Monday, January 15, 2018

Proclaiming the Kingdom of God

Lately I've been reworking the document on this blog entitled "Pastorates: New Testament DNA for the 21st Century Church." Right now I'm involved in a church that is looking seriously at implementing this model of being the church together, and it's exciting. It's fun to have a good reason to go back through these ideas and evaluate and fine-tune some of the work I've done in the past, all the while considering how best to put this mid-sized groups model into practice as a way to "make disciples." 

Along the way, I ran across this quote I had written back in 2013: "People today are hungry for exactly what Jesus’ first disciples found as followers of the Way.  We are hungry for meaning, for community, and for a mission that is worthy of our sacrifice.  Not knowing where to find what we really need, we flock to Facebook and Twitter to find community.  We let advertisers, smart phones, and sports teams tell us who we are.  We clutter our schedules so that we don’t have to face the disturbing questions that confront us in quiet moments."

I've been seeing this hunger for meaning, community, and mission so much lately. It doesn't hurt that as I write this, Vikings fans are reveling in an amazing last second win over New Orleans yesterday (vindication from 2009, anyone?) and all the adrenaline and collective identity that goes with marching toward the Superbowl, which happens to be occurring IN MINNEAPOLIS this year. So social media is lit up with delighted fan commentary, and that's a good thing. 

It strikes me in the midst of it all that this quote points out exactly why it is so important to get to the fourth priority of the church. (Remember? That's what we're working on. See this blog post if you've forgotten or, better yet, come late to the discussion.) The fourth priority of the church is just what Jesus did from start to finish in his earthly ministry: proclaiming the kingdom of God.

In reality, this fourth priority is really the culmination of the first three. Working backwards, we recognize Jesus as king. "All authority has been given to me ..." Jesus says this about himself over and over in the gospels, both in words and in actions. He repeatedly demonstrates his kingship, his authority. Out of that authority, he creates loving community. And it is largely through that community that he exercises his rightful lordship over all creation.

The kingdom of God is the phrase Jesus used to describe his own kingship -- the authority he exercises over all creation, including (but not limited to) humanity. There's a powerful picture of this authority in Daniel 7, a book that was written hundreds of years before Jesus' birth. But Jesus adopted a phrase from this vision, "the son of man" as a title for himself. Quite often in the gospels he refers to himself as "the son of man," in what sounds to us like an odd third-person sort of construct. In reality, Jesus is claiming to be God's authoritative representative by referring back to this vision.

One of the things that amazes me the deeper I dig into it is how the New Testament sees the church -- these scrappy, imperfect, home-based gatherings of Jesus-followers -- as the means by which God exercises his authority over the world and implements the effects of Jesus' resurrection. Next time we'll take a look at a couple passages -- Ephesians 3:10 and John 16:8-11, notoriously difficult passages -- to see how the church is the means God uses to implement his will for the world. Crazy.

It is in the church that God intends to meet our hunger for meaning, community and mission. It is in these imperfect gatherings of Jesus-followers that God intends to transform the world and spread the consequences of Jesus' resurrection throughout creation. If you're looking for significance, you just found it. And it probably looks different than you thought it would. Reality is, the church has an unimaginable responsibility. That's why this discussion is so important -- why it's so critically important that we would understand what God intends for the church and why it's such a tragedy when we miss it, when we get it wrong.

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