God has a plan!
It seems odd the way we need to reaffirm this fundamental Truth revealed to us in the scriptures. Our God who is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, the alpha and the omega has not isolated Himself somewhere “up there” in heaven.
Our God is not the mysterious watchmaker who created all things and then disappeared to allow it to unwind on its own. Our God, the God of the Bible; the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Israel and the God of the Church is active in His creation. This God is the God of love, a divine love that manifests itself in the sending of His Son that all may be saved, all may be set free from the burden of sin and enslavement to dehumanizing ways of the world.
God’s plan is the mission of the Church:
The language here is important…God’s mission has a Church. Surprisingly, this is not a new or radical concept. It is a quotation taken from the document Gaudium et Spes n.3 written for the Second Vatican Council in 1965. The relevant texts runs…
…God’s mission has a Church, the people of God, who have a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ himself under the lead of the befriending Spirit – to give witness to the truth, to rescue and not to sit in judgment, to serve and not to be served.
What is significant here is the way the Council does not speak of the Church having a mission. It is God who has the mission and the Church has been called into being as the way of engaging the world in that divine mission. Christians are partners with God, collaborators with God in the work of liberating all men and women. They do this through the witness of their private lives and public engagements. They are missionaries when they allow others to have a direct and personal experience of the Living God. The focus is all on God’s presence in the Risen Christ.
The Kingdom of God:
The high point in God’s saving works is the Incarnation – Jesus the Son of God became a man and lived among us. It was Jesus who revealed the divine plan to us, a revelation he explained in terms of the Kingdom of God his Father. Note the two key revelations here: God as Father/Abba and then God as a reigning God (the Kingdom of God). One of the features of the way Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God is that he never defines it. What he does is introduce it through using parables and metaphors – the Kingdom as banquet, a treasure in a field, a pearl of great price, a mustard seed, yeast, a dragnet. He taught us to pray may your Kingdom come.
The New Testament does not equate the Kingdom with the Church. Rather, the Christian community, the Church is called to be a sign of the Kingdom, a sacrament of the Kingdom and a servant of the Kingdom. The Church is there to proclaim the Kingdom and to work for the completion of the Kingdom on earth.
It is difficult for many today to understand this language of Kingdom. St Paul helps a little when he says the Kingdom is not food or drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Spirit (Romans 14:17). It is not about physical realities but about the way people interact with each other and with God.
A good biblical image for the Kingdom is the Garden of Eden. The garden is called paradise because it was the place or time when men and women were at the fullness of their human condition. They lived together in peace and harmony and were at one with God, creation, and each other. It was a time and place in which justice, peace, unity, happiness, a fullness of joy and an abundance of blessings were available. It was the kind of world set out for us in the Beatitudes – Matthew 5:2-10. That is the world cut off from us by sin, the world or condition restored to us in Christ.
This is where the idea of Church is so exciting, as it is all about the transformation of the lives of all peoples, uniting them in God, giving them hope and inspiring them to a life of hope, peace and joy.
The mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom and to work for the completion of the Kingdom – a just world. It does this through building on the work of the Spirit in the world and uncovering the works of God going on everywhere and at all times.
Building the Kingdom:
God grows His Kingdom through proclamation and witness by the Church and Jesus urged believers to strive first for the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. He painted a picture of followers being pilgrims on earth, men and women building lives enhanced by justice, freedom, peace, life and happiness. The concern for Jesus was for the way people were living their lives. He was not focused primarily on what was going to happen beyond the grave.
This is not just about the way we live in our communities. Jesus calls on believers to share these joys and hopes, their anxieties and griefs with other people, but in particular, with those who are struggling and afflicted. Because we have something to offer the world, we need to engage with the world.
The Church does not save the world; God does that. Christians only cooperate with God in the building up of the Kingdom. Our vocation is to respond to God, to be relevant and to be involved.
This is where the power of the Kingdom becomes apparent, as what God is doing in and through the Body of Christ is nothing less that the creation of a new heaven and a new earth…Revelation 21:1… Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Rather than trying to understand the idea of the Kingdom of God in political terms, it is better understood as the place where the will of God is being done and the saving works of God being experienced through faith. It is a living in a world set free from the tyrannies of earthly powers. Those earthly powers erode any sense of justice, peace, unity and happiness; build inequalities in human communities, stifle joy and fail to end human misery and suffering.
What does all this mean for ordinary Christians and our parishes?
1. It means the only guaranteed way forward for the Church is through:
a. A commitment to grow our relationship with Christ through:
i. Regular participation in the Sacraments.
ii. Growing in our understanding of who Christ is, how Christ continues to minister in our world and what Christ demands of followers.
iii. Regular sharing of the content of our faith with other believers.
iv. Regular liturgical participation.
v. Learning on how to grow our prayers lives – Prayer of the Church, Lectio Divina, meditation, arrow prayers.
b. This is built on a return to an ongoing engagement with the Spirit through exploring the Scriptures in which the will of God revealed to us.
i. The Bible as a gift from God that reveals the will of God.
ii. The Bible enlightened by biblical scholarship as understood and taught by the Church.
iii. The Bible as a whole and not a collection of proof texts.
c. An understanding of the need for reconciliation, confession, healing and an appropriate restitution for harm done by sin.
d. A mission based plan focussed on the needs of the world for the Gospel truly preached, lived and taught.