This has been a tough week. It’s been a tough few weeks. Mass shootings at an LBGT nightclub in Orlando. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The sniper attacks on law enforcement officers in Dallas. However, these troubling times are not limited to the US. There’s the recorded rise of racial tension and explicit abuse after the Brexit results in the UK, alongside political and economic uncertainty. The abduction and murder of IJM human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client and driver in Kenya. Bombings in Istanbul, Turkey. Bombings in Baghdad and Balad in Iraq. Attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Clashes in southern Sudan. And these are just the events that appeared in my news cycle, I know there’s more. The daily realities of a broken, fearful world are devastating.
Soul stinging, gut wrenching, heart breaking.
Like you, I’ve been in prayer meetings and long conversations, lamenting and seeking God with others. I hope the conversations and prayer sessions continue; we need this time with the Lord, don’t we? We need His grace and truth to give us perspective.We need His comfort as we grieve. We need His love to fill our hearts where fear and pain and anger overwhelm. These weeks have left me vulnerable and raw, hurting for others yet feeling powerless. And in the places where the racial abuse has escalated, I’ve felt fearful for myself, my children, my family and friends.Our world needs to see His power displayed – love, mercy, salvation, redemption. We need a mighty move of God among the nations, cities, communities of our world. Nothing less.
Yet as the minutes turn to hours turn to days, I also feel the urgency of this moment of time for the church. Every generation of Christians, every generation of the church has to decide how they will respond to the opportunities and to the challenges of their day. I grew up listening to sermons telling stories of missionaries and churches and movements of the past. I heard of their successes, I heard about revival and I heard about their legacies. How some faithful believers never witnessed their effectiveness firsthand, yet future generations felt their impact and influence. And in sermons and history lessons at school I also heard when the church failed. I heard about their silence and passivity when they needed to speak and act boldly. I learned about alliances with power and privilege that obscured their call to the Great Commission.
It’s sobering to consider what will be said about today’s church. About us, our time, our day.
Will we be seen as a people who sacrificially laid down their lives for the gospel, who served and stood with the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized? Will we be seen as a people who stood complicit in the things that kept people bound and oppressed, self-serving and committed to our own privilege? Will be seen as the people who were the problem, or those who fought, serve, spoked towards the solutions, even in our human frailty? Will we be seen as everyday missionaries, a sent people empowered by the Holy Spirit proclaiming the name of Jesus with our words, lives and love?
So many questions, and only time will tell the answer.
I believe prayer is the beginning of our response. In prayer I’ve been reminded of a statement the late Rev John Stott CBE once made. Stott was an Anglican pastor, leading All Soul’s Langham Place in London for many years. He was a prolific author, and a noted leader in the wider church. The following words were published in Stott’s book Issues facing Christians Today in 1984:
“Our Christian habit is to bewail the world’s deteriorating standards with an air of rather self-righteous dismay. We criticize its violence, dishonesty, immorality, disregard for human life, and materialistic greed. ‘The world is going down the drain,’ we say with a shrug. But whose fault is it? Who is to blame?Let me put it like this. If the house is dark when nightfall comes, there is no sense in blaming the house; that is what happens when the sun goes down. The question to ask is, ’Where is the light?’ Similarly, if the meat goes bad and becomes inedible, there is no sense in blaming the meat; this is what happens when bacteria are left alone to breed. The question to ask is, ’Where is the salt?’Just so, if society deteriorates and its standards decline until it becomes like a dark night or a stinking fish, there is no sense in blaming society; that is what happens when fallen men and women are left to themselves, and human selfishness is unchecked. The question to ask is, ‘Where is the Church? Why are the salt and light of Jesus Christ not permeating and changing our society?’
More than 30 years later, these words have not lost their prophetic edge. They challenge us to the core, and rightly so.
Where is the Light? The light that guides the way, that illustrates grace, and love and mercy. That models racial reconciliation. That illuminates a pathway to hope and new life in Christ. That drives out the darkness, that exposes the works of evil and casts it out of our communities and cities.
Where is the Salt? The flavor enhancer, whose very presence alone enriches, brings out the best in everything. How do we enrich our cities and neighborhoods? Salt that is generously present amongst the vulnerable, preserving in a way that only salt can, preventing the bacterium that rots society. In the winter here in Minnesota the salt is in the grit to protect the road, protecting lives in dangerous condition. You need a lot of salt available sprinkled generously along the roads for it to work. When life gets dangerous and risky, are we engaged in the gritty work that needs to be done to protect people?
Yes prayer is the beginning of our response. But as much as we pray up, we’ve got to show up too. Not because we’re the heroes – history tells us a lot about when the Church tried that too – its not good. On the contrary, we’re pretty simple and ordinary. We’re just salt, just light. Everyday people humbly walking into the prayers we prayed.
Where is God sending you as salt?
Where has God positioned you as light?