Shards of gray poured like snow from the mound of clay. My
dad always sculpted with a squinty eye and a cigarette dangling
from the left of his lips.
In his sculptures, he brought forth life and purpose. My dad’s
creations always seemed to be born out of a mixture of passionate
determination, a longing for beauty and a secret inner
violence. His sculpting tools were more than artist’s instruments;
they were weapons of warfare, tools that willed his creations
into being. His weapons destroyed chaos, decimating the
gray-green solid mass on that table as he willed it into a transcendent
expression of life.
Day after day, sculpture after
sculpture, order emerged from chaos, beauty came from ugliness,
and transcendent meaning soared from fallen shards of clay.
If you know an artist, you know what I’m talking about. You
know the willing of chaos into order. The transformation of
nothingness into beauty. The bringing forth of a dream that
lives only within the mind’s eye.
This image of the willful, determined artist may not be too
far from the beautiful biblical image of divine mission. God is
on mission to resculpt our world, to recreate out of the fallen
chunks a new world. The sculpture of God’s first creation lies in
ruins; shards of clay litter the floor below where beauty and
transcendence once stood. Our world is not the world God intends,
so we engage in mission.
the work of joining God in what he is doing, is our ultimate response
to eschatology—not charts and graphs and escapist
plans. Christian mission born out of a deep conviction of Christ’s
return is mission with the power to change the world and our
own lives in the process. Mission is not merely modifying the
world in which we live. Ours is not the work of pressing out the
wrinkles of life, of giving a nice little religious boost to the lives
of those we seek to reach. God’s mission is to make all things
new. In pursuing this mission, we see the radical commitment
God makes to achieve his goal. God is determined, above all else,
to resculpt the world and establish an everlasting kingdom of joy. Ours is the privilege of joining with God in establishing his
reign where it is not present. It is an end-time work that brings
the dream of tomorrow into the nightmare of today. Our
mission is about joining God in making all things new.
Dreams are Powerful
Dreaming is not incompatible with action; in fact, a dream of
real substance, conviction and vision requires action. This is
why mission exists instead of mere dreaming. We can’t wish
the dream of God to pass. God invites us to pursue it. This is
why the church exists.
When Jesus launched his ministry, he used the missional
words of an ancient prophet to do so. With these words, he
launched not only his public ministry but also the inauguration
of the coming of the dream of God. We read these words of
declaration in Luke:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because
he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed
free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Through Isaiah, Jesus declared the dream had
begun with the coming of the Spirit of God, who enables the
good news to be proclaimed to the poor, freedom to be given to
prisoners, the blind to be restored, the oppressed to be set free
and the year of God’s grace to begin. Let’s consider each of these
for a moment, because they form the foundation of all mission
and the contours of the dream of God.
Proclaiming the good news to the poor.
The poor are at the
heart of mission because their poverty is an expression of evil,
of brokenness; it is antithetical to the dream of God. Poverty is
almost always the product of greed, lust, selfishness and fear
(forms of self-worship). As the good news of God’s dream goes
to the victims of self-worship, God imposes his rule against all
false gods who hold their victims hostage in poverty.
Freedom for the prisoners. In a Western culture
where false and unjust punishment is rare, we struggle with
wanting prisoners to go free. We want prisoners to be punished,
to serve their time—and occasionally we want them executed.
However, throughout history and in many places in our
world today, many are imprisoned for a variety of unjust
reasons—for standing up against evil, for being poor, for being
the “wrong” ethnicity, for being female.
The concept of prisoner globally is more often related to exploitation
rather than justice. Prisoners are frequently victims of
others’ greed, lust, selfishness and fear (again, self-worship). In
releasing those who have been imprisoned, God imposes his
rightful rule over all false gods who victimize the marginalized
and powerlessness, who are held hostage to their worldly power.
Sight for the blind. Medical infirmities are an expression of
a world that is not right, a world that is antithetical to the dream
of God. In God’s dream, people are not lame or sick; they do not
lack the bodily capabilities God intended for all people. In God’s
dream, the handicapped and infirm are made complete.
In the church’s mission, we see the centrality of both medical
mission and healing. The church seeks to bring healing and
wellness to all who are sick and handicapped. Either in this
world or the next, that mission will be complete. When God’s
dream breaks into the nightmare of this world, it comes with
the power to heal, either supernaturally or through the sincere
and loving expression of the medical sciences.
Setting the oppressed free. We do not have to be physically bound in an
institution of punishment to be imprisoned. The oppressed
today are in a unique form of prison and need to be set free.
They are victims of others’ greed, lust, selfishness and fear. They
are the girls of brothels, the boys of brick kilns. The oppressed
are the farmers who farm lands that do not produce enough to
feed their families—just enough to pay their government officials
or landlords. The oppressed are those who, through urban
poverty, lack of infrastructure and educational opportunities,
have little or no hope of bettering their circumstances. The oppressed are not merely poor; they are worse off—
they are victimized in their poverty. In their need, they are
exploited out of others’ self-worship. Oppression is always, at its core, an act of commoditization,
because it uses people as the solution to a desire to acquire
power, status, possessions or security. Oppressed people are
those who have been treated as the solution to someone else’s
greed and selfishness. By setting the oppressed free, God imposes
his rightful rule over all souls as the one who owns us all
and alone has the right to determine our worth.
The year of the Lord’s favor. The concept
of the “year of the Lord’s favor” can be traced back to the Israelite’s
year of jubilee, a divinely established year of societal redistribution
that was to occur every fiftieth year. This year was a year of freedom, a time when property went
back to the original clan to prevent usury, oppression, manipulation
and radical inequality. Just as important, however, was
God’s intention to give land, animals and his people a yearlong
rest and to have them enjoy only what grew naturally without
work. In establishing seasons of grace, redistribution, joy
and celebration, God usurps the power of self-worship. Nothing
can corrupt or take away the joy that comes with jubilee. Jesus’
announcement begins an era of grace—an endless epoch of the
jubilee of God.
In the announcement of the dream of God in Jesus’ first
public message, we see the end of time. We see God’s dream
unleashed on a world of pain and suffering. In this, we see the
foundation for all mission, a dream that is beyond justice,
beyond salvation, beyond rescue. We see restoration and flourishing.
And in the end we see joy.