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Upping the Ante on the Golden Rule

DaViniceLastSupperMessage for Maundy Thursday on John 13:1-17, 31b-35 given on April 14, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas. You can watch this sermon or the entire worship service here.  

[On Palm Sunday, after the processaional entry, offering and prayers, we did a Living Lord's Supper drama with actors dressed and seated like the DaVinci painting pictured here (the script is designed for Maundy Thursday, but we wanted the bigger Sunday crowd!). We adapted the script for Palm Sunday and you can watch the video here.]

When I was a kid, I wondered why in Holy Week, we had a Monday Thursday. And if today is Monday Thursday, then why isn’t tomorrow Monday Friday and Easter, Monday Sunday? I thought Monday was the least favorite day of the week, so isn’t one Monday enough?

It was much later when I learned the name “Maundy Thursday” comes from the Latin word, mandatum, which means “command.” Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment to love one another as he loves them, so it is Commandment Thursday, Mandatum Thursday, which has over time, has been compressed to Maundy Thursday.

Jesus reveals the radical nature of his love, which is hard for us to grasp and embrace. The nature of Jesus’ love is so far from our experience and our most basic human tendencies.

We are more familiar with the Iron Rule*—Do unto others before they do unto you

This rule represents the survival of the fittest—I am going to take from you before you take from me. My needs and my priorities determine my actions toward others and nothing else. We see the Iron Rule writ large in the news in the Russian war against Ukraine. The attitude is that they will take what they want however they see fit because what they need is all that matters regardless of the method, and who dies in the process. Fear leads us to do unto others before they do unto us.

Then we move up to the Silver Rule . . .Do unto others as they do unto you.

The Silver rule works well when everyone is operating positively and generating good will. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. It is a transactional relationship that works until our fallible nature gets the better of us. Then it quickly becomes an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth which can lead to revenge and vigilantism.

The silver rule is why we love classic movies like The Godfather which dramatize organized crime. There’s always an accounting of who did what to whom, and who pays the price. The Silver Rule can also excuse us from ever taking initiative, because it offers a loophole for people who never want to make the first move. If we do not trust others, we hang back, only responding based on how others’ treat us.

Then we move up to the Golden Rule—this is the rule that we know the best. Jesus gives us the Golden Rule in Luke chapter 6 when he says, "do to others as you would have them do to you." Every major religion shares the Golden rule in common containing some version of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you in their teachings. We all learned this in elementary school, and we are all the better for it.

 But there is a drawback to the Golden Rule—it is limited by our own imagination. We have a hard time imagining other people’s needs and desires when they fall outside of our own experience or culture. My husband, Dan works through this every week serving a multi-cultural church in Garland. The role of an elder in Pakistan or Cameroon is different from an elder here, so communication about expectations and how to treat one another is essential to build Christian community. The Golden Rule can break down, especially in cross-cultural situations because the way we like to be treated may not be appropriate in another cultural setting.

This moves us one step higher up to the Platinum Rule which says, Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.

The Platinum rule requires investment in a real relationship and true listening. We must get to know the person in order to understand what’s important to them, what they value, and how to communicate on their wavelength. The Platinum Rule is something we do every day because it’s important in all healthy relationships, from friendship, to marriage, to parent-child relationships, to cross-cultural dialog and ministry.

We hear Jesus do this very thing when Blind Bartimeus begs him for mercy in John, chapter 9. Jesus asks him, What would like for me to do for you? Jesus engages in a relationship instead of making assumptions about what Bartimeus needs and wants.

Asking this question, "What do you need us to do?" is important as we seek to create more just and equitable systems and workplaces in our society in the wake of the #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements. It requires deep listening and real relationships to understand other people’s experiences which may be different from our own.

Which brings us to tonight when Jesus ups the ante on all of our human relationships even more with a New Commandment, which is called the Titanium Rule: Do unto others as Jesus has done to you. This is what Jesus means when he says to his disciples at the Last Supper: "I give you a new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? To do unto others as Jesus has done to us?

