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Christian Mission: The Larger Context
by Rev. Ron Rude, Lutheran Campus Pastor, University of AZ in Tucson
When I think of the word “mission,” I like to put it into the larger context of God’s mission. What is God’s mission? From the Scriptures we see that God’s mission is twofold: “the story of Life” and “the story of Jesus.”
The story of life is God’s primary mission. This primary mission has been going on for billions of years, including about 3.8 billion years on planet Earth (according to various sciences). Our species, Homo sapiens, is a relative newcomer, only about 200,000 years old. God’s primary mission of seeing to the story of life is incredibly old.
It is also vast. One quickly becomes humbled by the size of God’s universe and the distances between stars and solar systems when studying astronomy. On Earth there are approximately 20 million species in this vast community of life, including us. Another way to say this is that the Father’s house has many dwelling places—the Father’s house being anywhere the reign of God is—and we as humans were created to responsibly occupy a few of those dwelling places (John 14:1-6).
But apparently at some point, according to the biblical narrative, something in our species went awry. After living fairly wisely within the community of life under the permeating reign of God for tens of thousands of years, recently, our species began to divert from God’s way. We left the Father’s house under the reign of God and instead declared our own—under the reign of humans! The biblical Fall parables in Genesis 3 and following, written only about 3,000 years ago, are addressing this tragic change in worldview as it was infiltrating the storyteller’s locale.
As humans began to live this new and aberrant way we grew more and more out-of-relationship—with the Creator, with our human neighbors, with God’s creation, and even with our own inner spirit/soul/self. We began to experience perishing as a species and foisted a terrible “groaning in travail” upon God’s wondrous garden.
The Creator, we read in Genesis 6:6–7, became sorry to have made the human species. God thought about destroying us for the sake of the world. However, the Creator also decided not to do this—can a mother destroy one of her children?
So instead, the Creator (thankfully for us) decided to take on a secondary mission. This secondary mission would focus on trying to heal our species and bring us back into God’s primary mission. This is what the rest of the Bible is about after Genesis 6:7. We call this decision of God’s “the Gospel,” or good news.
How will God fix humanity? God tries a flood, creating a chosen people, laws, kings, and even doom and gloom prophets. All these fall short in one way or another. Finally God decides to come in person, as Jesus of Nazareth. Why does God, who is not a human being, come as a human being? Because we are so special? Not really. God became a human being because this is the species that is lost, and the Christ of God “came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus of Nazareth embodied God’s secondary mission. His message in the flesh was (is): “God forgives you, humans—follow me.” This is called “the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
We might ask, though, “Follow you where, Jesus?”
Humans were already dedicated to opposing God’s primary mission. So not surprisingly, humanity’s response to God’s secondary mission, that is, to heal humanity, was crucifixion. However, even more surprising, God’s response to crucifixion . . . was resurrection! Since Easter, Jesus Christ has been walking the Earth declaring God’s forgiveness and beseeching our species to follow him. But again, where?
Our problem is we are out-of-relationship—with neighbor, creation, our inner spirit, and with the Creator. We are perishing. So Jesus says to each person and each community:
“Follow me to meet your neighbor.” Of course for Jesus, “neighbor” is not just people we like or people like us, but especially the stranger, outcast, and alien (Matthew 25).
Also, “Follow me to meet my Father’s creation.” As humans, we engage in warfare against God’s garden of life rather than respect.
“Follow me to meet your own inner spirit/soul/self.” There is an emptiness of soul that makes us addicted to materialistic cravings.
And finally, “Follow me to meet my Father.” Can we think of anything more sad than being estranged from the Maker “of all that is, seen and unseen” (Nicene Creed)?
Christians are people who respond personally and as congregations to God’s secondary mission. We are people who gladly receive forgiveness and then have the courage to follow Jesus into restored relationship with neighbor, Creation, our own inner spirit, and the Creator. In this journey we move from lost to found, from dis-ease to a “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7), from aimless wandering to being in Christ. And in these places where we go we meet Jesus more profoundly that we had ever known.
Christians are also people who invite others to be baptized into this “way, truth, and life” (John 14:6). We want others of our human family to be transformed from perishing (out-of-relationship) to being saved (in relationship) too.
A congregation’s ministry then is basically fourfold, perhaps requiring only four committees. These four basic committees declare God’s forgiveness and creatively foster opportunities to follow the risen Christ into restored relationship with,
2) God’s creation
3) our inner spirit/soul/self
4) and God
To think of “mission” in this way helps us see how our daily lives and ministries are part of God’s larger purpose. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts.