Lost to the western church today is a clear understanding of the Church’s primary reason for being—to complete Christ’s mission to the world. Through witness, proclamation, and action we are to strive to bring God’s justice and reconciliation to the earth’s people and its institutions and systems. In Christ, God is reconciling the world to Himself, and we are his ambassadors to accomplish this (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
As Christ’s body in the world, we are an extension of Christ’s mission to the world. In Luke 4 Jesus reads two passages of Scripture from the prophet Isaiah to a Synagogue in his hometown. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is decidedly a message of kindness, mercy, and encouragement, not judgment or condemnation. Jesus then declares that this prophecy is that day fulfilled in their midst, making it clear that this is the mission he has come to fulfill. Jesus thus identifies himself with the Old Testament mission to all people and particularly those on the margins whom God longs to bring to the center of God’s love. (See also Micah 6:8 and Amos 5:24).
In Acts 1:8, Jesus expands and empowers the mission, passing it on to his disciples and through them to us when he says, “But you shall receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” From Luke’s pen we see that the compassionate mission of Jesus has passed to us. We are to witness to the power of God beginning where we live and work and then respond to the needs of God’s children wherever we see them.
It was Jesus’ expectation that the signs of power and healing present in Jesus’ ministry, would be active in the lives of all who follow him. At times in human history when the power of the Holy Spirit has been evident in the life of the church, the church has added to its numbers rapidly as we have seen in SE Asia and Africa in the last few decades. It may be that we have focused more on non-essentials here, rather than on witnessing to the transforming power of God present in a Church in love with Christ, his beloved ones, and obedient to his calling.
Anglican theology used to understand that at Confirmation, we affirmed our Baptismal Covenant and received the Holy Spirit and took our place in the ministry of the Church empowered and directed by the Spirit. It is possible we remember this no longer and therefore do not expect the Holy Spirit to transform, empower, and prepare us for the work of reconciliation set before us by our Savior.
Having just celebrated the joyous victory of the Resurrection and anticipating the release of the Spirit into our lives at Pentecost, it is time to expect again that the Holy Spirit will work with power through our gifts and skills, longings and vocations to complete God’s mission in the world. In a humble, Spirit-empowered Church, God’s concern for reconciliation, justice, mercy, and redemption in all areas of creation can begin. Because the scope of this mission is so vast, obedient, Spirit-empowered Christians with all skills, vocations, talents, and passions are needed.