On this night Jesus eats his last meal before he dies. He invites his disciples and closest friends to celebrate the Passover meal with him. Try to imagine it:

• Jesus knows Peter will deny him, not once, but 3 times.
• Jesus understands that Judas will sell him out.
• Jesus knows all of the disciples except John, his Mom, and a few women will run away when he needs them most.
• He’s facing an excruciating death knowing that most of the people he’s close to will abandon, deny and betray him.

If it were your last meal on earth would you invite these so-called friends to join you? How do you face the most difficult and horrible hardship of your life knowing everyone who’s close to you will fail you? What does Jesus do? He invites them to share the bread, enjoy the wine, and eat their fill. Jesus invests the last energy he has in nurturing relationships with fallible, broken, fearful people. And Jesus does not stop there. He dives even deeper.

Jesus not only shares a meal with them, Jesus kneels at their feet, takes the position of a slave—the lowest person on the very bottom rung of the social ladder, and he washes the feet of his fearful, fallible followers—the feet that will run away and abandon him. To love as Jesus loves is to serve those who fail you, to embrace the ones who hurt you, to indulge the ones who do not show up when you need them most.

Loving our enemies is not enough. People will know that we are Jesus’ disciples when we serve and care for those who fail us. Imagine washing the feet of your nemesis, your political polar opposite, your ex-boyfriend, ex-wife, your ex--whomever--that’s the Titanium Rule that shows the world whom we follow.

How can we do this? There’s only one way. By coming to this table where Jesus invites us to participate in his life, be filled with his love, partake of his body. Jesus says, "this is my body, this is my blood – This is myself - I give you myself – I give you all that I am. Be filled with my Spirit."

And he already knows—he already knows that at some point, we will abandon, deny, and betray him in one way or another this week—yet he says, "come. Come to the table, let me serve you with my very life, let me love you, even and most especially your fallible, feeble, fearful souls. And then pass it on, pay it forward as best you can. Let someone see that I love them because you show up to serve, because you show up to love, because you show up to forgive."

Jesus says, "Love as I love you. Go from this meal and pass it on."

*This desription of human relationships with metal names come from the work of Leonard Sweet, Professor Emeritus of Evangelism at Drew Theological Seminary

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Rules Be Damned!

Camera Setup: "BetterLight 6150 | IR 2mm | HID Buhl", Artwork Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, scan.tif", Artwork Colors: "Acrylic Paints.txt", White Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, white scan.tif", White Colors: "Foamcore White.txt", Yoked Image: "Pittman, At His Feet, scan_yoked.tif"Message for Lent 5 on John 12:1-8 on April 3, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

If we wanted to seek a biblical model of what it looks like to “grow your heart”(our theme for Lent) in relationship with Jesus, Mary anointing Jesus’s feet with expensive nard and wiping them with hair would be at the top of my list. In Luke, we see her sitting at Jesus’ feet learning like any true follower, absorbing all she can. Now she takes her disciples to the next level, she gives Jesus the most precious gift she has—not just the expensive perfume, but the gift of her devotion, her discipleship, her love—she gives the gift of her complete self.

It’s hard to underestimate the radical nature of her actions in this story—everything she does is wrong and against custom, common practice, and long-held tradition:

Everyone’s feet were already washed before they came into the house. Dusty roads shared with animals makes for dirty feet shod with sandals—and no one allowed guests into their house without the first act of hospitality which is the washing of feet by the household slave or a woman. Jesus’ feet did not need further attention.

Women were not supposed to be entering the dining room except to serve, so why was May compelled to go in? Jesus had miraculously raised Martha and Mary’s brother, Lazarus, from the dead after 4 days—4 days!—and she was overcome with gratitude and for Jesus. Her brother was alive—in a way that was just imaginable—he had been really dead—stinky dead—and here they were, hosting a dinner party to celebrate hi new life. At the same time Jesus was speaking of his own death—everything felt upside down—death was not final and Jesus, who was so powerful seemed precarious in his--Mary would not be denied this time with either her brother, or with Jesus regardless of the rules. So into the dining room she went with a perfume that overcame the recent stench of death.

