Academic journal article International Review of Mission

"[Un]settled upon and Sent": Mission in the Spirit-A Biblical Reflection on Together towards Life

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

"[Un]settled upon and Sent": Mission in the Spirit-A Biblical Reflection on Together towards Life

Article excerpt

The World Council of Churches' (WCC) Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes is offered as the latest ecumenical articulation of God's mission in a changed and changing world and has been shaped and endorsed by voices from all traditions, contexts, and concerns. It is also just as importantly an invitation to participate in the transforming mission of Christ's Spirit, who is seeking and sustaining life in fullness for the whole inhabited earth. It is a fresh effort to conceive of mission through the life and action of the Holy Spirit, that gift to us of the Trinity's love, and thus an invitation of the church to action in the Spirit's power and truth.

I plan to offer here a biblical reflection and introduction to the thinking in the document and will do so through Isaiah's vision of the commissioning Spirit (Is. 61). This text has its roots in the prophetic tradition of faith and speaks to those who would offer themselves in mission; it also has its flowering in the messianic person of Jesus, (see Luke 4: 18-21), who sends us into mission. This text weaves together an image of the Spirit that unsettles our current realities yet sends us into new realities. In this text we see the Spirit acting companionably and compassionately to invite life, peace, and justice through a series of provocative and subversive choices.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon ... (Is. 61:1; see Luke 4:18)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon the unexpected. Most scholars acknowledge that the prophet in the text is unknown and unidentified. (We honour, of course, that, in Luke, Jesus makes it his own text and reveals these are the words that send him into mission.) This ambiguity in the text is, nevertheless, liberating and inclusive because it unsettles our sense of who God chooses as partners in his life-giving mission. This unsettled sense of inclusion has been the long and sometimes painful story of the ecumenical movement itself. Differing and, at times, rival traditions have learned to honour that God's Spirit has stirred churches amongst many peoples and in many ways. There is still a considerable reluctance to acknowledge this at times; many churches are still divided and unreconciled and many still resist an inclusive vision of leadership. Together Towards Life is precisely such an invitation and an expression of faith in the many partners God's spirit calls and equips, however unsettling they may be to institutions and traditions.

Together Towards Life celebrates how the Spirit empowers and acts with and through all people (1 Cor. 12:7), and that the Spirit gathers up all of creation, all life, into the new life God's mission seeks (Rom. 8:19). Thus we might say the Spirit of the Lord is upon people and planet as we together discern the mission to which we are called and that will bring life to all. From Abraham and Sara to Mary and Joseph, from Esther and Ruth to Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus, from Moses to Jesus himself, God's choices are often from amongst the odd and the outsiders, revealing that those whom others had rejected as worthless turned out to be the most important of all (Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; 1 Peter 2:4, 7). It is clear that if the scope and sweep of Together Towards Life is to be fully accomplished and enjoyed it will gather from the full spectrum of God's community and companions. It is also true that if justice is to bring peace, then its vision and scope must be inclusive too. Thus, those who claim companionship with Christ already must ready themselves to discern and welcome the subversion and unsettling of their visions and institutions to make room for all that the Spirit is doing beyond us.

This is particularly evident in the way Together Towards Life articulates how the Spirit is upon creation. For the first time in an ecumenical affirmation, wider creation is recognized as a partner in God's mission and not simply as an object of mission. …

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