Early on in my ministry life, I was trained with a sort of missional catechism that asked, “What is eternal?” The oft-memorized answer that motivated much noble mission went like this: “The only two things that are eternal are the word of God and the souls of men.”
Jesus promises that the meek do not merely inherit heaven – they inherit the earth.
But this catechism is at best incomplete, and at worst inherently flawed. Jesus declares his mission in Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.” He is not making all new things, or making only spiritual things new. Instead, his mission is renewal, restoration, and renovation of creation as it is now – every bit of it.
And still, many believers fixate their mission on things unseen rather than things seen. Indeed, it is true that we must live by faith and not by sight. But faith in what is unseen shapes our mission to renew everything we see. Jesus teaches this when his disciples ask how they are to pray. He responds, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus’ mission intends for heavenly realities to become earth’s reality. He promises that the meek do not merely inherit heaven – they inherit the earth.
Oddly, the hope of believers so often is simply to inherit heaven. Since hope fuels mission, hope that is merely heavenly leads to a mission that is only ethereal, invisible, and spiritual. The Bible presents heaven as being better than what life is like here, but that it is a pit stop on the way to something much better – the renewal of all things in the new heavens and new earth. How would believing this true and biblical hope change our mission?
In Wendell Berry’s short story, “At Home,” Art Rowenberry is described as one whose “thoughts were placed and peopled.” What would our lives look like if our thoughts were “placed and peopled” because of Jesus’ reign?
Alleviating poverty in our world and eliminating poverty in our churches would become central and not just peripheral to the mission of God. Loving both neighbor and neighborhood, both people and place would become the way to practice resurrection. Protecting our ecology and environment would become a way to image God more wondrously as he delights in sustaining and cultivating creation (Psalm 65:9-13). Money and resources would no longer be a way to achieve status in the thoughts of others or to establish some sort of permanent security, but instead would be capital in a Kingdom that will know no end on the earth!
We might even begin to embrace our work, as Steve Garber aptly describes, as integral rather than incidental to God’s mission in the world. Dorothy Sayers, in one of my favorite applications of this idea, said in a speech in Eastbourne, England in 1942, “The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”
Because of Jesus’ all-encompassing dominion, we engage every single domain that he gives to us with his renewing mission. May God change and shape the church’s approach to all things because our risen King is making all things new!