Mary begins touching Jesus as she anoints his feet with her perfumed oil. Men and women were prohibited from touching each other in public; in fact men weren’t even supposed to speak to a woman who was not his wife, mother or daughter. Another boundary thrown to the wind.

Scandal escalates with Mary’s hair loose and flowing which she uses as a towel. Because a woman’s loose hair was viewed as too sensual, it was taboo for a woman to have her hair unbound.

Mary’s extravagant nard is worth a laborer’s entire years’ salary and she uses it all to perfume Jesus’ feet—a symbolic act of “anointing” Jesus. Anointing was reserved for kings, prophets or priests who were called by God for a special task, but such anointing was done by a male priest in Jerusalem—NOT by a a layperson, not in Bethany where the poor and the sick were cared for, and certainly not by a woman.

It’s an outrageous scene that Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ is being lavishly anointed for his journey to the cross by a poor, small-town, laywoman, who, in a moment of unbridled devotion, breaks through every boundary and tradition in the books. Can you see the layers of meaning?

• Mary is a priest who anoints Jesus –not for a traditional kingly role, but for burial and like he did for Lazarus—to take away the stench of death for all eternity
• Mary is a faithful disciple whose foot-wiping foreshadows Jesus washing of the disciple’s feet; She already loves like Jesus commands before he even asks the disciples at the Last Supper to love one another as he has loved them. Her will is in union with Jesus’ will and mission—she not only understands the level of love and service Jesus’ calls for, she embodies it even before Jesus himself does.
• Mary is Christlike as she offers her body and her unbound hair for sacrificial service—opening herself to ridicule and shame to show love and gratitude. She signals to Jesus he will not be left alone when is scourging begins, she will remain by him.
• Mary is a fragrant offering, giving away the most expensive, precious thing she has because of the abundance she experiences in the fullness of her relationship with Jesus. Life with Jesus is abundance—grace upon grace.

Rules be damned; Mary risks it all—she offers her whole self to Jesus—perhaps because she knows by now, that this is precisely what Jesus is doing for them— risking it all—offering his whole self to us—for God so loved the world, the cosmos, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Mary sees how precious Jesus’ gift of himself is, so she offers the precious gift of herself in return.

That is truly what these Lenten weeks before Easter are all about, are they not? To help us see Jesus and who he is and what he does for us as clearly as Mary—to see what he offers us as precious, as the heart and center of our lives—our breath, our strength, our hope.

And then to offer something precious in return—our whole selves, our heart, our life, the fragrance of our faith and prayers. Like Mary, we want to give our unbridled devotion that does not give a rip about others’ expectations or what any Judas thinks, because the death and life of Jesus Christ is blessed assurance, undying love, and unmerited forgiveness. And that is worth whatever precious gift I can give—it is worth the time I can give God in prayer, the help I can offer in service, the support and connection I can give and receive in this community, the growth I can gain in Bible study, the abundance I can share with the poor.

We all have something precious to give Jesus for the growing of the kingdom in this place—a part of ourselves in love and service and devotion so that others will know how precious he is to us, to our family, to this church and to our mission. What is your precious gift that you can offer so that our outreach and love expands and more people know of precious gift of Jesus Christ?

When Mary’s rule-breaking behavior was criticized, Jesus defended her, “leave her alone,” he orders. “She gets it—she gets that my devotion to you is pure and precious and complete—that’s why God sent me. And she gets that the best way to experience it is with your whole precious self—Mary is all in.

In that moment, all the rules and barriers are broken open—death isn’t even reliable anymore—look at Lazarus—and he is just the first chapter so stay tuned on that one! The kingdom that is coming is a kingdom of life and abundance and resurrection and love—Mary is the only one who sees the magnitude of love and abundance that breaks open the rules; and breaks open the expensive jar of perfume; and breaks open Lazarus’ tomb; and breaks open the seal on Jesus’ tomb.

