Week 46: Pursuing the Mission of God

Readings for the week: Psalm 133, 1 Chronicles 13-29Mark 5-7Psalm 134, Listen to these passages

Opening Prayer:

Dear Lord, with all that life throws at me, I can easily get caught up in trying to make my own way, force answers, and fight for my will to be done.  But you’re calling me into a different pattern of life, one of hope and one of peace.  In the midst of the busyness, I stop now and pray for that peace, for the calm of your Spirit, that I might hear better, see more clearly, hope more strongly, in your promises.  Lead me into the way of life, and in all the tasks I have today give me guidance. In all the people I meet this week, give me grace. In everything I do, give me confidence in your mission that I can be the person you have made me to be and are empowering me to be.  May I hear you when you say go and may I listen when you say stop.  Be with those I know who need your answers and your presence too.  Amen.

1. Psalm 133

2. Reading through 1 Chronicles 13-29

A big tension throughout the Bible, and throughout our own lives, is what it means to pursue the mission of God. There’s a lot going on, and so much of what we think God wants is defined by goals other than what God has asked for. God seeks our obedience, and in our zeal (or our distraction) we can get caught up in a lot of busyness that has little to do with obedience, or start obsessing about giving God a lot of what he  isn’t asking for. Like a patient parent, God seems to delight in the ways we want to respond, as long as these ways don’t interfere in what he is asking for.

In this chapters, we see David establishing his rule and trying to be faithful to God in the process, for the most part.  There’s three key themes in these chapters that relate to pursuing God’s mission. First, David realizes the importance of identifying God as being in charge. For Israel, this is symbolized through the Ark of the Covenant, which doesn’t contain God–it’s not an idol–but is more like a scepter or crown, it’s the expression of God’s work, the presence of God’s promise that extends into act and identity.  In this, the people are to show respect for the Ark, to respond to it as a symbol of God’s presence, not to be used or abused or treated in any old way, but to be honored as representing God’s rule.

God is present with the Ark, and in a way, the Ark is how the people relate to God. Again, not as an idol to worship but as a way of physicalizing God’s commandments and reminding the people of the grace and responsibility.  In light of this, David wants the Ark to have a home, but what is it that God wants? God is not an object to be coddled, and isn’t seeking a home made by people. We want to give God the things that we think are great, and in doing that, not so much honoring God as showing other people around us the kinds of things that we can get done.  What does God ask David for?

What do you think this means in light of our big church buildings and grand gestures?  What is God wanting for us? What are the ways that God is present with us?

David wasn’t given permission to build a big Temple. We learn that in part this is because he’s not a man of peace.  That’s interesting, because it is God who called him to war.  This isn’t so much a contradiction as an acknowledgement that the world is a messy place and that God has his own timing.  We can do what God wants but because of our own nature, this still affects us, so we might not then be the people to carry out all the mission.

Like Moses bringing the to the edge of the land, but not getting in. David gets establishes the kingdom, but isn’t able to take the next steps of proclaiming the fullness of the kingdom. The goal wasn’t war, after all, the goal is peace and an invitation to peace, and that was left for someone else.

David still establishes a place for the Ark, and honors God’s presence with the people by following the law for worship to God. He listens to God’s call for a place and ceremony.  God gives David victory.

But then, even still, David gets caught up in his own goals, moving quickly from honoring God to seeing how many people he controls. It seems, oddly enough, that God provokes this or allows it. Maybe less like goading and more like the Tree in the Garden. Faced with a temptation, what does David do? He stumbles and gives into pride, surveying how much power he has and who has to listen to him.

It has an effect, and in the punishment, David continues to seek God’s grace. He learns it’s not up to his power or his army, but God’s presence.  We see David returning to a place of humility, and rather than invoking his rights or his own glory, he leads in light of God’s faithfulness and generosity.

He establishes the worship, he leads with hope in God, he stumbles along the way, but doesn’t make excuses. He rules in light of God’s lordship and aligns himself with this rule.

