It’s rare for me to wish that our church had a ‘church building’. Sure, the odd 40+ degree day can test the resolve, but Zooper Doopers can get you past those kinds of hurdles.
For those new to the Big Table (the church of which I’m a part), our iteration of it gathers out the back of our home. At last count, around 40 children and a few more adults than that, gather around a big table of sorts to worship together, hear and apply God’s Word, enjoy Him and be equipped for mission: personally and corporately.
Anyway, while it’s a rare thing to pine for a building, it happened last week.
In response to our government’s threat to deport 267 vulnerable people to Nauru (including 37 babies born in Australia) 44 churches (and counting) have declared ‘sanctuary’, invoking an ancient tradition that regards those buildings as places of asylum, refuge and safety. Obviously, this declaration of ‘sanctuary’ is untested by law at this point but that’s not the heart of the declaration. More emphatic is the stark difference between the political culture of our day and the eternal culture of God’s Kingdom.
The Church that Jesus birthed is a beacon of reconciliation, freedom, restoration, hope and refuge. And while I am deeply regretful that the experience for some has been abusive and an abomination of its perceived spiritual authority, it does not change Jesus’ intent for His Bride, the Church.
I’ll stop a long way from saying it’s a ‘finest hour moment’ because that’s hyperbolic for a Church that has had, is having, and will have, many fine hours. Some of those hours are less visible, less overt, less attention-grabbing, but the fine-ness is there all the same. As God is reigning with Jesus over His Church, and men and women are submitting to His rule, you can be sure there’ll be a whole lot of good, Kingdom-gear, going on.
Finest hour? Perhaps not, but a real good one.
On Thursday sometime, I remember thinking, “if we had a church building, would we be declaring ‘sanctuary’ this week?”. The short answer is that it’s not a decision that I’d be making alone, but with our leadership team. The shorter answer: “I hope so”.
Jesus says to all who follow Him: “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt loses its flavour, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” (Matthew 5:13)
It’s on this verse that we camped last Sunday as part our series on the Sermon on the Mount.
In Jesus’ day, salt played an enormous role in culture. In an era predating refrigeration and chemical (naughty-word) storms, salt helped food go the distance in the household. So valuable was salt that it was regarded as currency. People were paid a salarium (from which we get ‘salary’), a measure of salt in exchange for their work. With this, they added flavour to their cooking, preserved their food, and traded for other goods and services.
When it was no longer useful for its orginal purpose, it would be discarded; thrown out on the roads in front of their homes where it would be, as Jesus says later in the same verse, trampled under foot.
Any act, any practice, any belief, any organised thing that is dislocated from the values of the Kingdom of God, and for the glory of God, will very quickly fail to fulfill its original Kingdom purpose.
The salt that was thrown away and trampled under foot would still have been a physical thing. It would still have bulked up a meal. It may have even looked like it should still be doing its job but, devoid of flavour-producing-capabilities, it had become useless.
Anything that is disconnected and dislocated from God’s authority and God’s rule, has the potential to quickly turn to dysfunction.
This should both energise us and disturb us.
As new creations in Jesus, we have received a new heart and a new spirit. The old has passed away, the new has come. It’s no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me. All that is about Jesus’ work in us. He makes us salty and we flavour our worlds in obedience to him.
Growing in holiness doesn’t result in actions and behaviours that are dislocated and compartmentalised from our spheres of influence. Quite the opposite, they increasingly add value to it.
A focus on unique, contained expressions alone (within or beyond your church) will, too soon, become fractured then dislocated.
This happens at a personal level, but also at a corporate level. A ministry, church or club that had been a salty expression of the Kingdom of God can lose its saltiness. Months or years down the track you may wonder what happened. It’s still doing the same things but it no longer provides the flavour enhancement it once did.
That could be about leadership, enthusiasm, or shelf-life, but at some point, the kingdom values that informed its actions were extracted. It continued to do all the things it was doing, without saltiness.
These thoughts scare me. The Church is to be salty. Jesus wants it for our church and all churches.
The declaration of some churches across Australia this week to be “SANCTUARY” to those who have no voice and no rights in our country is a bold God-colour and God-flavour on a barren landscape that will otherwise keep captives captive and prisoners bound.
As Travis Fitch tagged a song of his with the refrain ‘we stand for sanctuary, so let them stay’ at a vigil held outside St Georges Cathedral last night, and as others joined with him, I got another little taste of saltiness. A full-flavoured taste. A taste of difference. It tasted good.
The Pope blogged a couple of days ago (well, sort of). In the lead up to Lent – a tradition of abstinence in many branches of the church – he exhorted people to fast from indifference towards others and towards God.
“Indifference to our neighbor and to God… represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
What a brilliant thing from which to fast: indifference towards others and God.
To be clear: you don’t need to turn up at a rally or even declare your church a sanctuary to give up indifference. It’s smaller and bigger than that. To give up indifference is to remember again that, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to be salty. You are to be the salt of the earth. Salt that’s intended to make a difference, not be indifferent.