One of my favourite stories to speak on is John 9 – that story when Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. I recently reflected on this passage again with some students, and we noted the humour in the story. Just imagine the scene – Jesus spits on the ground, and uses it to make mud, which he then proceeds to rub over the man’s face, who then has to wander to a nearby pool to wash his face and receive sight. I have so many questions about this passage – and I wonder why Jesus chose to work the miracle in this way. Why not just heal the man with a word? Why send him down to the Pool of Siloam?
Regardless of the unknowns, I also appreciate the passage because John demonstrates the intersection of identity and participation. We see Jesus demonstrate his conviction about who he is (the light of the world, sent by the Father) and how that leads to his activities (We must do the works of Him who sent me).
Jesus’ identity informs his participation.
As we continue to explore the development of The Trellis, these two words, identity and participation, are significant. The Youth and Family Trellis image is composed of six slats – three vertical and three horizontal – and each slat references a question related to Identity or Participation.
Our hope is that these questions of identity and participation will be an entry point to finding rhythms and practices that shape our lives and ministries.
The three vertical slats speak to our identity, which is shaped and discovered as we answer the three identity questions: Whose am I? Who’s with me? and Where do I fit?
My identity is my understanding of who I am. We spend considerable time exploring answers to that question, and our expressions of identity often change based on our where we are and who we’re with. We may present different expressions of self at school, at church, or at work. We need continual reminders that we are to be rooted in Christ and his incredible love for us. Consider Ephesians 3:16-19 –
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
This passage grounds us in what is most important about who we are. As Christians, our identity is that we are beloved children of God.
These three Identity questions confirm that our sense of self is best understood in relationship with Jesus, with others, and with an understanding of our self and location. We discover answers as we develop rhythms of abiding, find companions for the journey, and grow in awareness of where we come from, where we are now, and how we are uniquely made.
The horizontal slats speak to our participation in the Kingdom of God. The use of plural pronouns in these questions reminds us that our participation happens in community, through the local church and related ministries, with other humans. Together, we are the body of Christ, and the Temple of God. Too much emphasis on the self prevents us from remembering that our participation in the kingdom of God (joining God in the neighbourhood) is communal. We need to consider the questions: How are we? What do we see? and How do we join God in our neighbourhoods.
In the gospel of John, Jesus portrays an image of participation as he refers to the vine and the branches. To bear fruit, we must abide with him. The process of bearing fruit comes as we spend time abiding with Christ, in community with others. Bearing fruit is participation with Christ. Even in the passage we began with, John 9, Jesus tells the disciples to consider that “We must do the works of him who sent me,” signifying his intention for them to join him in his work.
Powell and Griffin recognize the importance for our communities in 3 Big Questions, as they write: “God has created us to be in community WITH God and WITH others through Jesus. We don’t have to earn love, acceptance, or our place in the body of Christ. We belong to God and to one another. We are not alone.”2 This is an important reminder to us to pay attention to the health of our communities, remembering that we, as leaders, are responsible for creating spaces for the flourishing of all our people, young and old. Too often we excuse unhealthy communities because we believe the ends justify the means. The reality is that unhealthy and abusive means do not result in the ends we think they might.
To better explore participation, we’ll be sharing practices that encourage us to reflect on our ministry cultures, discern in community, and demonstrate the Kingdom of God in our neighbourhoods.
John 9 is a lengthy story in the Gospel of John. Even after the man receives his sight, the saga continues. The theological questions the disciples asked were picked up by the religious leaders, and the healing of this man created quite a stir. But Jesus didn’t get caught up in the debates and the controversies. He healed a man. He saw a person and recognized the opportunity to display the works of God. He responded out of compassion for what he saw. In this story, Jesus presents a model for our own ministry. A life is changed, and the Kingdom of God is shown. Our hope is that as we live out of our identities, and our churches participate in the works of God, that we will see more people impacted by the Kingdom of God. Our hope is that this Trellis Approach presents us with questions that lead us to better join God in our neighbourhoods.
For more about the Youth and Family ‘Trellis Approach’ stay tuned to the blog, or check out our new podcast, The Trellis Podcast available wherever you get your Podcasts (apple, spotify, soundcloud, etc.)