Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. - The Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church, adopted 2008
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. - Romans 8:19-25What does it mean that we United Methodists seek "the transformation of the world"? I suppose we could sit around and pretend there isn't an answer already there in Scripture. Were we less inclined to shout at one another, we might just realize how simple it is. We might just realize how monumental is this task set before us.
See, here's the thing. Jesus spent his time doing ministry sitting and listening to people, healing their hurts, inviting them in to community with their fellows, not so much "teaching" as living out The Kingdom of God. He didn't waste his time trying to tell people what it was and wasn't, who was in and who was out. He just went around and showed people. If some dork got really stuck, Jesus would tell a story, usually prefaced with, "The Kingdom of God is like this . . ." and talk about seeds being planted, or seeds growing, or leaven, or lost coins. Stuff folks could wrap their minds around.
The transformation of the world isn't a political or social or cultural program, although Lord knows it embraces them. The transformation of the world isn't a moral or ethical program, although Lord knows it embraces them. At the end of the day, the transformation of the world is just this: Living as if loving God and loving our neighbors really were the most important things in the world. Jesus wasn't a conservative or a liberal; he wasn't a monarchist or republican; he wasn't a moralist or nihilist. He wasn't a drunkard or whore-monger or a blasphemer or a rebel or a reactionary or a business tycoon or community organizer. He was just the Son of God fully human.
When we celebrate with those who are joyful, the world is transformed. When we reach out and comfort those who mourn, the Kingdom of God breaks through the sin of our time and makes it holy. When we achieve peace with our fellow human beings, the world is no longer our mundane, sinful place. When we recognize the sacrifice of those who give all they have for others, we see the world changing before our eyes.
These moments are always fleeting. We long, like Peter and John on the Mount of Transformation, to set up a place where we all can rest, right here and now. Sad to say, we cannot - yet - stop and stay and live in these moments where the Light from the Throne breaks forth in our present darkness.
We can, however, keep working each moment of our lives so that this might happen.
Our hope rests in the promise that this Light will fill all creation with real joy and peace. For now, our job is to wade through the muck and mire of our chaotic world, dragging our fellows up and holding them, showing them they are loved, they are precious. That as unique creations of a good God they have infinite worth, demonstrated in the cross and empty tomb of Christ. It could be a little thing, such as a phone call to someone for whom loneliness is such a constant companion it has ceased to have any meaning. It could be something more, such as letting another person know they have not lived and loved and struggled in vain.
It could be a really big thing, like standing up against the powers of our Age between the times and declaring they have no power over us, because our hope doesn't rest in the false security of rotting bread or a home that can be destroyed. Even more than love for God and one another, I believe the Devil fears our laughter at his expense. What is more demeaning of the presumptively powerful than derision?
These are things I believe more than anything. I believe we have already won. I believe the world has already begun to change; our task is to make that transformation clear in and through our living with others. What task could be more important? What calling could match this?