August 28, 2014

Thoughts on Matthew 16:21-28

One of the big takeaways of this week’s gospel lesson is that you don’t get in the way of Jesus’ achieving his mission. If you try to do that, you get called out and sidelined for it.

A mission is that sense of driving call that gets us out of bed and keeps us moving. It is that sense of clarity that helps us to remain focused throughout the day, and to go to bed at night with plenty of time to rest so we can get up the next day and stay on it. Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but if you call yourself a Christian, you need to take your faith and the promise of the Kingdom of God into account when doing the work of formulating your own personal sense of mission or purpose, and you must allow the leading of the Holy Spirit in formulating it as well.

So now it’s worth asking: What is your mission in this life? Why were you put on this earth?

If you can’t say right off, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the vast majority. Why?

There are three reasons. (1) We’re basically lazy. We want to make the world a better place, but the couch is generally more comfortable. We don’t achieve focus on goals because it means excluding everything else. And “everything else” is -- let’s face it -- often just easier. (2) When it comes to a sense of mission, many of us simply do not know where to start. It’s just some vague cloud we can’t seem to clutch. This is because we aren’t practiced at it. (3) The word “mission” has been drastically overused and misused, which obscures its real power. Mission in the corporate (and corporate-church) world has been disastrously and laughably forced to serve not as a bolster to group clarity, but rather to overwhelming ambiguity. A recent song by “Weird Al” Yankovic called “Mission Statement” effectively makes the point:
We must all efficiently operationalize our strategies
Invest in world-class technology and leverage our core competencies
In order to holistically administrate exceptional synergy
We'll set a brand trajectory using management’s philosophy
Advance our market share vis-à-vis our proven methodology
With strong commitment to quality effectively enhancing corporate synergy
I’m afraid to say this is not too far from my own experience! Plenty of organizations advance mission statements all the time that are basically meaningless. In this case, as is often the case, a lack of genuine contact and communication between leaders and members leads to mission statements that are frail, forgettable, and toothless. Some companies have a simple, clear sense of purpose; their chances of long-term survival and market adaptability are much higher.

Obviously no company would ever adopt a mission statement like this: “Our mission is to be a corporation forever.” Yet that seems a fair summarization of quite a lot of churches these days. It isn’t working.

Meanwhile, two thousand years later, through Jesus, God has built a mission statement that still resonates. In Luke 4:16-21, he puts it into plain, specific, accessible terms:
When [Jesus] came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on Saturday, and stood up to read the Scriptures. The book of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him, and he opened it to the place where it says:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that captives shall be released and the blind shall see, that the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors, and that God is ready to give blessings to all who come to him.”
He closed the book and handed it back to the attendant and sat down, while everyone in the synagogue gazed at him intently. Then he added, “These Scriptures came true today!”
In Luke’s eyes there’s nothing vague about why Jesus has come: he is to preach Good News, heal the brokenhearted, and announce the liberation and blessings of God. Everything else will follow on from these points. Nothing will distract him from fulfilling it.

I’ve often wondered if Jesus knew his time on earth was limited, so that maybe he had a more urgent sense of mission. But then I think that for a Jesus-believer like myself, perhaps that’s really just a cop-out. (“I have all the time in the world -- why rush to change the world? -- why have a mission?”) We are simply to learn from Jesus’ lightninglike focus, and not only learn it, but imitate it outright. I wonder how fast things would change for the better if we would all just adopt this same attitude of urgency.

You know those t-shirts that say things like “Football is life -- the rest is just details”? Or, “Fishing is life -- the rest is just details”? Or really anything -- soccer or surfing or dance? Well, I have to wonder where the spark went out of our relationship with God through Christ when we can so freely proclaim a mission to dance or fish or surf with such gusto and glee, but with God it’s just not there. And oddly, I bet most of us would put our faith lives somewhere in a list of our supposedly highest priorities. So why this imbalance? (I’m preaching to myself here, too.)

Where then is the disconnect between our mission-less lives and the mission-full life of Christ? Where is the passion? The urgency? The drive? The conviction? Did we think that once we passed it along to another generation it wasn’t our responsibility anymore? Are we hoarding a dimly flickering flame? Or is there something rising in us -- a passion, a sense of missional clarity that needs to be fed and nurtured?

Pray this week for clarity and focus, and ask God to show you what your missional focus is. If you have a sense of why you were put on this earth, ask God to sharpen that sense and feeling by allowing you to put it into practice. Be bold and ask for it in plain words.

In the end, we all want a life of purpose and meaning. We all want to be able to say (both in words and in actions) why we were put on this earth. In Jesus, God clearly and precisely offers that to us. We have not come all this way in approaching the throne of grace in such great humility only to ask for nothing. Let us seek to be wise and to practice the wisdom of Christ.

In other words, let’s get clear, and let’s get movin’. Amen!

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