I read a lot of stuff from the missional movement (mostly from the Gospel for our Culture missional theology stream). This kind of missional writing has spoken to a lot of Canadian pastors and leaders who are wrestling with what church can be like in today's post-modern urban settings. I like the emphasis on God as active and purposeful in our world and that we are invited into God's mission of going into the world with Good News. I also like that emphasis on Good News as not being formula or reducible to a proposition. Mission becomes identity for us as church. In choosing to follow God we go into all the world and demonstrate in word and deed God's redemptive work. It is quite thrilling actually.
The thing about mission is that it is easy to get stoked about it in theory - but a lot harder when we realize that it isn't about instant results. Mission isn't even really about results on our end, but about committing ourselves to a way of life that demonstrates (again in word and deed) the goodness of our God. So when the results (on God's end) are pouring out it is easy to give ourselves to mission. But it is those moments when we feel the reality of the not yet Kingdom that we need to wrestle with. It is when we realize that mission means committing to people, who sometimes take a long time to get the mission themselves, that we will struggle the most with our commitment to God. I'm not talking about losing our salvation, but rather the zeal with which our spirituality takes precedence over other concerns in our lives. It is in these moments that we need to reflect on Jesus' demonstration of missional life.
One of the things that has impoverished our spirituality is when we read the gospels as disconnected snippets with no context for the time frames in which they are situated. The gospel writers do a brilliant job of conveying the complexities of Jesus life and ministry. But often we blur what happens in the early years of his ministry with those that happen much later on. When we forget to read the gospels as whole stories we can miss that the results didn't always pour out the way we would like to think. When we forget to see the other people in the gospels we can miss just how patient Jesus was with even his closest disciples as they repeatedly failed to get the mission of God. The gospels actually give us a glimpse into the life that God has invited us into.
In our community we have a baptismal practice of having the candidates and their sponsors get together the night before and read the entire gospel of Mark together. I've had sponsors tell me they've never done that before and how it really opened their eyes up to the bigger picture that the gospel stories tell. The gospels are the foundation of our faith. Not the individual stories taken out of context, but the whole thing - the good, the bad, and the downright hard. When we make the foundation of our faith lives anything less then we are bound to be disappointed, and we are bound to find the not yet moments hard.
I love the now moments of the Kingdom. I love the times when I've been present to see God heal and save people. I think most of us reading this know that joy. But the thing is I've learned to also love the not yet moments. Those are the moments when our faith is most real. Those are the moments when we see what really matters inside us. Those are the moments when our faithfulness is revealed, and in our faithless moments they are the times when God's patient grace builds in us a stronger commitment to the mission, to the life we are called to live.
How about you? How do you live in the not yet moments? Do you find your faith dries up, your interest in church and spirituality lessen? Or do you find those moments times of God shaping your character? Do you find those not yet moments deepening your spirituality to match the longing you have for God? I hope you do. If you don't then remember the patient grace of God, recognize that you are in good company - but also that God's patient grace demonstrated in Jesus' life was what turned his disciples into apostles, those sent out by God into the mission.
Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region