Why we can’t get on with God’s mission and ignore Christianity
In the iconic 1980 film, The Blues Brothers, the two protagonists Jake and Elwood set off on a quest to save the Catholic orphanage in which they were raised. They do this by getting their R&B band back together and staging a gig to raise $5,000.
The classic phrase that everyone remembers from the movie is, “We're on a mission from God.”
Okay, so perhaps donning fedora hats and Ray-Bans, stealing police cars, and crashing our way through the underbelly of Chicago to a soundtrack of James Brown and Aretha Franklin might not be the way us Anglicans do it, but the church is on a “mission from God” too.
Mission, in terms of Christianity, is one of those words that comes pre-loaded. For some it evokes images of being Bible-thumped by a fervent Jesus-freak seeking to save your soul. For others it evokes the idea of po-faced missionaries travelling to distant lands to enforce the acculturation of indigenous people. Yes, us Christians are guilty of both but, in the interest of keeping the baby in the bathwater, I hope you will permit me, in just a few words, to explain how I understand the word mission. Let us start by looking at the big picture.
We live in a world where chaos exists. Some of that chaos is in nature but much of that chaos is human-made, and God is a God who brings order out of chaos. In fact, the very act of creation is exactly that, bringing order out of chaos. And humans, being made in God's image, are creative too. That is what creativity is – bringing order out of chaos.
Think about it. If you paint a picture, you bring order out of the chaos of the paints; if you create a garden, you tame the chaos of weeds, soil, and plants; if you give care to someone in need, you bring order out of the chaos of mind, body or broken relationships. To be human is to be creative. So, if you will, God's ongoing mission in the world is to continue that wonderful act of creativity – bringing order out of chaos in both the world and each other's lives – and the best bit is that God invites us to use our God-given creativity to join in with his mission.
So, if all that is the case, then why Jesus? Why his life, death and resurrection? Why the Bible? Why religion? Can’t we just get on with God’s mission in the world without all that “Christian” stuff getting in the way?
It is a good question, and the answer is exciting and mind-blowingly wonderful. You see, for us to effectively join in with God's mission in the world we need to be fully partnered with God; we need to be connected directly to God. But here’s the rub. God is 100 per cent holy and 100 per cent perfect. And us? Well, we are definitely not 100 per cent holy or perfect! I cannot live up to my own standards, let alone God’s standards. How can perfection be partnered with imperfection? How can holiness be united with unholiness?
The answer is that somehow either God gets dirty or we get clean. And as every child in Sunday school knows, the answer is always, “Jesus”.
The purpose of the church is not to “win souls” or to “get people into heaven”. The purpose of the church is to join in with God's ongoing mission of love in the world and invite others to join in with that mission – to introduce people to God. We have Jesus as our example and, being made clean through his life, death and resurrection, we have his Holy Spirit as our mentor, guide and companion.
God has given you creativity and you are wonderfully creative. You might be creative with maths, with people, with nature, with words, with your appearance, with designs, with structures, with mechanics, with music or with the arts. How are you creative?
In your life you have a choice. You can use your creativity to serve yourself, you can even misuse it or misdirect it, or you can use it for good – to bring harmony, justice, peace, joy, encouragement, healing and restoration in the world and in the lives of others.
That is what the church is. It is a group of people connected to God who are joining in with God's mission in the world.
This week, in the light of the recent ruling of the UK’s Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to uphold Bermuda's ban on same-sex marriage, our church vestry (that is our church council) met and reaffirmed our commitment to being an inclusive church – where all are welcomed no matter what age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, ability, language or cultural background. We are an Anglican Church, and as such, when it comes to marriage submit to Anglican church law as well as the law of Bermuda, and yet many of us feel the pain and hurt inflicted on those that are excluded from same-sex marriage.
I, as a marriage officer, feel the pain and injustice of not being permitted to conduct same-sex marriages and blessings. Therefore, within my limited sphere of influence, I will do all I can to stand with those affected and continue to campaign for justice and human rights for all.
There, I said it, my rainbow colours are firmly nailed to the mast! I have probably written enough but I would like to leave you with my all-time favourite quote which is from Reverend Richard Coles, a popular Anglican priest and radio presenter: “It is better to be uncomfortable for being more generous than we want to be, than uncomfortable for being meaner than we need to be.”
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm
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