Saturday, October 21, 2006

kingdom is near

Everyone who’s ever been on a short-term mission trip, knows that it is never what is expected on many levels. The least important level, though perhaps the most stressful in the moment, is that nothing ever goes as planned. Usually however, everything seems to go as it is supposed to, though one never knows that at the time.
On a more important level, it is not what is expected because those who go to “minister” are always the ones ministered to. This seems like a profound surprise during the first short-term trip one takes. The real profundity though is experienced on subsequent trips when one believes in experience that he’s got it all figured out, will expect to be blessed as much or more than he blesses, but then as if he’s never done this before, is taken completely by surprise by once again being the receiver rather than the minister.
This has been my experience on several trips to Eastern Europe.
Two years ago, though, I experienced it vicariously when Allison went to the Philippines, and I posted some pics and a scripture. Greg’s response pointed out what I’ve said about the reversal of ministry and hospitality.
I have friends from the Philippines and if I were to make a general assessment of all Filipinos based on my knowledge of my friends, apparently I’d be dead on. Evidently they are the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth. My friends spent a weekend in our home a couple years ago, and though we thought they were our guests, they basically took care of us and fed us the whole time they were here. Not only did they do all the cooking for the weekend, but they also prepared and froze food to last us a good long while after they left. And all at their own expense. I blogged about this, and some interesting inquiries were raised. Greg wondered at whether Jesus may have prepared the meal for Zacchaeus. I wondered at the fact that Jesus had cooked breakfast for the disciples after they’d been fishing all night, and how he told the woman at the well that if she knew who had asked her for a drink, she’d have asked him for a drink.
My friends’ visit here and hosting us in our own home had a profound impact on me. I’ve pondered the whole experience ever since. Last year at the emergent gathering, I watched a missionary on furlough from Scotland come in and host everyone else. I have since learned that he basically does that everywhere he goes. Someone will invite him to dinner and then call and ask him what he’ll be cooking so that they can get groceries for him.
This week, all these thoughts have come together for me as I read the accounts of Jesus’ sending of the pairs of disciples. He appointed and sent out 72. At first, as I read, I thought about how Jesus seemed to be sending the disciples to experience precisely what I’ve described as the short-term mission trip experience. Go and be ministered to. And I guess that is in fact what he did. But the subtlety of the strategy is easily missed, especially by those of us who thought we were bringing something, but ended up receiving.
Jesus tells the disciples to take nothing for the journey, no food, no money, no jacket, nothing. Stay in the people’s home and be provided for. Hmmmm. Oh, yeah, and tell them the Kingdom of God is near. Perhaps we think we’re merely taking a message, but in fact we’re bringing a kingdom for them to participate. In this kingdom, people love and care for and provide for one another. We actually provide part of the message by providing the context for them to participate. Nothing exposes a person’s worth to himself like being needed and caring for someone else. The room is equalized by people serving together. Remember the woman’s response at the well? “How is it that you, a Jew, would ask me for a drink?”
Perhaps we are so hardheaded that this concept eludes us. So God causes it to happen, and we still feel like the beneficiaries of the blessing. How many times have we said, ‘no no, you sit, we’re here to serve you?’ And therefore, how many times have we messed up the picture of kingdom living to those to whom we’re trying to bring the message? Jesus said that he’d come not to be served but to serve. But sometimes he served by allowing people to minister to him and thus participate in his kingdom. He did this at Bethany for the woman with the perfume. He did this for the woman at the well. He did this for Zacchaeus.
Finally, I’m struck that my profound dumbfoundedness at being the receiver instead of the giver on these trips, seems to be the same as the disciples when they returned. Though Jesus had instructed them that if they were not received, it was actually him that was not received and that they should shake the dust off their sandals and move on, when they came back, they were ecstatic. Jesus responded with joy and prayed:
"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”

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