Break open your heart, like Mary and pour out with love, the precious gift of yourself in return for what Jesus has done for you.

As we each give ourselves and our precious gifts and become One with Jesus in his will and mission, and to the building of Christ’s kingdom,

    • we like Mary, will be priests, in the priesthood of all believers, anointing more believers for mission in Jesus’ name 
    • we like Mary, will be faithful disciples, serving and loving others as Jesus commands
    • we like Mary will offer ourselves in sacrificial service as we grow in our outreach to our community
    • we like Mary will become a fragrant offering as we share the abundance and richness of God’s love for all –an extravagant love that breaks down barriers and walls and traditions that have kept people apart, away and alienated from each other and from God.

You and your heart are precious gifts to Jesus and to us.

Purchase this Art  Image and others by Lauren Wrigh Pitman at lewpstudio.com.

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Prodigal Love

prodigal son wayne pascallMessage for Lent 4 on Luke 15:1-3,11b-32 on March 27, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson

Lavish. Extravagant. Excessive. Wasteful. Reckless. Wanton. Prodigal. The question of the parable, is who or what is the real prodigal?

These seem apt descriptors of the younger son’s behavior in this famous story Jesus tells the religious leaders who are grumbling about the way he associates with the losers of society. The Pharisees and the scribes believe they have earned the right to engage with the young rabbi—they are the cream of the cop and do not understand why Jesus would waste his time with sinners and tax collectors and other such good-for-nothings.

Jesus spins out his story about how truly terribly the younger son acts—in addition to his dissolute living, he also behaves shamefully— he treats his father as if he were dead and severs the relationship by asking for his inheritance as he heads out of town for a new life. Of course, it is not easy being the second son—ask any second son you know. In ancient times, it meant he would get only 1/3 of the inheritance, no property, and would always be destined to live in the shadow of his older brother. The only way to make a different future for himself is to leave; and because he has dishonored his father, he should never return.

But making a name for himself is not as easy as it first appears, and his self-indulgence leads to failure. The good times last as long as the money does, and when a famine hits, the younger son has no savings, no plan, no family network to rely on, and he sinks rapidly. He languishes in a foreign country feeding pigs forbidden by his own people; he is starving and alone, and hits bottom realizing the error of his ways. Extravagantly wasteful. Excessively reckless. Lavishly wanton. Prodigal does sound like an apt description.
He prepares his confession and his apology to his father and makes his way home. He is prepared to be nothing more than a servant in his father’s household.

The father as it turns out, has also been wasting time scanning the horizon for the son who declared him dead. Finally, one day he sees his son’s figure approaching off in the distance. The father does what men never do in his culture—he behaves like a woman or a slave—and he runs out to meet his son as he approaches the property. Fathers would normally sit and wait to receive the one visiting after someone else brings them into the house. But no, this father, is so moved with extravagant love and excessive compassion, that he leaves all custom and male dignity behind and runs out to welcome his son home.

Before his son can speak his confession and apology, the father hugs and kisses him—the son is forgiven before he confesses, he is loved before he apologizes, he is honored before he humbles himself for dishonoring his father.

The son finally gets out his confession and apology “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But the father is too busy planning a party to celebrate his son’s return and treats him, not like a slave, but like royalty—a feast and a robe, a ring, and sandals, “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

Extravagantly wasteful. Excessively reckless. Lavishly wanton. A father showering his lost younger son with prodigal love. Forgiveness before confession. Love without apology. Acceptance for just showing up. Joy at being found. Love and honor that cannot be squandered no matter how spectacularly hard he tried. That is the prodigal love of the father.
The dutiful older brother does not seem so excited that his brother is back safe and sound. Or maybe he is glad that he is safe, but not that his dad is throwing a good party after bad choices. Prodigal love makes no sense to those who play by the rules, work hard, show up every day, and do what they are supposed to do. Parties are earned, rewards are accounted for, celebrations are the result of daily toil, and paying your dues.