This is the story of King David.

3. Reading Through Mark 5-7

While a very different style and setting, these chapters in Mark share much the same big themes. What does God want? What is God’s mission? Whereas the work of God was symbolized by the Ark in the OT, the Ark isn’t the emphasis in the Gospels. In fact, by this time, the Ark had been lost (and still is! Unless some government worker knows it it really is in some warehouse…). The work of God was identified not by the presence of the Ark, and not even as much by the Temple, but by the identity of the People. They knew the Law and the Prophets, and didn’t want to tempt punishment by wandering off track anymore.  So they were zealous for the Law, the food laws and all the rest, to show their obedience to Gods’ calling.

But what is it that God cares about? What is it that God has always cared about? People. The Law and the rest were patterns of behavior that intended to orient people in community and in God’s mission. Like with so many things in life, though, the means can become their own end, and people get locked into seeing the rules–keeping the rules and making others keep the rules–into the purpose of life.  The rules make sense, they’re meant to help people navigate the complexities of life.  But God isn’t limited to the complexities and in the Gospels we see what God really does care about.

God seeks peace. God seeks wholeness. God seeks life. But people don’t want God, so undermine this message and seek to silence it.  The prophets (including John the Baptist!) become targets.

Jesus points to a bigger kind of life than what those in power want. He doesn’t do this by asserting his political power or throwing his support behind the right ruler. He teaches about a bigger life by showing he speaks for God. What the Law was getting at, what the Ark was symbolizing, Jesus conveys in full. Why should we trust this?  The Ark contained manna, the “just enough” food for people in the wilderness. Jesus provides a bountiful feast for the 5000, with above and beyond remaining as leftovers.  Jesus does miracles, healings, casts out demons, those plagues of a persons psycho-social life that cause chaos in every direction. He gives freedom. Not a general freedom, an idealized freedom full of platitudes, but an actual freedom to particular people from their particular problems.  He shows the way of life and invites others into this kind of free and freeing life.

In seeing Jesus as not just someone who talks about God but expresses himself as God, it is easy to wonder why the Ark was so dangerous while Jesus wasn’t.  The purpose of God hasn’t changed, but the context and the method is getting more filled out. God was always about inviting people into life, but when the temptations and challenge was to use or abuse God’s name for political purposes, God made sure to emphasize he’s not an object at the mercy of people. In a context where the law was a heavy weight and people felt distant, God is a presence of hope and peace.  It’s the same God, the same mission, but showing power in different ways.

The difference between Old and New expressions also emphasizes that God is in charge of God’s own interactions. We don’t get to tell God where he can sit or who he can interact with. We’re the servants. God can do what God wants and when God addresses the Law through assertion of power, that shows the authority of God. When God addresses the problem of sickness or alienation by healing, thus obeying the Law by changing the situation God shows there’s more ways to be faithful than the minimum. Jesus is never made unclean by the sick or dead or contaminated, he cleanses.

In Jesus, we see who God is, and in Jesus we see the path of the mission of God we are to follow.

In light of these chapters, what would you say is the mission of God?

What is God’s calling for you this week in living out this calling that Jesus exemplifies?

4. Psalm 134


5. Respond

If you’ve fallen behind in the readings or haven’t started yet, don’t worry.  Reading the Bible isn’t a limited time offer. Jump in this week. Start where you can and then continue on.

I highly encourage you to share your thoughts with others in your family, or immediate community. Talk about this stuff! 

Since I sometimes feel lonely, share your thoughts in the comment section.

Talking about your thoughts and questions is a very important part of the reading goal. Writing out our thoughts can help us remember what we read and keep our minds on the passage.

It helps to share as we learn from each other.

Our questions or confusion can bring us together, as we highlight what others may have missed or address what a lot of us are also wondering.   Don’t feel like you have to say or write a lot, or feel pressure to be profound. Respond with honesty and openness.

Just jump right in where you’re at, knowing that Christ invites you to respond without pressure or anxiety. It’s a journey not a performance.