IVP - Online Pulpit - Being and Seeing Christ

October 17, 2011

Being and Seeing Christ

By Jamie Arpin-Ricci. He is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood.

Outside of Scriptural record, no Christian has received more attention in art, literature and the wider culture than St. Francis of Assisi. This unusual saint had the audacity to believe that Jesus actually wanted Christians to do what he taught and the naivety to do so himself, as literally as possible. While such “absolutist” obedience sometimes resulted in awkward blunders and extremist behavior, more often than not it resulted in God’s kingdom powerfully emerging in his world.

Of all of his reckless obedience, it is his loving service to the lepers that has most stood out to me. People of Francis’s day lived in perpetual fear of the disease, with any sign of white splotches on the skin resulting in devastated lives. They were declared “dead to the world”, their property seized, their freedom eliminated and their social status dissolved. They were cut off from everything and everyone, living at the mercy of others, doomed to disfigurement and death.

So why would Francis choose to spend so much time and energy living among and serving these outcasts? Some historians suspect that the complications in his health and eventual death were the result of long-term exposure to the disease. His loving devotion to the lepers was surely one of the most beautiful and powerful examples of being Christ in others. In so doing, he stood as an example to both his fellow Franciscans and the wider Christian community that watched his movement with fascination.

However, Francis was not only being Christ to others. In fact, I do not believe he would have seen that as his primary emphasis. Instead, Francis was drawn to the lepers because he was seeing Christ in them. After all, who better could understand the selfless, emptying of the incarnation of Christ—who gave up everything to dwell among us—than those who had lost everything because of that devastating disease. Francis was drawn to them because he saw in them the Jesus he longed to know, serve and follow.

Living in that tension—between being Christ to others and seeing Christ in others—is a critical one for all Christians, especially those of us in roles of pastoral leadership. Most of us are inspired by the former. After all, who doesn’t want to be identified with Jesus, serving those in need in love? This is worthy our aspiration. However, with the dynamic tension of the latter emphasis, such an identity can easily warp into one of paternalism. This is bad enough for any one of us to fall into, even more deadly for those of us who bear the responsibility to model through leadership the right attitudes and actions of Christian obedience to our communities.

It is when we primarily approach others in ministry through the lens of seeing Christ in them that our intentions, posture and even methodology are transformed into that of loving servants. It breeds a mutuality, humility and unity that is essential to the establishment of God’s kingdom. This does not deny or even downplay the essential spiritual authority in our roles as leaders, but frames them as Christ did—selfless, humble and disempowered for the sake of the other.

Seeing Christ in others was a centrally defining perspective for St. Francis and the Franciscan movement. They did not come as great saviors but as humble servants&mdasheven reverent in their service because they believed they were encountering Christ in the other. The fruit of such obedience continues to be a shining example for Christians in powerful ways. Perhaps the most significant fruit born of such a posture was that, in the end, when they served people as a result of seeing Christ in others, they were truly being Christ to others. The same promise holds true for us.

communityOP.jpgJamie’s new book, The Cost of Community, shares the way his community lead him to the teaching of St. Francis and then ultimately to a brand new understanding of The Sermon on the Mount. Jamie sees the sermon as a new calling to community that is still ringing out today, offering perplexing encouragement and at times daunting challenges to us and our neighbors.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at October 17, 2011 10:33 AM Bookmark and Share

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