This is the system the scribes and pharisees understand—they share the anger of the older brother and refuse to join the party where the lost have been found. The older son argues with his father: ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Might we say, Extravagantly resentful. Excessively prideful. Lavishly burdened. The prodigal older brother has lived with blessing and family, the promise of a 2/3 inheritance, all the land and the love of his father his whole life—and he has not experienced it, he has not received it as blessing, has not enjoyed it.

His father says to him, as if to explain the obvious: ‘”Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” “There is nothing to earn. Goats and parties, and fatted calves and forgiveness and prodigal fatherly love have always been and will always be yours. You cannot earn it. It is already given—it is your inheritance as my child. You are already living in it, on it, with it, from it, through it—receive it, enjoy it, use it, experience it as blessing and life—with all of my love.”

The prodigal love of the father has always been showered on the older son in the same way it is now poured out on the younger son—can the older brother, can the pharisees, can we see, that this is how God has always loved us? That it never came from getting anything right—but simply because we are God’s sons and daughters? God’s love cannot be lost, manipulated, earned, or controlled by misguided waste or prideful labor.

The younger son cannot squander away the father’s prodigal love and he cannot confess his way back into right standing—because the Extravagantly wasteful, Excessively reckless, Lavishly wanton love of God runs out to meet us when we stray and turn our hearts toward home.

The older son cannot earn the prodigal father’s love by dutiful hard work and perfect service—because all that God has to offer is already ours—a full inheritance of forgiveness, freedom, and joy through Jesus Christ. The Extravagantly wasteful, Excessively reckless, Lavishly wanton love of God invites us into the party of the resurrection where we see that all we have, and all that we are from beginning to end, comes from God’s gracious prodigal hand.

We do not know if the older brother went into the party because we finish the story by joining the party and inviting others in!
So join the party –the Lord’s table is set—all sinners are welcome –and that means you! When you stray—come home and receive the party! When you are prideful and judging others—let it go—all you have has already been given by God—join the party!

 Purchase Art Image by Wayne Pascall pixels.com

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Being Willing

henchicksunderwingMessage for Lent 2 on Luke 13:31-35 on March 13, 2022 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas. Our theme for Lent has been, "Grow Your Heart."

Since moving from Frisco to Richardson, I have finally gone to the new dentist close to our new home. I am embarrassed to say he has offered to come to St. Luke’s to teach all of you how to brush your teeth properly—because he is afraid you are all following my bad example (I wish I were kidding!).

I have a Sonicare, the automatic toothbrush—which I am supposed to let do the cleaning for me. I am not very good at that. So, my dentist has had to use filling amalgam –not for fillings—but instead to fill in at the base of my teeth where I am brushing off the enamel and wearing away my gums.

I joked with him that maybe I am trying to brush away my sins—which means I am an even worse example than poor toothbrushing since I am a Lutheran pastor who’s been ordained for almost 33 years to preach one primary message and that is grace--Gods’ unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness of us in Jesus Christ.

So why am I brushing the hell out of my teeth and gums?

But grace is hard to accept, isn’t it?

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Yes, grace is hard to accept. Jesus laments that Jerusalem—or all of us—are not willing. It’s so simple—that Jesus loves us as we are, forgives us freely, accepts us and embraces us, giving us the freedom to grow from there. But it’s hard to really accept that kind of love –I mean really accept it—down to our enamel, deep in our bones in a way so that we can treat ourselves differently—so we can treat our body with love rather than harshness or shame, with kindness rather than like a disappointed drill sergeant.
Or what about that internal conversation we always have going on in our heads. You know we talk to with ourselves more than anyone else—how well do we accept God’s grace for us there in how we talk to ourselves in our own head? Most of us are not very good at accepting grace in this internal conversation—using more criticism and “should, coulda, woulda” and “why didn’t you” and “you musts” and we save kindness for everyone else but us.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem is a maternal lament—so much outpouring of love and acceptance and inclusion to offer—but we have to be willing, I have to be willing, you have to be willing-- to accept that deep, forgiving, comforting, protective, fierce kind of maternal, Godly, grace-filled love.

