Responding faithfully to God's call to mission

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they camped in Gil'gal on the east border of Jericho. Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gil'gal, saying to the Israelites, "When your children ask their parents in time to come, "What do these stones mean?' then you shall let your children know, "Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.' (Joshua 5 21-22)

 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5: 16-21)

This week I am going to a conference on global mission, which has me reflecting on how I define mission and how the local church can participate in God’s mission. Since I am also teaching the confirmation class, I am regularly in contact with the catechism of the Episcopal Church, which defines the mission of the Church as “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP p.855). We get this mission from God, as Paul writes in the second letter to the Corinthian church. I wondered how the word “restore” related to the word “reconcile” and what that means for responding faithfully to God’s call to mission. If Christ is asking me to reconcile others to him, and the church is asking me to restore the world to him, how are the two related, and how do I get myself up for such a huge task? How do I get ready and then join the mission of Christ?

 The first two definitions of “reconcile” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary are “to restore to friendship or harmony” and “to make consistent or congruous”[1]. Jesus’ reconciling mission is our mission as Christians, and it is expressed in the church’s mission because the church exists to serve the mission of its Lord. We are called to restore all people to friendship and harmony with God and each other, and to make ourselves consistent and congruent with the image of God we share so that others can follow Christ’s example in their own way. Both of these callings are done through the grace of Jesus Christ, who is both the best example of friendship with others and congruity with God.

This mission requires two things of us, that we know God (in Christ) and that we know each other. Mission is the reconciling of differences and the overcoming of fears. When we go out in mission, we are not seeking to change the other even as we remain unchanged. We are entering a relationship that can change the structures of sin and death that cause so much pain in the world. We respond according to the promise asked of us in Baptism, that we “renounce the evil powers that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” (BCP p. 302) Each relationship we form as we work to transform unjust structures is reconciling work. Because we form relationships on behalf of Christ, we move away from seeing people from “a human point of view,” which allows us to exploit and harm them in order to preserve our own power or serve our own interests. Instead, we regard them from God’s point of view, as beloved ones, deserving of all care and dignity. This is the way Jesus overcomes sin and death in the world every day.

To be the church is to be about God’s mission, and that requires that we work on our relationship with God and practice our relationships with others at church, and then go out into our neighborhoods, our workplaces and schools prepared to help others be reconciled to God. It may even mean crossing oceans or leaving our homes for long periods. It requires that we be so confident in the love of God for us and for the whole world that we know we are not doing the changing of the world or the reconciling ourselves. We are confident enough, and trusting enough, to be present without judgment as Jesus the Christ reconciles the world to himself.

How do we get the confidence to be on mission? Knowing the markers of our faith story, as Joshua did and as he shared with the Israelites, helps. We read the scriptures and hear the Gospel preached in our homes, our churches and elsewhere so that we have the memory of what God has done for specific people so that the may bless the world. Our knowing the story of salvation reminds us how many times God came close to people and how many times God saved them from some truly horrible events and poor decisions. Knowing this story, and having it in our hearts, minds and bodies, makes us able to be missionaries of that amazing loving God.

Many times, our mission takes the form of action requiring no words, but sometimes (most of the time) when on God’s mission we wind up commending the faith, or trust, in God that is in us. That is proclaiming the story of our relationship with God so that others may see Jesus and know him.

Knowing when and how to do this requires only the skills we already use for becoming friends with others. Becoming friends usually takes an introduction, a getting to know you period, and a commitment to spend time together. That is how the church makes friends with others on behalf of Jesus. Missionaries prepare themselves by prayer, study, and service so that when Jesus introduces them to one of his friends, they know how to extend the circle of friendship. How will you prepare, in the coming days and weeks, to extend the friendship of God through the people Jesus introduces to you? How will you work to see others as “a new creation” deserving of all the good things God has created?

Faithfully,  

Veronika

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/reconcile accessed on3/27/19 at 8:43 am.