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Mission: The Work of the Artist and the Dreamer
R. York Moore
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.
Our 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.
R. York Moore
is the national evangelist for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA. He speaks widely on issues of global social injustice and is particularly passionate about the modern day slave trade. He is the author of
Making All Things New
(IVP). Follow him on Twitter:
Editor's Note: Adapted from
Making All Things New
by R. York Moore. Copyright(c) 2012 by R. York Moore. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426.
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