But we resist—Jesus is hanging there with his arms open wide, and we recite a creed, and we believe our faith statements, but we hold back parts of ourselves, corners of our heart, sections of our lives, ways of thinking where we do not allow love and grace to permeate, to free us, to change our behavior, our self-talk, our thought patterns.
There are many reasons why— for me, it’s always feeling unworthy and feeling like I have to earn it. For others it’s feeling that we do not matter, or a fear of being abandoned or betrayed, or unsafe, or that we are not special enough, or we simply have too much anxiety to trust anyone, including God. Whatever our gut issue, it comes back to being in control as way to manage our life and emotions.

But here is Jesus who knows us and lived like us and put on our skin and knows every last one of our anxieties worries and gut issues, looking at us and saying,
“you are behaving like a scared little chick in a storm. I am right here. You are scratching and clawing away at life to get to the place where you already are by grace. Come on in, tuck under my wing, my love, you’re already here, grace is for you, for all of you, for your whole life, and for all the other chicks in your life.”
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,
Can you become willing?

Can we embrace the freedom of letting go of the negative control, for the gift of embracing the freedom and kindness of grace? By grace we have been saved, yes, yes of course we can.

So the way are growing our hearts this week of Lent is to identify one area of our life where would like to move from being unwilling to accept God’s grace to being willing to tuck under Jesus’ wing of love and forgiveness, and acceptance.

So, where are you treating yourself with harshness instead of love and kindness? What is one area you can become willing to let go of controlling your own way and come under Jesus’ wing of love and let forgiveness, wholeness, and acceptance of yourself in that situation flow through you and give you a new way to approach it--- a new way to behave, exercise, or talk with yourself, or manage a habit.

I talked with my friend, Karen this week and she has always struggled with procrastination, and we talked about what this would like for her to stop beating herself up for it and embrace grace. And she laughed when I told her the toothbrush story, because me being hard on myself came as no surprise to her. So we talked about how I can slow down and use it as a time to pray rather than rushing to get the next thing done. 

Because my issue is not ultimately just about tooth brushing—when myself care routines are so harsh, they do damage, I have not allowed God’s grace and love to permeate this part of my life---I need to tuck under Jesus’ love and acceptance and forgiveness and reimagine them from a place of unconditional love how all my self-care habits can come from kindness and acceptance rather controlled “you better shape up” kind of harshness. (If you hang out with my long enough you realize everything can have spiritual significance—even tooth brushing!).

Growing our hearts this week involves accepting Jesus unconditional maternal love for us, as he embraces us in all of who we are, and loves us into the freedom of grace.
When you become willing for Jesus to love you in this fierce and tender, unwavering maternal way, just imagine all the harsh stress you can be freed from! Just think for a minutes if you released just some of the shame, guilt, unworthiness, fear, anxiety, lack of trust, self-criticism and judgments you carry—what energy will be released! This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said for freedom Christ has set us free. To stand off by ourselves unwilling to come under Jesus’ complete wing of love is to be trapped and stuck. But to run, willing and ready to allow Jesus’ complete forgiveness, acceptance and grace wash over us and spill into our thoughts, our behaviors, our actions, how we treat ourselves—that releases and frees us like only God’s liberating love can.

We become magnets of grace who exude love and possibility because people drawn to those who shine the light of Christ and love to the world; people are drawn to those who are overflowing with love. (And in case you were wondering, it all starts with patiently and softly rolling your toothbrush down from the gums on the top, and up from the gums on the bottom!)

I would love to hear how YOU are becoming more willing to accept Jesus love and grace more deeping into your life, as we all become greater beacons of light as God loves us forward into our higher selves.

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The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.