When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. (Luke 21)
In the long and disturbing speech that Jesus gave to his earliest followers towards the end of his ministry with them, he outlines what lay ahead in time for the people of his time—a speech referring to wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines and plagues; betrayals, arrests and imprisonments; and even hatred. And we might want to add, from our immediate context, in the midst of a changing climate, more aggressive heatwaves and out of control bushfires—with all the damage and grief that this brings, as we have so recently seen.
In the midst of this speech, Jesus offers these simple, potent words: [all of] this will give you an opportunity to testify (Luke 21:13). I hear this as a piercing call to be on mission in precisely the tumult and turmoil of life as it rolls along, amidst all the upheaval and distress that life throws at us. Testifying to the hope we have and the love we know because of Jesus, is fundamental to who we are as the church.
To be on mission means to have a sense that we are sent to the people of the world. Mission comes from the Latin missio, the verb “to send”. Towards the end of the Gospel of John, we read that the risen Jesus appeared to his followers and said to them, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20). The first followers of Jesus were charged to be missionaries, sent, on mission, into the world.
In Greek, the corresponding term is apostello, the verb “to send”. The person who is sent for a specific purpose is known, in Greek, as an apostolos. We know how important it was, for the writers of the Synoptic Gospels, to depict the central role of a foundational group within the early church – those known as apostles, or “sent ones”.
We also know how important it was for Paul, who was not numbered among the first twelve, to be accepted as “an apostle of God, sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but [sent] through Jesus Christ and God the Father” (Gal 1). The first followers of Jesus understood themselves to be apostles, sent ones, on mission, into the world.
All of these texts feed into the call to be a church of mission, with a clear focus on mission. So the move for a Mission Focus in the local church has emerged out of a growing international and ecumenical grasp of the missio dei … the mission of embracing love towards the world, which God offers through Jesus Christ.
I reflect on this now, in the context of my own denomination, the Uniting Church in Australia. In our Basis of Union, there is a clear articulation of the centrality of Mission in the life of the church. The Basis clearly affirms that, as a Uniting Church, we seek “to enter more deeply into the faith and mission of the Church in Australia, by working together and seeking union with other Churches” (para. 2). Being on mission forms a central and essential dimension of contemporary life for the church.
Mission is at the heart of who we are, as the people of God. Mission is the key feature that we are seeking to highlight, and develop, within the contemporary church.
The importance of mission has been articulated in the Five Marks of Mission, developed by the Anglican Church in the UK and adopted by numerous denominations in many nations around the world. The Five Marks of Mission are:
1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom TELL
2. To teach, baptize and nurture new believers TEACH
3. To respond to human need by loving service TEND
4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society TRANSFORM
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation
and sustain and renew the life of the earth. TREASURE
They are often summarised in a succinct shorthand fashion, as:
Tell … Teach … Tend … Transform … Treasure
And those key terms help to focus the work of Congregations and people of faith in our current context.