of why both gangs and fraternities are so popular – whether they are healthy or not, they are an experience of communitas. I also think this is why buddy movies, war movies, sports movies are so captivating – they tap into our desire to go through something significant with others.
Because God, the Community of Love, not only created us but made space for us within the Community, we see the importance and even centrality of hospitality. When we trace the story of Scripture we see over and again that God welcomes us into his presence. We see God clothing the naked and even the poorly clothed like Adam and Eve. We see God feeding the children of Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. We see Jesus feeding the multitudes, washing the disciples’ feet and going to prepare a place for us in his father’s home. (Which by the way, is a reference to ancient marriage customs…where a betrothed male would actually build a room for he and his future wife onto his father’s house. He would continue working on the room until the father decided it was ready to be inhabited and then the father would send the son to get his bride). Throughout the old testament we find God instructing the Israelites that they were to be people of hospitality – welcoming the stranger into their homes, making sure that foreigners and the poor were taken care of, even ensuring that they’d have a place at the annual feasts. Hospitality is a central component to the revealed nature of God and is a vital piece of identity for the people of God.
Hospitality means so much more than just inviting our friends to our house for dinner. It literally means to welcome the stranger…and if we take Jesus seriously, it will also include loving and welcoming even our enemies. It means caring for the poor. It means remembering those who are overlooked and forgotten by society. It means that we are a community that practices the customs of the new Kingdom, the Kingdom of God that is here but still coming. It means that we should live in a way that seems radical and even foolish in our get ahead at all costs society.
But again, God doesn’t merely welcome us in, God comes to us and brings his peace with him. In addition to hospitality we see that God is the preeminent missionary. In other words, from the very beginning to the very end and everywhere in between, God is not content to sit in heaven and watch our lives from a distance. God draws near. God sets up his tent among us. In Exodus we read about the Tabernacle. It was basically a large tent that the Israelites carried around with them. The Tabernacle represented God’s presence with the Israelites.
Several years ago I realized that in the Gospel of John when it is says that Jesus made his dwelling among us, the Greek word used is the word for tabernacle. In other words, like God with the Israelites, Jesus set up his tent in our midst…as Eugene Peterson says it in the Message, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. The cool thing is that when you read Revelation 21 – the end our Scriptures. It says that when everything is finally brought to its culmination, the new Jerusalem will come DOWN out of heaven and God will dwell with his people. Again the word is tabernacle. The dwelling of God will be with his people. From the beginning, to Jesus’ life to the culmination of all things, God chooses to come down and tabernacle with us.
How can we choose anything different? If we are God’s people, formed in the image of God we must seek to cultivate communitas – which means that our life in God will not be carried out alone but in community. We must be a people of hospitality, welcoming the stranger. But we must also be a missional people – a community sent out by God to dwell among the people, among creation, in the dark places where the light needs to break in.
These six things: discipleship, spiritual formation and worship because we are not God and communitas, hospitality and missional living because we are created in the image of God, are not meant to be the final formula to fix the churches problems. However, I contend that if we, as a church, can live into these principles we will find that we are in a place where we are more likely to witness God at work, praise God for what we see and answer the call to go and do likewise.