Bearing the Consequence of God: Worship and Mission

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I want to begin re-imagining this weeks’ Vineyard distinctive of ‘Worshippers of God and rescuers of people, with a re-imagined eschatology, or perhaps an historical and radical re-digging of the wells of our enacted, inaugurated eschatology of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus (as if there were any other).  Sometimes we lose something of great importance, as Galadriel says in The Lord of the Rings: “...and some things that should not have been forgotten were lost”...

[aside: what I am talking about is historical radicalism (from the word for 're-exposing the root') as opposed to the contemporary popular idea of radicalism, which my friend Mike Barrett explained beautifully in his article Modern Radicalism vs. Historical Radicalism: "[contemporary radicalism] is called "radical" because it gets tattooed, writes edgy books, does podcasts, speaks at conferences (for top fees), and never really sacrifices much at all." Mike's article was in Relevant Magazine]

I think a re-engagement with eschatology is necessary to re-center us on Christ fully, as Jürgen Moltmann says, eschatology “is not one element of Christianity [as many theology books portray it], but it is the medium of the Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an unexpected new day.”

We need an eschatology that permeates our mission and worship and engenders more hope than fear.  Because this hope we have is dangerous.  As the character 'Red' proclaimed in the movie The Shawshank Redemption: "Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing." Hope burns and comforts.  It can see you through the most difficult times and is there to rejoice in the best of times.  Hope can threaten the status quo and the ‘powers that be’.  Hope can get you crucified.  Too often we are fooled into thinking of hope as mere 'wish-fulfillment', but it is so much more.  Walter Wink once said: “Hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs.  This hope drives us to prayer and it propels us…” into the the intimate worship of God.  It also invites us into a life of "living sacrifice" where with our simple lives we take up hope and bring it to others through rescue, reconciliation and transformation in Christ.  He is our Saviour, yet in deep humility He invites us into His work of holistic salvation because we participate in the on-going life of Christ.

The organizing principle of our Eschatology is the Reign of God in Christ Jesus and with it – as Jason Coker previously put it – we retain the biblical sense of apocalyptic intensity, while also retaining the sense that history is meaningful and central and not to be disdained in some sort of Gnostic way.  It is not just apocalyptic in an other-worldly sense, but also concrete and active.  Beyond death, judgment, heaven and hell as final stasis, we want to re-imagine an eschatology grounded in hope, possibility, mystery (awe and wonder and beauty), and redemption.  But equally it will be based in suffering love, critical and honest loyalty, facing the shadows that populate the hearts of all people, and struggling against the profoundly and deceitfully twisted ways of this present circumstance.  We must live the hope of the resurrection in a life of daily taking up our cross to be a disciple of Christ.  Yet if we embrace attentiveness to the Presence of God while living incarnationally the promises of the future in the contexts and reality of where we presently live, I believe there will be two primary responses: worship of God, rescue of others.

As Spohn and Byrnes have noted: “H. Richard Niebuhr, like Jonathan Edwards, believed that the attractive possibility of a "life aspiring toward and impelled by an infinite purpose" was disclosed in experience. The religious dimension opens up through an act of divine self-disclosure is called "revelation" because it unveils a pervasive presence which was obscurely realized before. The healing of fragmented faith comes from One who enters into interaction with selves by demonstrating its trustworthiness and disclosing its cause. This event is a gift which evokes gratitude, confidence in the source of the self's existence, and fidelity to the cause of the One who has shown itself loyal to the self. Revelation of this Other decenters the self and invites a response not only of worship but of taking on the mission of this Other to rescue others.”

Thus, what is the consequence of God that we bear?  Worship and Mission.  Both eschatologically-grounded in the hope we have (and that we impart to others) of both the fulfillment of God’s promises someday and the present tastes of the future we get to experience as the future continues to break into the present in Christ Jesus – sometimes quite forcefully but with such beauty that inspires us all.  Both are our experience: we are rescued, and we live our lives in worship and further rescue of others.

I’ll end with this quote from John Baillie, which I think is apropos of the consequence of the reality of the good news of the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus:

The test of reality is the resistance it offers to the otherwise uninhibited course of my own thinking, desiring and acting.  Reality is what I "come up against," what takes me by surprise, the other-than-myself which pulls me up and obliges me to reckon with it and adjust myself to it because it will not consent simply to adjust itself to me.

-          John Baillie, The Sense of the Presence of God