“You will be to me a royal priesthood and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). Delivered from the shackles of slavery, Israel now had a high and holy calling. Quite simply, God had set Israel apart, not to rule over the other nations, but to serve the other nations as reflections of God’s character and nature. Even as God had invited the Creation to participate in God’s creative activity in the world, so now God was calling Israel to engage in the mission of God in the world. Israel was to be a microcosm, a small world within a world, of God’s Kingdom reigning on earth as it is in Heaven. The Kingdom starts small but is intended to expand to all Creation.
The Church has always understood itself to be an extension of Israel’s calling. 1 Peter reminds us that we are called to be a “royal priesthood and holy nation.” Just as Israel was called to serve the world, the Church as the Body of Christ is also called to serve our world. We serve even as Christ models servant-hood for us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped for his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8).
We are familiar with the Great Commission: “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20a). The world is rarely transformed through eloquent argument or great displays of power. Rather, discipleship looks more like Calvary’s Hill than the political games of Capitol Hill. It resembles a Cross and not crossed swords. The Kingdom looks more like the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, than it does the American Way. Following Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples. Showing the disciples his nail-pierced hands and feet, Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” The journey of discipleship just might be a painful and deadly one.
But, that is neither cause for despair or fear that leads to self-preservation. “Those who lose their life will gain it.” Through Christ Jesus, Death and the Grave no longer hold the victory. They have been defeated. Death has been crushed to death. Our cry, “O, what a wretched person I am. Who can rescue me from this body of death?” is answered by the definitive proclamation, “Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We have been given this great Light and great Hope. The darkness does not understand it and will try to snuff it out. But, even as the darkness could not conquer Christ, the Church will not be the victim of destruction. We are made to be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus. Our fight, however, is not with flesh and blood. It is against the powers and the principalities of this world. It is against the Pharaohs and Pilates trying to shape us in their image. Thus, we are called to “normalize the Kingdom” in the midst of a sometimes hostile world.
In doing so, we find ourselves surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on. We follow the Pioneer of our faith in this race of endurance. We allow God’s vision for this world to become our vision, proclaiming, “I have a dream” with Martin Luther King, Jr. We stand up for what is right, stating, “Here I stand! I can do no other” with Martin Luther. We see the needs of our world and are burdened for them, recognizing, “The world is my parish” with John Wesley. We find unity within the Body of Christ, despite differences we may have, acknowledging, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” with Saint Augustine. And, when we find ourselves persecuted and attacked, we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” even as Jesus and Stephen, the first martyr, prayed.
1) God is Triune: Three-in-One (Although this term isn’t used in Scripture, the basis can be found in Deut. 6; Gen. 1?; John 1, 14, 15; Matt. 28). God is communal and dialogical, not only within the Godhead but with all of Creation. God invites and empowers the Creation to participate in the creative activity of God in the world (Gen 1-2). There is a degree of freedom inherent in the Created order, but it also depicts a relational God that is deeply and intimately involved with the Creation. As such, God is not unaffected by what happens in the world. This is most demonstrated in the Cross. God is so committed to the Creation that God is willing to enter into the Creation and live with it, even at the cost of great suffering.
The language of Body of Christ and “royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe. 2:9, 1 Cor. 15) suggests something that is collaborative and interdependent. True faith cannot be privatized. Rather, as Wesley suggests, “There can be no personal holiness without social holiness.” We are created to be in community as a reflection of the Triune community. Thus, the missio Dei is intrinsically connected to the Church as a community. Each part has its role to play that helps the Body of Christ function as it should. Therefore, communal language is appropriate to communicate this aspect of faith.
2) The Kingdom is an essential concept (Matt. 3-4 and Luke 4). The Kingdom embodies God’s reign in the world. It signifies God’s true intentions for the Creation. God’s call is not about national identity, although it sometimes reduced to that belief. Rather, the Kingdom transcends nationality and national allegiances. The Kingdom is the shalom of God bringing about the unity of the Spirit in Creation with the Creator. Israel and the Church are the microcosm of Christ’s peace being lived out in tangible ways that reflect God’s character and nature back into the world. In other words, this is a matter of holiness. We are in the world, but not of the world. There is a Kingdom ethic that guides our lives and it is modeled in Christ Jesus’ death on a Cross. The Way of the Kingdom is the way of cruciform, Incarnational living.
Pastors equip the people for “doing every good work” (1 Tim. 4:11-13). This is not over and above the congregation but alongside the congregation as co-laborers in Christ Jesus. Leadership is not something to be “lorded over others” but to empower others. Christ is the Head of the Church, not the pastor (Eph. 4:15). Rather, the pastor should be the first to pick up the “towel and the basin” and wash feet. Pastors are servants of servants.
3) God invites response (Gen 1-2, Heb 3-4). Although I did not get into the specifics of praxis, the theology of a dialogical, relational God shapes our praxis. Understanding God as reaching out to all of Creation to restore it undermines nationalism, imperialism, militarism, consumerism, to name a few. As Terrence Fretheim suggests, “God always acts directly, but always through agents.” God desires to share this Kingdom with all of Creation. We are all called to be “a royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe 2:9). Our response is gratefulness for the grace we have received through Christ Jesus. It is also the call to extend that same invitation to others as God’s ambassadors in the world.
God’s perfect love invites us to respond in new ways that go beyond fear (1 John 4). This not only includes the fear of punishment from God, it includes the way that we live in the world. “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7). The Church needs to learn charitable discourse, especially among its members. Jesus warned his disciples that the world will hate them because of him. But, that does not then permit us to fight the way the world fights. Rather, a sign of our maturing in Christ is the ability to discuss, even as God is dialogical, without fear of being destroyed. God’s love brings a peace that passes understanding and allows us to stand firmly while maintaining charity.
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