On this St. Patrick's Day, I found myself flipping through an old book, The Celtic Way of Evangelism, by George G. Hunter III. Early on in his book, Hunter makes this keen observation about Patrick:
Indeed, the fact that Patrick understood the people and their language, their issues, and their ways, serves as the most strategically significant single insight that was to drive the wider expansion of Celtic Christianity, and stands as perhaps our greatest single learning from this movement. There is no shortcut to understanding the people. When you understand the people, you will often know what to say and do, and how. When the people know that the Christians understand them, they infer that maybe the High God understands them too (p.19; italics mine).
I read this passage just a few days after reading some remarks from Pope Francis who, in writing to leaders at a Catholic university in Argentina, said this, "The good theologians, like the good shepherds, smell of the people and of the road...".
One of the four main connecting points at Flint Central Church of the Nazarene is "Connect to Our Community." We believe that the Gospel compels us to share the love of Jesus in our neighborhoods through Christ-like service. If St. Francis and the Pope are right, and I believe they are, we must be incarnational in our connecting. We can't properly serve and connect to our community if we commute in and out; rather, we must take our cues from Jesus and take up residence with those around us. As Patrick's example teaches us, there is no shortcut for this important work. It takes work and time. A lot of work and time.
Jesus lived and worked in Nazareth for 30 years before his full-time ministry began among the people, and for the people. Jesus, you could say, smelled of the people of Nazareth, and Galilee, and Jerusalem. He understood them. He didn't take any shortcuts.
What about you? Do you smell like Flint? Like Flushing? Like Davison? Like Fenton? May we, the people of Flint Central Church of the Nazarene, live like Jesus in our zip codes.