Reading with Missional Lenses

As I write this, the remnants of hurricane Michael are right over the area where I live.  The trees are swaying in the wind and the rain comes in bands.  I’m familiar with this kind of weather because I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast.  I just never expected it would be part of the weather in the southern Appalachian Mountains.  We have a cold front coming through later this week that will drop the temperature and hopefully the leaves will finally turn and show their autumn beauty.

While all that weather is happening outside, I am studying the book of Job in preparation for Sunday worship.  I use the Revised Common Lectionary in Sunday worship.  I find it helpful because the three year cycle of scripture covers most of the Bible.  One preacher I knew said that he used the Lectionary so that his congregation could come to church for nine years in a row and never hear the same sermon.  The Lectionary gives us the opportunity to grapple with scriptures that we might otherwise skim over.

Not Just The Gospels

It would be easy to focus only on the gospels when considering the mission activity of the church.  In fact, one of the key motivations for Christians to be involved in mission projects like hurricane relief is the mandate of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for those on the margins.  It’s more difficult to discern the missional focus of scripture when we are reading texts like Job.  However, Christopher J.H. Wright in The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative says that “mission is what the Bible is all about.”  In his view, all of scripture helps us to see God’s mission in, to, and for the world.

In Job chapter 2, Job is suffering from the tragic loss of his livelihood, his family, and his health.  His friends hear about the trouble Job is in and they come to be with him.  “When they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him, and they raised their voices and wept aloud; they tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads.  They sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  Job’s friends offer compassionate presence.   In his suffering, his friends provide the ritual of lament and companionship.

Early Response Teams

Many UMC early response teams have been hard at work in areas impacted by the flooding of hurricane Florence, and more are at the ready to go and help now in the Florida panhandle as hurricane Michael moves out.  These teams are trained to muck out flooded houses, to clean up debris, to clear out dangerous damaged areas on houses and put up tarps and temporary outer walls.  Even more important than that, these teams know that sometimes their work will not be the mucking out or clearing out.  These volunteers know that what is most important is to be a compassionate presence to those who are suffering.  They know that sometimes what people need is someone to sit down, share a cup of coffee and just be still.  People who have suffered a tragic loss may not have the words to explain how they are feeling, but volunteers in mission can be a compassionate presence in the silence.  Just as Job’s friends sat with him for a week without speaking, so too can volunteers in mission sit and offer silent lament and companionship in the worst of times.

When we read scripture, one of the things that people who are active in mission should always look for is the ways in which we see God’s mission revealed in the text.  This is reading with missional lenses.  As the body of Christ, any mission work or activity we do is not our own mission but participation in God’s mission in, to, and for the world.  What scriptures are you reading now that help you to see the mission of God?

 

Wright, Christopher J.H., The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006. 29.

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