We have a park just down the block from our house. I coach my son’s soccer team at this park. I walk my dog at the park. My 4-year-old daughter loves the playground at the park. Every year at Thanksgiving we host a Turkey Bowl football game at the park. We love our park. The park is a place where we practice being present. Eugene Peterson translates John 1:14 this way: “The word became flesh… and moved into the neighborhood.” There is a distinct difference between living in a house and being present in a neighborhood. Mission is being present in your neighborhood in a Jesus way. This makes mission as simple as a walk in the park.
The first missionary journey was a walk in the garden.[i] When Adam and Eve sinned, they did not go running after God.[ii] They hid themselves. The Bible is not story of a desperate humanity seeking after God; it is a story of a God seeking after a desperate humanity. We must not mistake the biblical narrative. God is the first missionary, and His first act as a missionary is to seek a relationship. Mission is always relational.
The Bible doesn’t tell of humanity’s ascent from our broken story, but of God’s descent into the broken story. In the Bible it is always God who descends; it is never humanity who ascends. God descended in the Garden seeking Adam and Eve.[iii] God descended on the tabernacle and journeyed with his people.[iv] God descended on the temple and moved into the neighborhood.[v] God descended as Jesus and lived in the neighborhood of humanity.[vi] God descended as the Holy Spirt on Pentecost to live within humanity.[vii] And one day, God will descend with the New City and He will finally make all things new.[viii] It is not the church that has a mission; it’s a missionary God who has a church. It’s our missionary God who shows us to live on mission.
Sin has broken every story. The primary mark of sin is separation. Sin is a separator. Sin separates us from self, each other, and God. When God descends He bridges the gap that separates us. The tabernacle brought heaven to earth. The temple brought heaven to earth. Jesus brought heaven to earth. Now the Holy Spirit has brought heaven to earth within the believer.[ix] Believers are to expectantly pray for heaven and earth to meet.[x] During the times of the tabernacle, temple, and Jesus, heaven met earth wherever the presence of the Lord was. If you would have asked a faith-filled person at any of those times, “Where is the holiest place on earth?” They would have said, “Where God’s presence is.” Right now God’s presence dwells within believers.[xi] Wherever a believer goes in faith, she goes with God.
If you are going with God, you will go the way God has gone. God has sought reconciliation with his people through his presence. God seeks us with his presence, Jesus was present for us on the cross, and the Spirit is present within us. To be on mission then is to practice the presence of God with others. John Perkins writes the “theology of presence” is “a theology that lies at the heart of God’s relationship with humanity. The incarnation—God’s coming to earth in human form to live and breathe and walk and work and minister among us—illustrates God’s desire to be present with those he has created.”[xii]
Mission is no more complicated than a walk in the park. The mission of God was started with a walk in the garden, and it continues to be that way. God’s desire for you is to a neighbor who is present in the neighborhood. You are called to walk in the park, to be God’s presence in the park. When God is present, he seeks out the separated. When you walk in the park, seek the separated. Believer, you are God’s temple bringing heaven to earth wherever you go. When you bridge the gap between you and your neighbor, God can bridge the gap between your neighbor and Him. Neighboring is a walk in the park.