Monthly Archives: July 2011
On Monday I blogged about where Jesus is teaching his followers about being salt, saying, You are the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). But what on earth did Jesus mean? I noted that I think “salt” is an image of two things as it has two functions – a preserver and a flavour enhancer. Jesus is therefore instructing his followers to be preservers of human culture (see Monday’s blog) and enhancers of human culture.
Aside from preserving food, salt is also a flavour enhancer. It functions in a very similar way to what it does when it is used as a preserver. Salt draws moisture out of the food and it is this moisture that comes into contact with our tongue’s tastebuds enabling us to taste. In addition, salt reduces acidity and bitterness thus enhancing more pleasant flavours of some foods. So, when Jesus speaks of his community (ie the Church) being the salt of the earth it brings with it images of enhancing flavour, or intensifying beauty in culture.
So why does our culture need enhancing? The brokeness of culture means it does not “taste” the way it should. Greed, violence, bitterness, anger, abuse and other things in our world make life harsh, bitter rather than sweet and pleasant. The brokeness in our world, the way the poor, the weak and the marginalised are treated, the way people are rejected and distained, mocked and scorned, the way greed and selfishness pervade much of our culture means it is somewhat less attractive, less pleasant, less beautiful than it could be. It needs enhancing, the true beautiful and sweet flavours must be bought out and the bitter flavours reduced.
How does the Church enhance our world? By being a counter-culture. Where there is greed, Jesus’community must bring generosity. Where there is violence and hatred, we must bring peace and love. Where there is bitterness and anger we must bring forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Where there is injustice we must stand up for what is just and right. Where the weak and the poor and the marginalised are taken advantage of, we must speak up, we must act with compassion and generosity and mercy. Why? Because this is how God acted towards us. When we were weak he rescued us. Where we needed salvation, he generously gave us all we required. When we needed mercy and forgiveness, he provided the cross. God acted with compassion, grace, forgiveness, mercy and love far beyond what we deserved. As the Church, we must provide just a glimpse of the God we have encountered to those around us.
When a community of people act this way, this counter-cultural way, the God flavours enhance our culture. For a gracious, merciful, compssionate, just, righteous, generous and forgiving community is one of intense beauty. This type of community is sweet to taste and beautiful to see.
I think salt is an image of two things, two images of the way Christ (and hence followers of Christ) impact the culture in which they live. Salt is used in preserving and also as a flavour enhancer and this is what Jesus is getting at. His community, his followers, are to be preservers of human culture and enhancers of human culture.
Firstly, salt was used (and still is used) as a preserver, particularly of meats and in some pickling techniques of fruits and vegetables. Salt draws out moisture and creates an environment which is inhospitable to bacteria. Therefore, when Jesus speaks of his followers as the salt of the earth, he brings with it this image of preserving the earth, not the literal soil and rocks (for salt has no benefit to the soil, it creates salinity) but Jesus is saying that he and his followers preserve human culture. Christ keeps the culture from decay.
How is culture decaying? In western culture it is perhaps quite easy to see decay. There are things that we know are not right, that our culture is not functioning the way it ought, that our culture is somewhat broken. There is greed and selfishness that pervades our culture. There are people who will do anything, hurt anyone, to get what they want, to get to the top of the ladder. There is wars and violence, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, broken relationships, broken families, hurting children, abused people, neglected communities, racism… dare I go on? It is obvious when you look around that our culture is in decay.
How does the Church preserve culture? Christ’s community of followers (ie the Church) is called to be a “counter-culture”, a culture that does not value what the world values and acts in a way that preserves culture. Christ’s community is to be one of generosity, not greed. Christ’s community is to be one of acceptance and love, not hatred, violence and racism. Christ’s community is to look out for those who are hurting, those who are neglected, those who are marginalised, those who no one else cares for… as Christ did when he walked this earth. When a community of people are “counter-cultural” like this, when they don’t value power or wealth, when they don’t value success or comfort, when they don’t value status and identity, but instead look out for those who are powerless, care for those who have no support, and speak for those who do not have a voice… a community like this is preserving culture. It is getting the culture back to where it should be… where no one feel superior, no one feels inferior, but all are seeking the flourishing of others at their own expense. It is community which seeks to serve others at the detriment of their own wealth, power, comfort, success and status.
Have you ever seen some of the woven fabrics that are found around the globe? They are usually beautifully designed and wonderfully woven (often by hand). The colours are magnificent and the designs are so intricate… literally art that you can wear!
I reckon these fabrics are a great image of Christian community. The fabrics are made up of individual threads which may have some beauty and some strength on their own but it is nothing in comparison to when they are woven together. When the individual threads are woven together, each thread must pass and touch the threads around it. They go in and out and around and through one another in such as way that they produce something with strength far beyond the strength of an individual thread and beauty that is sometimes beyond words.
Like the fabric, Christian community is made up of individual “threads”. These threads may be somewhat beautiful and strong in themselves outside of community, but when lives are passed in and out and around and through each other, when lives touch and are woven together in Christian community they produce something that is not only strong (far stronger than any individual) but immensely beautiful. But the fabric of Christian community has a “thread” which is stronger and more beautiful than any other… Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ that weaves us together (he is the designer and the fabric maker) but unlike human fabric weavers, Jesus is able to weave himself into our fabric. He is the creator and also part of the fabric of our community. Individual people may be strong and beautiful, but allow Jesus Christ to weave you into the fabric of Christian community alongside himself and you will be part of the most beautiful community in the world.
