The Ministry of the Church in the Mission of God: The kingdom of God, here and now
So, what is God’s mission, God’s action in the world for the sake of the world, and how might the church encourage and prepare its members to participate in that action? To begin, we turn to Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom of God as both a present reality and a future hope. In both Matthew and Mark, the first act of Jesus public ministry is a call to repent (turn around) and enter the Kingdom of God, which has “come near”. In both cases, Jesus first hears this call to repent and inhabit the Kingdom of God from his cousin John, before John baptizes him. For Jesus, baptism was baptism into the service of God’s mission. In his baptism by John, he embraces the purpose to which God calls him, as in our baptism we embrace the purpose to which God calls us, expressed in the Baptismal Covenant.
Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven ‘by the Spirit’ into the wilderness. That is to say, his time in the wilderness is a deliberate divine initiative, initiated by the Spirit. In the wilderness, Satan (a word meaning “adversary”) comes to test Jesus, to invite him to abandon the purpose he embraced in his baptism and to take on other purposes as the foundation for his life. Bread for his own hunger, status for his own ego, power for his own purposes – the Adversary offers him a self-centered life of physical, social and political contentment. In each case, Jesus refuses the Adversary’s invitation and sustains the identity and purpose conferred in his baptism – the beloved child who both proclaims and enacts the Kingdom of God.
The proclamation comes, for the most part, in the form of parables. Parables are, in Jesus’ teaching, always parables of the Kingdom, and many begin, “The Kingdom of God (or heaven) is like…” A mustard seed, yeast in the dough, a pearl, a compassionate and generous enemy, a man with two sons. Again and again, Jesus overturns conventional wisdom about how things must be in order to offer a glimpse of how things can be, and in some sense already are. Blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, those who mourn, the pure in heart, the persecuted. Again and again, Jesus offers what Walter Brueggemann calls ‘testimony to otherwise’, challenges what seems inevitable, and offers what seems outlandish, even impossible.
The enacting comes in three forms – healings, exorcisms, and his own passion and death. Both disease and demon “occupy” the self, and turn it away from its own health and purpose. Healing and exorcism cast out the destructive tenant and restore the self to health and purpose.
In his death, Jesus enacts the deepest truth about the Kingdom of God, that its authority is grounded, not in force or fear, but in undefended, vulnerable, frail love. And in his resurrection, we learn that this frail love has authority over death, over fear, all hate and all harm. “The Kingdom of God is like a king who, because of his love for others, allows himself to be crucified.” There, at the heart of mission, is humanity redeemed, restored to our purpose in Jesus’ death and resurrection. There, at the heart of mission, is a broken king who, enduring death, defeats it, and inaugurates a new Kingdom of justice, love and peace.