What do falling towers, clay jars, a shifty money manager, and a Scottish King have to do with one another? It sounds like the start of a bad joke or a mysterious riddle. If you have been following the preaching of the word through January, then you know that each of these objects tells a story that enriches our understanding of God’s mission to rescue the world. They refer to biblical teachings that indicate how we are not only participants in the mission but also recipients of that rescuing mission.
These four images and the principles attached to each one summon us to focus our attention on what God is doing in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

It is God’s mission and we have been called to participate in it.
Luke 13:4-5 - "And what about the eighteen who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish."
Natural disasters and crises in the world (9-11 and tsunamis) may cause people to ask questions about God, his protection, and our sinfulness. But whether the tragedies and crises in this world are the work of humanity’s sin or the result of nature the call to each of us is the same – turn toward God. Towers fall because this is a fallen world. God has a rescue mission to save it. Not simply to save us, but to redeem all things and to bring forth a new heaven and earth. We have been called to be a part of that. We are invited to enter into the kingdom of God. But before any of us can participate in God’s mission, we must realize that we are first and always recipients of his missional activity. To make disciples we must be disciples. We are called to worship him and at the same time sent out to serve others in his name. That means that the knee that bows is part of the same leg that walks a life worthy of the gospel. It is all part of repentance – which not only means turning away from sin, but turning toward God and aligning ourselves with his mission. It is God’s mission and we have been called to participate in it.

It is God’s mission and we are empowered to live in it.
2 Corinthians 4:7 – "But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us."
It may seem intimidating to participate in such an awesome mission. We are right to ask, "Who could ever be worthy of such a task?" And we would be right to answer, "None of us!" But the good news is that we are not left to our own power and ability. This is good news because the Bible affirms that the mission is not a problem we have to solve alone by working harder, doing something new, raising more money, or generating more anxiety. We believe the word of God that He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine. (See Ephesians 3:20.) We do not believe the old saying that "God has no hands but our hands" to do His work. In fact, quite the opposite, we are God’s handiwork and our ministry and good works are God’s hand at work among us. (See Ephesians 2:10.) We are simply containers, humble clay jars or cardboard boxes, that carry the wonderful gospel treasure that God deposits within us. It is God’s mission and we are empowered to live in it.

It is God’s mission and all our powers and resources shall conform to His rule.
Luke 16:13 – "No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."
The parable of a clever money manager reminds us that the children of this age are more cunning and creative in achieving their objectives than the children of light are with the mission. If a devious and self-serving embezzler is able to use the power and money available to him to save his own skin, shouldn’t we, the recipients of God’s mission, apply of all our powers and resources for the saving of the lost? Someone might say, "But wait, didn’t we just affirm that God empowers this mission?" Exactly! And what powers and resources do we have that we think weren’t given to us by God in the first place. We are not saying that we offer God something he didn’t already have or cannot claim without our consent. Rather, we are redeeming the various resources, privileges, and powers that we have access to by conforming them to God’s rightful rule over all things. The way we use these powers and resources determines our master: We give them to God or they master us. God is our Lord and we shall be faithful even in the little things, the simple everyday resources and the everyday decisions we make about the way we use our time and money. We shall be faithful with the simple authority and influence we have whether as a neighbor, a relative, a co-worker, a supervisor, a subordinate, a salesperson, a shopper, a professional, a politician, a customer, or a clerk. It is God’s mission and all our power and resource – as individuals and as a church - shall conform to His rule.

It is God’s mission and we have been united for a common cause
The story of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, is the one image not drawn from Scripture. But perhaps this parable taken from history about a King that united a divided people against a common foe will remind us of Jesus’ prayer for us.
John 17:23 – "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
It is tempting in this age to want to be served rather than serve. It is tempting to claim our status as a paying customer, a taxpaying citizen, or a faithful contributing church member and so demand our rights. It is tempting to focus on our individual needs and our personal relationship with God to the exclusion of our relationship with his people. But these are the lure and bait of the enemy who would keep us divided so that we do not recognize the joy and blessings of being gathered up by God into a community of those who are being saved. The enemy does want us to see the world from the vantage of God’s mission and so imagine ourselves related to one another and even to the world through the love of God. Unity is the prayer of our King, Jesus Christ, and the purpose of our unity in worship, fellowship, and ministry is that the world may know God. It is God’s mission and we have been united for a common cause – his mission to save the world he loves (which includes us).

The sum total of all these is that God is to focus our attention on what God is doing in the world, in the church, and in our lives. Believing that God is actually doing something in the world, the church, and our lives is no small thing. Even Christians can become conditioned to act, speak and think as if we can only trust in what we humans can achieve by our own will, our own power, our own resources, and our own organization.

It is (just) our mission.
Quite often we think that the mission is something we do. We may not do this consciously, but, as good Americans, we think that the effort is all up to us. We are a "do-it-yourself, get-r-done" type of people and have been so for many generations. Our problem is not that we are hearers and not doers of the word. Often we are doers but we haven’t heard a thing! When we think of mission as "our mission" or "the mission of the church" without placing it in the context of what God is doing our view of mission becomes flat, two-dimensional, and disconnected from the source of mission.

We view it like this: God is up there, and the world is down here. God’s effort is to establish the church, but once he has done so, the mission is delegated to the church. There really isn’t any point in God remaining in mission because the church must do it. Now the church, if it is to be faithful and survive, must go out into the world and bring in new members. That is how it grows and expands.
Problems with this view: This is ecclesiocentric or church-centered. It really doesn’t seem all that wrong and it isn’t wrong, it is just so incomplete. Mission is church recruitment. It is a program of the church among many efforts that the church and members can select and choose. It is always outside the church. And there is no sense of internal mission to those who are being save (1 Corinthians 1:18).

It is God’s mission and we are gathered and sent. I believe we will be refreshed and have a new sense of joy and hope when we perceive mission as the mission of God toward us and the world rather than a program of the church. Drawing from the biblical worldview let’s view it like this: Begin with God and the world. God’s desire is to reconcile with the world. He is a reconciling God. This is his mission. Implication: Mission is more than just an adjunct activity of the church. God sends Christ. He establishes the rule of Christ over all the earth. There are not two realms – one where Christ is Lord and one where he is not. He may not be recognized as Lord, but that does not change the reality of kingdom and authority. Where he is confessed as Lord there are a worshipping/ministering people who are the recipients of the mission and a visible witness of what God is doing to rescue the world – the church! The clay jars full of valuable treasure, the unified people who have been redeemed and aligned their purposes with God’s purposes. This people, the church, come up from the cultures of the world, but are transformed within the culture. Since they remain in the world (though not of the world) it would not be accurate to draw a tight circle and declare it the inside and the world is then the outside. Instead, this mission/worship shaped community exists in the world and has a dynamic relationship with the world that is in synch with God’s relationship with the world. God’s mission defines this relationship with the world by gathering people into the church and sending the church into the world. Please note that the sending and gathering are not solely the work of the church. Sending and gathering are part of God’s activity in the world, in the church, and in our lives.

End with John 20:23 – The Church Gathered and Sent. God sent Christ, Christ sends the church. More on this next week. Do you know Jesus? We believe he is risen and he is doing something in this world, this church, and he is able to do something in your life.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 30 January 2005

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