April 5, 2014

Place sharing: the outworking of indwelling

The Relational Pastor, part 7

For other posts in this series, click on a number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 1112, 13, 1415.

In part 6 of this series exploring The Relational Pastor, we concluded with Andrew Root's observation that ministry finds its "lifeblood" in the reality of personhood. Ministry is life-giving when it is authentic participation in the place sharing ministry of Jesus, who as our High Priest, is relating to human persons as we truly are: beings-in-relationship.

Jesus' indwelling, place sharing ministry
is powerfully illustrated by Ron DiCianni
in this evocative painting entitled The Leper.
Root expands on this important concept by noting that place sharing is the outworking of indwelling. In explaining what this means, he asks a rhetorical question: "How could there possibly be something called ministry that violates or ignores the dynamic spiritual mystery of personal indwelling?" In answering, Root offers this comment:
To be ministered to is to have another person see our person and indwell it, to share with us as we bury our sister, as we fight for one more day of life, as we celebrate the birth of a long-awaited child. When we say "The pastor really ministered to me today," we mean that we experienced the pastor sharing in us, giving his person to our own so that we might recognize the presence of God. To minister is to indwell through relationship, to follow the indwelling ministry of God who becomes the God of Israel and the child in the manger to save us by indwelling us. 
For person to encounter person is to indwell one another, to be drawn into the spiritual through the social. But unlike the organic process, where indwelling means consuming, in the spiritual process to indwell is to share in. It is opening your being to be touched (and even transformed) by what is not you, by what you give yourself to in relationship (p74).
The word we typically use to speak of this indwelling is love, which Jesus equated with indwelling in his discourse the night before he died. First he spoke of love (John 14:15, 21, 23) then of indwelling, using the metaphor of vine and branches, to urge his followers to "abide" in him as he would  "abide" in them (John 15:4-5 KJV). To "abide" is to "indwell," and this is love. Root comments:
This mutual indwelling [abiding] cannot be missed. It is for Paul the heart of the gospel, which is why for Paul love is greater than faith and hope. Love is greater because love indwells, because love shares completely in persons. Persons indwell others, because to be a person is to love" (p75).
In essence, we are what we share in. In John 15, Jesus is showing us that, in love and for love, he shares our life and we are invited to share his--"to indwell him as he indwells us" (p75). As Root notes, there is something wonderfully sacramental here, as is vividly portrayed in Communion:
[In communion] we consume the body of Jesus, participating in indwelling organically, spiritually and socially... Indwelling is so central that we are to take Jesus' body and blood into our own; his person fully indwelling us (p75).
Root then restates the definition of personhood that we've noted in earlier posts:
A person is his or her relationships because persons always share in others' lives, a person always indwells other persons... It is indwelling another that gives us our personhood... To be a person is to share in the indwelling of another (p75).
Root then goes deeper by examining the reality that under-girds this definition of personhood as indwelling. That reality is not a what, but a who--the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ:
In becoming human, Jesus indwells completely our humanity. The divine and human natures indwell each other in the very person of Jesus. For us to participate in the life of God, for us to live out of the very image of God, is to be persons who indwell others. But what is important, following this Christological form of indwelling, is for persons to indwell others in a way that avoids confusing our person for another. To indwell another is not to lose ourself in sharing in the life of another. Rather, the divine nature of Christ indwells completely the human nature, but does so without confusion, without mixing one into the other. The two natures indwell but are differentiated.  
And this is the heart of persons in relationship. This is the essence of love: to indwell the other, to share deeply in their life, but to do so without confusion, without losing your person in enmeshment, without so identifying that there is no differentiation. It is to indwell the other in and through your person, keeping your person as you share in the personhood of the other. Sharing as indwelling is the heart of God's own incarnational act (p76).
This theological insight is important and powerful, but what practical application does it have in pastoral ministry? Root answers with four points of application:

1. A person indwells through action. We indwell others by acting with and for them. We enter into the place sharing ministry of Jesus through personal acts of love. As Jesus said to his first followers, "just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me" (Mat 25:39-40). We go astray when we view pastoral "ministry as the functions of the pastor, instead of seeing ministry as the personal acts done to encounter persons, to indwell others through action as the way of encountering Jesus" (p78).

2. A person indwells through communication. We are "with" others through communication that reveals our person to the other, and they to us--telling our story and hearing theirs. "In the overlap of our narratives we share in new space; we share each other's place" (p80). Root continues:
Personal discourse of communicated love does the profound mystery of bringing past and future together. We share in each other's life by listening, by telling by laughing, by hearing. Through the act of communication persons indwell other persons... Discourse is so significant to personhood that the biblical text tells us that the person of Jesus Christ is the logos, the Word of God (pp80-81). 
3. A person indwells because a person is spirit. The reason we are able to share in the personhood of another is because God has created us as "embodied spirit"--we are the union of body and spirit. Person-to-person sharing is thus fundamentally spiritual--the encounter of two spirits (p81). As embodied spirits, our bodies and spirits are inseparable--and we should understand and respect that, which means appreciating each other's spiritual nature--never seeking to undermine its inherent freedom and mystery. Root comments:
To consume another (to oppress, abuse, reject, isolate) is to deny that the other is spirit, and to see the other instead as only organic material to be used. We are, to answer Cain's question, our brother's keeper (Gen 4:9). We keep him by remembering that he is our brother, that he is and we are because we are together. I must keep him, care for him, because he is the embodied spirit that gives me my personhood (p84). 
Pastors help people live into this reality, "Not by sending people into themselves, to become self-enclosed addicts of so-called spiritual experiences, but by helping them to participate in each other's life" (p86).

4. A person is indwelled because a person is broken. Given the reality of the fall, we understand that persons, though embodied spirit, are broken. We are spiritual in nature, but our spirituality is infected by sin, and sin is fundamentally relational, "the brokenness of relationship" (p87). But our relational God, rather than casting us aside in our brokenness, enters into it with us. This is powerfully illustrated in the Garden of Eden where God acted to clothe Adam and Eve following their sin. Rather than receiving God's rejection, fallen humanity receives God's place sharing love and grace. Our brokenness engenders God's compassion, not his wrath.

As Root notes, "to be broken is to be in need" (p88), and our triune, place sharing God moves to meet that need--opening his own person to us in our need. By entering into our brokenness by way of his incarnation, the eternal Son of God shares our place--not just for a short time during his earthly sojourn nearly 2,000 years ago, but now and forever through his continuing (and permanent) incarnation, by which he remains God with us, as one of us.

In being with us and for us as the God-man, Jesus meets our greatest need as the broken persons that we are. And his place sharing ministry points us to the true nature of pastoral ministry. That ministry is not our own--it is our sharing in Jesus' ongoing ministry, which is a ministry of indwelling, of intimate presence. That being so, the greatest personal attribute of effective pastors is that of empathy. We'll explore that vital topic next time.

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