Remember the Mission

So at the last General Conference for Methodism one of our committees was handing out those rubber wrist bands (you know, like the Live Strong ones?) with the words “Remember the Mission.” A friend of ours was at General Conference (coincidentally it was also held in Tampa) and he brought one back for us. We then re-gifted this rubber wrist band (men don’t wear bracelets!) to another pastor friend of ours. Ah, how a simple little rubber wrist band grows up and travels the world…

Anyway, after reading up a bit on Methodism, as many of you have noticed recently, the message on this wrist band makes more and more sense. We Methodists are all about the Mission. But we Methodists are also all about… well, being methodical. So sometimes we need to be reminded to remember the mission. Any organization or institution can occasionally lose its focus and become more about self-preservation rather than the Mission. It can be a slow, and even subtle, shift of focus but it marks a noticeable decline.

And, let’s be honest, the message of the Gospel is not mere self-preservation. Contrary to some watered-down theologies that simply urge us to “get saved” otherwise we’ll suffer for eternity. Participation in the in-breaking and salvific Kingdom of God is so much more than a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. The Gospel is about self-sacrifice. In fact, if you look at how God acts from the first pages of Genesis to the last pages of Revelation, you may see something startling: God leaves Himself recklessly open to rejection from a people that He loves beyond all description. And I do mean “reckless.” At least from our perspective. God opens Himself up to being taken advantage of, rejected, forgotten, abused, beaten, and crucified. But even then He never stops loving us. Can we even imagine that kind of love?

And here’s the difficult part of this depiction of God: We are called to act just the same. That is our mission. As participants in this New Order of Creation we are to open ourselves up to the possibility that others may use our love and ultimately take advantage of it. And that is how we are to live our entire lives! I’ve mentioned a story from the Desert Fathers once before where an abbot notices that a brother is stealing from him. Rather than confront the brother, the abbot simply works that much harder to provide for the both of them. When the abbot is on his deathbed, he calls for the brother who stole from him. The brother comes and the abbot kisses his hands saying “Blessed are these hands for by them, I may hope for joy hereafter.” But that’s not the end of the story, the stealing brother is struck by these words and gives up his sinful ways.

This doesn’t sound realistic does it? Maybe you’re even thinking “Okay, that works for some monks but we live in the real world.” But the thing is that Jesus made no differentiation between a monastic community and society at large. He expected his disciples to embody a new ethic, a new perspective. And the early Christians did. Slaves sat as equals with slave owners. Worldly distinctions were irrelevant.

No one wants to open themselves up to this level of vulnerability. It’s uncomfortable. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. No one wants to seriously think that the “other” might actually be better than us. And here’s where our structures and our bureaucracies can insidiously work their way in again. As long as they are subject to the mission, then they are useful tools. But if our structures start to insulate us from the radical challenge that the Mission demands of us, then something has gone wrong. Our focus has been disrupted. Then, we need to “Remember the Mission.”

Postscript: Maybe some of you are now expecting me to nail 95 theses onto a door somewhere and declare myself for Luther. And, while I admit we have one wooden door in the house in need of decoration, that is not what I’m saying. I don’t discount the possibility that institutional structure can be reformed. In fact, I think the theological idea of the Church as being “always reformed” is a fundamentally good perspective. Insofar as the Church is made of the people of God who are always in need of repentance and “reforming,” the broader church structures which we create are also in need of repentance and reforming.

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~ by crossingthebosporus on September 6, 2012.

3 Responses to “Remember the Mission”

  1. Amen! Yes, any church which is not in need of reform is dead 🙂

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