Paul describes Christian community, not as a fabric but as a body, in 1 Corinthians 12 saying, the body is not made up of one part but many… in fact God has arranged the parts of the body, everyone of them, just as he wanted them to be.
In case you weren’t aware, I am a weather geek. I love weather and recording/reading weather observations (Katie may substitute the word “love” and replace it with “am obsessed by” but that is simply a matter of opinion). I record the minimum temperature, the maximum temperature and the rainfall everyday of the year and write in on my chart. I also work out averages for all the temperature and rainfall data for each month and year, as well as displacement data (how far above or below the average our average max, mins and rainfall is). Weather geek? Yeah, I think so…
But my geek like ways have brought me to an observation about this month’s weather (which I am sure you have noticed even without recording the data). This month (in Donald in western VIC) we have recieved 12mm of rainfall. The highest total was 5mm (July 6) and the lowest total (of recordable rainfall) was 0.5mm (July 3). This total of 11mm of rain has fallen across 5 rain days. My vegies have enjoyed these showers and the peas have started to pod and the broccoli is harvestable. While it might not be the same in some of our local paddocks, which are much more exposed to the elements and have less mulch that my garden, the soil in my vegie garden has remained quite damp due to these regular showers and the vegies have responded accordingly.
This made me think about the way we care for one another – through listening, through encouragement and through serving. When we care for each other, and provide a supportive, nurturing caring community for people to be a part of, like peas which have interwoven lives that act as a trellis of support, we provide a place for people to thrive, to grow, to develop and mature. Regular contact which cares for people in our community is vital, like regular rain shower activity. We don’t have to spend enormous amounts of time with people, but that regular 10min period where you simply listen is invaluable to someone who is hurting or in some difficulty. That simple word of love and encouragement can make the difference between someone feeling supported or feeling marginalised and on the edge of the community. That simple gift of serving someone, can be something which shows their value and importance in the eyes of God and provide a glimpse of the Gospel message of love, acceptance and sacrifice. Simple things… regular things… these things help to create a caring, nurturing community of faith, like showers of rain promoting growth in the garden.
But as is the case in the garden, where nothing beats a good drenching or a good solid inch of steady soaking rain, the same can be said for caring for one another. Nothing can beat a good solid amount of time given in service of another. Nothing can beat a couple of hours of sitting and listening to a friend in need. We need to look out for the opportunities to be a steady soaking rain which loves, encourages, listens and serves in bigger ways. Consider today how you may be a regular shower of rain of encouragement and love in our community. But also, are you prepared to sacrifice your own desires for the sake of others to be the steady soaking rain they require for nurture and growth?
1 Thessalonians 5:11b-18 says, “…Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
For Christians, the plight of the poor in our world must be a priority. We cannot igore it. Proverbs 31:8-9 says, ” 8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”(NIV)
Two videos which speak about extreme poverty and solutions…. big solutions!
This first one was explains the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of 8 goals signed by 189 countries.
This next one is from The Girl Effect
Let me know what you think..
Have you noticed how so many people in our culture work purely for money? We want to be comfortable in life, not lacking in anything, or we want to keep up with the Jones’. We feel the need to be keeping up with trends and fashions and this (often) takes money. In order to get money we need to work and get paid more or we need a higher paying job. But in order to get a higher paying job we need to work more hours. In the business world, in order to be promoted you need to put in heaps of over time, if you don’t you don’t get a look in. Or perhaps, if you work for yourself, the more you work the more you will get paid. The more jobs you do the more the profit margin and so we sacrifice holidays, time at home, weekends in order to work more to increase our profit margin. What work we do, and how much we work is often determined by what we will get paid.
In Ecclesiastes 5:10-15, ‘theTeacher’ says:
Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless, [fleeting, transient, here today gone tomorrow, like the wind]. 11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them? 12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep. 13I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: Wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit. 15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.
If you are trying to keep up with the Jones’, you will always find another Jones family who has more. You will never have enough wealth to be satisfied, you will “never have money enough“. When is enough, enough? Your appetite for wealth increases as you gain wealth. As the Teacher says, “As goods increase so do those who consume them.” But the Teacher also says accumulation of wealth only increases worry because “The abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.” (v12) How true are these words?
But there is an even bigger truth, “As he comes so he departs. He can take nothing from his labour that he can carry in his hand.” Working for wealth foolish because you can’t take wealth with you when you die and you could lose it at any second. The Teacher notes in v14 that “wealth [can be] lost through some misfortune”. You could lose your wealth at any stage, but even if you keep it, you’ll die. When you die, you’re dead and so where is the gain from all the wealth you accumulated?
But the gain isn’t always there even while you’re alive. When you need to work longer hours in order to buy all your comforts, when you need to work longer in order to pay for your mortgage or your boat or your holiday house or your investment property or whatever… when will you have time to use it? How many huge houses do you think there are in Australia that are worth near a million dollars or more, beautiful pools and spas and gardens but the people who own them are never in them. The go to work 6 or 7 days a week before the sun gets up and then they come home from work after the sun goes down… they probably never see their house in daylight and yet it is the thing that they are working so hard for!! How foolish is that??
Working for wealth and riches is foolish. There is no gain… even our riches and wealth which we work so hard for are like the wind. Look at verse 10 – “Meaningless” in the original Hebrew language brings iwth it idea of being fleeting, transient, here today and gone tomorrow, like the wind (see Ecc 2:11). Our culture says work for wealth… Ecclesiastes says, that is foolish, that is like chasing after the wind and can you ever catch the wind?