Contextualization: Where Do We Live?

In his magnificent introduction of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John, the Apostle proclaims that, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus moved into the neighborhood in order to fulfill His mission to reveal God to us and to be crucified and resurrected in the flesh for our salvation.

Ministry in the Midst of Community

The Son of God grew up in the marginalized community of Nazareth as a working class laborer. When the aspiring disciple Nathaniel hears about Jesus, he is incredulous that anything good could come out of Nazareth. Folks knew where Jesus lived. They knew his mother, sisters, and brothers, and they knew Him as the son of a carpenter. His extended family included a bunch of swarthy fishermen who would eventually become His disciples.

One would think that when Jesus embarked on His public ministry, He would leave this common life behind and elevate Himself to pomp and grandeur. This was hardly the case. Throughout His public ministry, Jesus continued to be an active citizen in His community, participating in weddings, dining in people’s homes, and doing good unto all. Yes, people still knew where Jesus lived and where he could be found.  Whether at the synagogue, in the marketplace, or through one-on-one encounters, Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom through His words and deeds. His connections to His neighbors were visceral as He wept for them sensing that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Our Lord experienced the joys and sorrows of life with His community. He took on their pain, suffering, and oppression all the way to the road to the cross. 

Becoming Part of the Weave

The Latin root of context means, “to weave or join together.” Jesus was a part of the weave or fabric of His community.  As God’s people, we are called to contextualization, which is just a fancy word for being a part of the weave. Do the folks in our community know where we live? 

If our knowledge about our community comes only through demographic studies, surveys, or occasional attendance at community events, then we are not in the weave. If our ministry efforts are merely transactional, providing a service for others to justify that we are doing our “Christian duty,” we are not in the weave. We are not in context until we do life together with our community in the manner of our Lord.

At Uptown Community Church in Washington Heights, our members are seeking to become part of the weave of their neighborhood. A group of us joined with our neighbors in a now four-year endeavor to clean, beautify, and advocate for environmental justice around a lot that was a public dumping ground for over 20 years. All manner of folks have become part of the weave from neighbors, church members, local businesses, construction workers from an adjacent site, and our state senator and his staff. We are all standing literally on common ground. Our church members are striving to keep the so-called boundary between church and community folks seamless.  Folks know where we live. In the midst of this weave, the fragrance of the gospel is becoming evident. Through the common celebration of the toils and joys of this project relationships and conversations are becoming genuine.  

As we embark to represent Christ to our community, let’s remember to follow His  example and get into the weave. Our neighbors need to know where we live so that they may see Christ in us, the hope of glory.

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