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Marks of Missional Congregation. Week 2

Introduction. Last week as we began our new series on ‘Marks of a Missional Congregation’, I suggested we are missional, good news, Jesus sharing people because God is missional. We considered this from the perspective of the psalms, that as you move your way through the psalms you realise, they are communicating 3 key interlinked messages. Firstly, God is most definitely worthy of our worship and praise. Secondly the task of Israel is to make the character of God known throughout the nations so that finally one day the worship and rule of the creator God will involve every nation and all of creation. This is exactly why Jesus spoke about breaking in the Kingdom of God. 

So, what is this thing that Jesus is most concerned with, the Kingdom of God. Throughout this series we will see that whether in the Old or New Testament the people of the Kingdom of God are identified as faithful members of an unseen Kingdom, whose existence is on earth but whose citizenship lies in their allegiance to God. Those whose major concern is that God’s will is carried out on earth as it is in heaven as per our Lord’s Prayer. Jesus makes clear this not bound by geography, or time but is something that resides within the faithful as they seek to carry out God’s will. At its most basic the Kingdom of God is wherever God rules in the hearts of his followers.

The standards of this Kingdom are revealed in Jesus Life and ministry, the sermon on the mount is central to our understanding of this. We enter this Kingdom of God’s by Grace, through faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus, in repentance we determine to live as people of the God’s Kingdom, to live by higher standards of love, mercy and justice. Last week I watched distressed as events in America unfolded, I was even more distressed that in the middle of this rioting crowd was a placard displaying the words ‘Jesus Saves’. Suddenly some difficult words of Jesus made sense for the first time when he said. 

“Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21 NIV. Words that express faith can be cheap outside the context of the Kingdom of God. God’s Kingdom needs no visa, and we are joined to followers of Jesus in every part of his world.

The book of Daniel. Today I want us to see the significance of the Kingdom of God through an incident in the book of Daniel. Sadly, most people’s interest in the book is limited to finding clues about how our world will end, or through Sunday School lessons about Daniel in the lion’s den or Daniel and his friends in the fiery furnace. This is sad because the book has some profound lessons for us which clearly helped shape the first followers of Jesus. As the writer Stanley Walters says “Daniel is a much more practical book than the church at large has recognised. It is work that chronicles what it means to live as the people of God through times of openness and times of persecution.” Walter’s comment is a particularly good summary of the book of Daniel, a book of two halves, in which we are introduced to the ruling powers of the time through a series of stories and visions. In the first part of the book when the people of God our threatened, God intervenes, enables them to have influence over those who hold power. In the second half, the people of God are asked to suffer persecution as the evil of the times appears beyond their influence. However, the message of Daniel is that God’s Kingdom although it might appear to be silent is ever present, sometimes working visibly on our behalf and sometimes invisibly, the call always to the people of God’s Kingdom is to be faithful.

The reading that Derek shared, is for me central to our understanding of the book, it provides a wonderful parable of the Kingdom of God and must have informed Jesus parable of the mustard seed and the Kingdom of God. We join the events when King Nebuchadnezzar demands an interpretation of his dream, on pain of death to his astrologers etc. The King is angry when they cannot meet his demands and to make matters worse the failed interpreters are sent to Daniel and friends for them to oversee the executions. Daniel pleads for time and effectively calls a prayer meeting. In the middle of the night the interpretation is given to him and he offers this magnificent hymn of praise to God.

Daniel 2:19-23 NIV

During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel describes to the King a statue each section of which from head to toe represents powerful Kingdoms still to come represented by gold, silver, bronze, clay, and iron. Suddenly in the dream a divinely hewn stone comes from nowhere and strikes the foot of the statue, it disintegrates to such an extent it is as if it had never been there. But then in the dream the rock begins to grow and grow and grow until it fills the whole earth. Then we read these words Daniel 2:44 NIV “In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.

The picture of the rock that grows until it fills the whole earth, mirrors many of Jesus  parables about the kingdom of God, whether it is the tiny mustard seed or the hidden treasure or the parable of the net that does it is work unseen beneath the waters. In the centuries since Jesus told those parables many kingdoms have come and gone, and others are still arising in our world. Yet the Kingdom of God has been constant throughout and will endure for ever. Whilst the number of believers maybe in decline in the west there are probably more members of God’s Kingdom in the world today than there have ever been.

We are missional because we are part of the kingdom of God.

Practical Point. Missional Congregations learn together. When I was a young boy for about 6 months I got interested in fishing. I saved my pennies, brought a cheap rod etc and even got a couple of books on fishing from a mobile library. I tried to teach myself, following the books but with little success. The problem was neither my brother nor my dad was interested in fishing. There was no one to sit alongside me, to explain how to do it. There is a view from what is called the theory of knowledge that you only properly know something once you have had to interpret it or explain it to someone else. I subscribe fully to this view when it comes to discipleship. Missional congregations, as Craig Van Gelder writes, “we are to be learning communities. We are beckoned to learn of and from Jesus, to be disciples and to make disciples and to attend to and follow the Holy Spirit. Learning is a communal activity, and God has made us interpreters together.” For western churches discipleship has sometimes become a matter of consumerism, individuals choosing what following Jesus means for them, in much the same way we choose where we might do our weekly shop. 

This communal learning is not limited to someone like me preaching week after week, it takes place when we worship together, pray together, study together, ask questions of each other, cry together, laugh together. I read recently that some aspects of consumerism can be good for the church, that maybe true, but when it comes to discipleship it is a disaster. We end up with dispirit understanding of what church is, what mission means, in short, we end up fixed in the past and discover the breath of God has already moved on and we must wait for it to return. 

We are missional because we are part of the Kingdom of God.

First published on: 23rd January 2021
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