49“For everyone will be salted with fire. 50Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
How easy is it to slip into that place where we settle for less or where we avoid thinking or talking about the glaringly obvious until it is almost too late? As we saw in last weeks sermon, the first world has become comfortable with the violence being unleashed on many through out the world and only acting when it is almost too late to do anything constructive about the problem. Climate change, refugees from war zones and places of internal unrest, domestic violence and more only exercise our imaginations when we are forced to deal with the thousands on our boarders, as is the case in Europe.
We always believe, ‘She’ll be right, mate”.
We have become immune to what is happening providing it is not disturbing our piece of mind or preventing us from doing the things we like. It is indeed all about us.
Pope Francis is a very salty Pope. He rubs salt into the wounds of society so that society becomes conscious of its in built complacency and is forced to act. It has little to do with politics and a lot to do with the Christian ethos of loving God and loving self. Of being so in tune with the God within that we live out in a way that seasons the world. The Pope does that. Recently he has taken 2 refugee families into Vatican housing. The cynics might say there is room in St Peter’s for a lot more but the fact is that they are there at his invitation. The Archbishop of Canterbury is also opening the doors of Lambeth Castle for refugees. Here are two men putting their faith where their mouth is.
And this is the point. Jesus says you need to put your faith where your mouth is. You need to be the difference, the flavouring, the change in the world. You need to do so, so that this world can live in peace.
What stops us from doing so? Complacency. She’ll be alright, somebody else will do it. Or it’s ok they (the government, the church, the wardens, the vicar) will make sure we have what we need to survive. William Loader suggests, “It is not so much that salt ceases to be salt but it becomes contaminated by additions over time, dirt, stones, etc, so that it becomes useless. He (Jesus) links salt with peace. In the context salt is an image of integrity and wholeness.”
The contaminating additions include a sense of impotence (I am only one person, what can I do?), a sense of entitlement (it has always been this way so it will always be this way), an attitude of blame (well, if only they had listened to me we would not be in this situation or it’s all the government, church, wardens or vicars fault) or perhaps it is that we are ensconced in our own world and just let things go by. It is easy to find ourselves here, and on reflection, there is possibly a little bit of this in most of us.
This is not just the case for individuals but also for institutions. We become comfortable with who we are, who we spend time with, and with the way things are. It is been this way for sometime and we think it will remain this way for ever. Institutional church is finding it difficult to maintain its place in the world because the world has changed and it has not. The once prominent position churches such the Anglican and Catholic church once had as the setters and regulators of standards of morality and community is a thing of the past. We now are just one voice amongst many.
Our buildings are rarely used outside Sundays, except to make money to keep the doors open for Sunday; where once there were large numbers in both church and Sunday school, now there is but a remnant remaining. Many new approaches have been tried but in a world where choice is just another personal choice option they lose out to entertainment, sport, leisure and catching up on the house work.
It is interesting Jesus doesn’t condemn the options, the good options available. He says to not condemn those that do good things which reflect my teachings and principles. If what is happening builds community, restores life and empowers others, then it is to be applauded. Our problem is that it is out side the building and structures we have built for the purpose of worshipping and serving God. We are trapped, as the disciples were in the ‘our way or the highway’ exclusivity. We have ownership of the doing of good deeds and they either must stop or join us in the in-crowd.
Charlotte Elia writes, “This text invites communities to identify the self-constructed stumbling blocks that prevent flourishing. In other words, are there subtle ways in which the church sabotages its own ministries?”
It is not like we are doing no thing about it. We have tried a range of strategies and have more in place, but they seem not to be having the effect we want. We are not growing or changing. This is a difficult place to be and it asks hard questions of us who find ourselves in this place, such as:
What is our vision for our church? Is it here to look after my spiritual needs or is it the missionary extension of Christ active in the world?
Why do we come to church and what is my purpose for being here?
Are we stuck in the ‘that’s the way we have always done it here’ syndrome, or ‘the we tried that once and it didn’t work’ excuse for not trying something new, or the sense that we have been here or apart of one or more activities longer enough to believe we own that part of the church and can act as gatekeeper to any change mooted?
How have we reached out to bring others in or are we afraid they will not like what we have or that they will change what we have?
Has our giving kept up with the need? Are we fully aware of the finances needed to fund the vision of the church as outlined in our strategic plan, in our case the Mission Action Plan, and understand that this may ask us to become more involved financially than previously?
While societies, governments and churches often want to change situations they often sabotage the attempts because they fear what that change will require of them. Complacency and fear prevents us from taking the initiative and salting our world, our community, our church. Our answers to the questions I posed will be an indicator of just how far people will go to put their faith where their mouth is.
St Oswald’s is at an interesting stage in its life as a church. We are getting less in numbers, we want to grow, we are doing lots of new things but we need to be doing more if we are to survive into the future. Without more people we simply will not have the resources to be God’s missionary church in the world. Without sufficient funds we will not be able to reach out effectively to invite new people in. The challenge we have to take up is how do we do both? How do we underpin the Mission Action Plan with sufficient resources to bring new people into our church? Our present level of giving simply doesn’t do that and we may have to revisit our giving. Besides, we are not a rich parish with endless reserves.
Jesus asks us to explore the hard questions, to maintain our faith, our saltiness in such a way that we will be exemplars of hope and change. He is not talking academically or hypothetically but practically. Our complacency and fear can rise up against us: she’ll be right mate, it’s ok the way it is; or we can dig deep in to the saltiness of our lives and give more, do more, take risks and step out to be the person, the people the church we are called to be.
Jesus, as always, doesn’t mince his words, the future of the world and the church is up to us. We can not outsource it ‘them’. Amen.