Monday, January 19, 2009

Living Out Our Callings

Introductory Note: The heart of missional church is collectively discerning an imagination for what God is up to in the world and how God wants the community to respond to God’s discerned presence. I have, however, particular questions regarding a “sending” model that does not also consider the continued formative aspect of the church as well especially when those being sent are contributing to the consequences. Too often, I’ve observed communities that go out with a charity mind sight with no regard for how those to whom we’re sent are used by God to equally challenge us, not too unlike church groups that go to Mexico and build a home without learning about the people or the CEO who attends worship on Sunday only to continue heinous work environments overseas. Therefore, this paper focuses on a reciprocal approach for a missional calling in congregational life as it relates to God’s use of society as lens by which God is calling for the continuing conversion of the church itself.

The missional calling of congregations with God in civil society is the fulfillment of reconciliation realized in service to the world. The missional assumption that underlies this conversation is that God is already at work in the world and that we have been grafted into this work of God and called to reflect this work, reconciliation, by the way we hold and embody the place of this work in civil society.

The heart of this missional calling is the willingness to take seriously the transforming and converting work of the Spirit of God. That is, God is equally doing something in the church as well as through the church. This is a dynamic process of living Spirit, not a static place from which we move from one place of certainty to another. The church is called to live the words of Jesus we hear from Luke, inaugurating God’s Kingdom work in the world.

“He (Jesus) stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.” (Luke 4:16-20, NRSV)

It would be theologically correct for the church to piggy-back on Jesus’ words for getting out into the world to show the world the love we have received from God. It is also theologically correct that this functionality entails opening eyes to how God is at work in the world, offering opportunities for us serve the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed.

It is an interesting piece to note, however, that Jesus’ response following this reading, as eyes were fixed on him in the synagogue, is this: “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This raises a number of questions. What is the relationship between the scattered work of God in the world and Jesus’ statement that this “has been fulfilled in your hearing?” Curiously, and somewhat cynically, I ask, “now how could it be fulfilled? How was life for the blind, oppressed and poor different minutes before Jesus read from Isaiah, a text that had existed for hundreds of years, and now all of a sudden new because Jesus merely reads it?”

I wonder however, if this is a reference to radical incarnation, the place of all those who suffer, now found and located within the place of God-in-flesh reality. If this is true, that the suffering of the world is the place where God is present in the world, what orientation or re-orientation, would that suggest for us as individuals within communities of faith? How would that affect our interactions with suffering? How would we see its place in our own formative activity as “life for the world?” What would it have to say about who we are as being shaped by God simultaneously to the world we are being called and sent to serve?

Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda makes similar connections when she seeks to articulate starting points for how to move forward as public church. Making moves away from the Lutheran hermeneutic of “two kingdoms”, she instead embraces incarnational theology as determinative for being public church for the life of the world. She says, “I have chosen to relocate the discussion of church in public life in the incarnation of Christ as seen in cross, resurrection, and living presence.” Moe-Lobeda also suggests that the incarnation can be fruitfully located within a couple of Luther’s theological frames including the Living Word of God and the Theology of the Cross.

Consider that the church becomes the demonstrating plot for God’s activity of sharing the struggle in the suffering of the world, and with that collaborative struggle comes the proclamation that there is re-valuing of humanity as reclaimed worth for the life of the world, and being restored as a living hope for the fact that God does not give up on the world. What this move makes theologically is developmental maturity between God’s work on us simultaneous to God’s work through us.

This is primarily what we are up to at the Flagstaff Abbey as listening community for the life of the world. God is restoring us even as God is calling us to be present in the world. This deep interconnected and reciprocal activity moves us out of a privileged place and into God’s continuing work on us. The church is the primary demonstrating plot for those being converted, changing minds for how it views itself in God and in the world, all for greater witness to the world as God’s reconciling community.


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