Ideas are like fire. They start with a spark – a thought too unclear to put into words. And the good and dangerous ones can grow to a wildfire, passing through months and years and from person to person.
I’ve had such an idea brewing for some months.
Lauren actually added some fuel to the fire back in August when she returned from a weekend stay at a monastery. She was stirred by the sisters’ lives at the monastery. They lived simple, humble lives before God. They devoted themselves to prayer out in the Southern Arizona desert.
The sisters weren’t concerned with so many of the things that fill my attention: church planting, disciple making, evangelism, strategy, etc…
Provoking, isn’t it? It was to Lauren. She came home expressing her desire to live a life of simplicity. She said, “Maybe this ‘mission’ idea you’re so obsessed with isn’t really high on God’s priority list. Maybe living a simple life in communion with God is mission enough.”
I was already trying to figure out where evangelism and justice fit into God’s priority list, and Lauren’s comments were like tossing a piece of wood dried over a decade into the fire bed.
But this one was a slow burn.
I’ve been simultaneously reading N.T. Wright’s “Surprised by Hope,” over the last year (give me a break – it’s a long and dense book), and I just, not minutes ago, finished a chapter that is shedding light on this topic.
The chapter is called “Building for the Kingdom” and address this idea. If the gospel is that God has established his Kingdom and Jesus is in charge of the world, and his mission is to put the world to rights, where do we (disciples) fit into that?
How then shall we live, right?
Do we circle the wagons and remove ourselves from the world and await for Jesus to finish what he started? Do we muster up our courage and take responsibility for setting the world to rights ourselves, as some kind of delegation sent from God, and fight for justice and goodness on the Earth?
Wright talks about inaugurated eschatology. Because we are followers of Jesus, regenerated by the Spirit, we do the work of the Kingdom, but not as an attempt to set the world to rights ourselves, as Jesus alone can and will do that, but as a signpost to the reality of the coming new heaven and new earth.
So yes, we do the work of the Kingdom! No, we don’t huddle around in holy huddles separate from the problems of the world. And no, we don’t take matters into our own hands and try to set the world to rights ourselves. We live into the reality of the resurrection with our actions.
But what does that mean?
I think in my evangelical/cultural understanding I previously thought that meant evangelism. I would have said that the only work of a disciple to evangelize, and then disciple.
Wright says this is still at the center of the picture, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. He explores justice and beauty as other important ways of building the Kingdom.
Justice, meaning setting the world to rights. There is injustice in the world. Probably even in our own neighborhood or family. As followers of Jesus who share in his death and resurrection, we live lives of justice – fixing what is broken on the earth.
Beauty, meaning creatively producing art that reflects the new heaven and new earth. I think about our friends at Navah Church in Kansas City. Their name is a Hebrew word that means “bring home and make beautiful.” And they are a community of people devoted to bringing home lost sons and daughters and making their city beautiful.
Wright has this beautiful line at the end of this chapter…
“And when people cease to be surrounded by beauty, they cease to hope.”
So what’s the mission of followers of Jesus? It’s all of it. I’m reminded of the climax to Hector and the Search for Happiness, when Hector discovers that happiness envelops all of his life experiences – joy, sadness, connection, loneliness, fear, etc…
The mission of Jesus and the mission of his followers isn’t just evangelism, and it’s not just justice… it’s all of it! It’s everything that reflects the heart of Jesus to set the world to rights.