By Bishop Todd Townshend
In Part One of this reflection on Christian mission in our time, I suggested that we are right to focus on the “Marks of Mission” as a guide to our life together. However, we sometimes assume, imply, or completely forget about God and the mission that God has in creation and in our lives. We’re tempted to focus exclusively on the things we are supposed to do, forgetting what God has done for us, and what God continues to do, or promises to do. So, what is God’s mission? What kind of God is revealed in this? What are the many ways we can articulate and proclaim this?
As an example, with just the first book of the scriptures in hand, we begin to see God’s mysterious and wonderful mission. What is revealed about God in Genesis, the first book of the Bible?
“In the beginning . . .” was God. What was before God? Nothing. The scriptural witness to primeval history affirms that the first mission of God was to create. God is, before anything else, creative. The whole cosmos, every part of it, even time and space, are creatures of God—and God considers the creation good, possibly because God desires relationship with the creatures. Everything that “is” came out of nothing because of God’s creative, loving, action.
Genesis 2 indicates that, in our part of creation, God breathes into the dust and the water of the earth and creates living beings. God’s mission is to create a good creation and to give it life. We also learn that the cycle of God’s creative work culminates in a time of rest, in sabbath. This, too, is part of God’s mission—to rest from work.
By the time six chapters of Genesis are read, we learn that disobedience, violence, and flood are all possible within this creation. God’s mission then shifts from merely enjoying all that has been created to a mission of disciplining and reshaping and restoring and redeeming all that becomes separated from God. So, in shorthand language, God’s mission is to continually-create, to give life, to establish loving relationships, and to constantly work to restore and heal any breaks or separations in this relationship with God. Does that sound like God to you?
Next, from about Genesis chapter 11 onward, God gives the gift of a promise. As we heard on the second Sunday of Lent, God’s promise is made first to Abraham, Sarah and then to their descendants—generations of people who seek to follow God’s mission and to participate in it by being a light and blessing to the world. Now we see that God’s mission is also to be a giver and a source of blessing in order to promise a certain kind of future. In part, God’s mission is creating, restoring, guiding, gift-giving, and promising.
There is more to God’s mission than this, obviously. I didn’t even get to the Jesus part yet, the fulfillment of God’s mission! I encourage you to take it from here—look at any biblical passage, any part of our liturgy, or any good activity in our world in order to see and celebrate something about God’s nature and purpose. What is God up to in this story? What does this prayer imply or teach about who God is and what God does? What does it look like in our lives when “God happens”?
Our lives are lived in a particular time and place but there is something universal about God’s mission in and through us. We can learn to anticipate—with joy—the mysterious action of God. We can learn the patterns and promises of God and be ready to recognize them in life. We can become the ones who witness to these things. How great is that?!