A New Kind of Urban Ministry
Is there a biblical model, then, that describes better the situations of churches and Christians in cities today—that retains the valuable features of Exodus and Exile while accounting for our responsibility for our communities? Yes, and it is rooted in the 50 days that make us Christians—from Resurrection, through Ascension, to Pentecost. This story redefines our relationship not just to God but to our world. It is a story summed up in one word, Expectation, that keeps us rooted in and responsible for the flourishing of the world precisely because we have a hope outside of history in the usual sense.
Resurrection anchors this story. The exiles had Isaiah's words of hope for future restoration. But in Jesus' resurrection, the restoration of all things has already begun—it is not just future, but here in its earliest stages. It is not only possible, but achieved. Resurrection empowers us to live infinitely more boldly than exiles who wait to see whether God will come through.
The Ascension is a crucial element of Expectation. That the risen Jesus no longer is confined to a single place or time means that he is Lord over every place and time. The fact that our humanity is represented in the very presence of God means that none of us has an excuse for taking our humanity lightly. But the fact that Jesus is absent, enthroned in heaven but not yet recognized as Lord of creation, calls for a profound dependence on God. "Is now the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?" Jesus' disciples asked him after his resurrection. This is the hope of Empire, another possible biblical line of thought—the hope that the work of restoring the world will be finished straightaway, with people like us in control.
For whatever reason—and quite literally only God knows—that is not the way restoration is meant to happen. Rather than an imperial takeover, Jesus commissions his people for what has turned out to be a lengthy and thorough process of bearing witness to his lordship—but also one that has touched vastly more nations than one people group in Palestine. Jesus wants every place, not just Jerusalem, to be restored to flourishing, full of thriving bearers of God's image.
The Ascension, with its hope both fulfilled and delayed, calls us to a discipleship that our dreams of Empire would not. Indeed, it calls us to wait for a power beyond ourselves—the power that comes at Pentecost. Amid Pentecost, the far-flung first apostles find themselves witnessing, and suffering, in marketplaces and palaces, inside synagogues and outside temples—spread like leaven through all the institutions of the ancient world.
When we say "this is our city," then, we are staking a claim to a certain kind of Christian responsibility. Not the plundering flight of those in exodus, but a tenacious commitment to increasing the deepest well-being of the cultures we inhabit, as we testify to the one who secured that well-being with his own self-giving love. Not the dream of displacing one people with another, but the recognition that every nation is the object of God's saving purposes. Not the chastened diligence of exiles captive to an earthly power, but the eager investment of those sent to a place by the Spirit's power, graced with more resources than they deserve and a longer view of the world's story than anyone else could imagine.