I am gaining a different perspective on how we are to be church in the world. Often we have thought ourselves as being a community that responds to God’s call to “Go” into the world. But depending on how we go about our “going” we can come across as “invading” the communities in which we are trying to be incarnational.
In preparing a message about God as the God who comes to us – we see this throughout Scripture in God coming to Adam and Eve in the Garden during the cool of the day, God coming to Moses in the burning bush, and ultimately God coming to be with us as Immanuel in Christ Jesus – I began to realize that the nature and outcome of mission is seen and received by those who are the recipients of that mission.
When President George W. Bush announced during the Second Gulf War “Mission Accomplished,” many Americans heralded the toppling of Saddam’s reign and the bringing of democracy to Iraq. From an American perspective, our “going” brought about freedom. However, the Iraqi people, the recipients of this accomplished mission began 10 years of conflict, strife, war, and death – for both Iraqis and Americans.
So, it is important how we view and engage in God’s mission – either from a perspective of “going” or a perspective of “coming.” From God’s perspective, indeed the sending of Jesus to take on our humanity was a “going” out from God. Yet, from our perspective, Christ’s incarnation is all about God coming to us – God coming to be with us – and there is great comfort in realizing that God loves us so much that God comes to be with us to set us free and fill us with life.
In understanding mission from the recipients of those receiving mission, it may be that the way we understand how we are church participating with God in mission may not necessarily be a coming that brings “good news.” So how might we be a church in mission that “goes” or rather “comes” to those to whom God sends us?
First of all “being a church who comes” helps us become more aware of the ones to whom we are being sent, among those we are called to live, to be incarnational. An attitude of “going” can place us in a position in which we think we have something to give, as if we were in charge of the dissemination of what we have to offer, but an attitude of “coming” to be among, to be with, leads us to be more humble, seeking to be on the lookout where and in what ways God is already active. Rather than coming with a take charge attitude, we come as servants seeking to incarnate the life and ministry of Jesus in ways that people might more readily open their lives to receive.
Second, “being a church who comes” opens us up to learn from those to whom we have been sent. We learn about the culture, we learn about their relationships and we try to follow their lead in living within their culture – in a real sense becoming like them, taking on their humanity. Then, as we dwell among them, through relationships, through conversations, through the conducting of business, laughing and crying together, celebrating and mourning, we share the life that is in us, not as our possession, but as a demonstration of the life that God seeks to be flourishing in their lives. In the midst of our living among others, being attuned to God’s work in our lives, we discover the signature of God’s presence and action in the world into which we have come. In so doing, we have the opportunity to point out where God is, and where God is at work as ones who are among the ones to whom we have come.
Further, “being a church who comes” enables us to live out our lives – because this is our home. When we “go” to be with a people, we have our home elsewhere, to which we will one day return. But to come is to take up residence, for this to become our home and be our home. Here we live amongst those we will grow to love, to care about, to do life with – and with whom, as we participate in life with them, we can point out where God has also already come into their world. In Jeremiah 29 we read that as the people of Jerusalem wondered where God was, Jeremiah shared the word of the Lord to make a life in Babylon – and to discover that God is with them even there.
Finally, it helps us appreciate how the good news of God’s reign is perceived. It places us in the shoes of those we are “going” to, by being among them as “ones who have come.” I want to reflect more on this, but I think it will help us to envision the Gospel and God’s action in redemptive mission very differently.
So, when we seek to participate with God in God’s mission, we indeed are sent by God, but in our sending, we need to respond to God who has come by being a church that comes into the world as well. To be in the world, to be part of the world, but living out a different reality amongst those to whom we have come.