I’ve mentioned the book of James a few times recently. It may not seem like it at first but this blog is sort of, almost, tangentially anyway, about that:
This is is an artwork by Jackson Pollack. We can’t call this a painting because he didn’t paint it… he flicked paint at the canvas. Someone bought it. Do you know how much they paid? Guess… no, don’t scroll down… guess first.
Tsk. I knew you’d peek…
140 million dollars.
140 MILLION! That money would buy a new church building with room enough to bring bring people in from the highways and byways and estates to worship God, rooms for prayer and study and meetings and coffee and all sorts, space for musicians and a media room, and a youth club, and car parking, and an office for the Pastor and another one for Admin…. a store room for equipment, rooms for Junior Church, space to welcome the needy, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless…. Which is what churches are supposed to do…. About 100 times over! 100 times over!
Isn’t it crazy that the money that could do all that instead buys this one lump of canvas and a few dribbles of paint?
But that’s the world. The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values. That was going to be the basis of a children’s story for church, but I think that there’s more to this strand of thought than that:
To repeat myself, ” The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values.”
And sometimes I wonder if I do. Or am I like the person James warns against who says to the needy “ have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? (James 2:16 NLT)
James also writes: Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world. (James 1:27 The Message)
When did I last reach out to the homeless? Guess what, never! When did I reach out to the loveless? A long, long, long time ago.
My life now is cosy, smug, comfy, warm. But should it be? If I am living a Christ life should it be this selfish, neatly contained?
‘Look to the rock from which you were cut, to the quarry from which you were hewn.’ (Isaiah 51:1)
How did he live? My rock?
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)
How did he spend his days? Teaching, eating with outcasts, talking to shamed women, loving the unlovely, weeping over sin. How many of those do I do? A big fat zero.
And then I look at how I began this blog and I put on a big metaphorical hobnailed boot and kick myself, hard. Yes, that 140million dollars would build a hundred churches but if they were all full of people like me……. would that please God? If we had a hundred new churches in Wales but they were all full of me and my clones….
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6
I am learning something hard today, something I thought I already knew, but now I discover that I had only heard it, and didn’t fully realise it.
Listen to this… so much for me and my 100 churches idea!
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! ( Isaiah 1:11)
What a picture, ‘this trampling of my courts’. In that pithy phrase I see God’s perspective on our best attempts at holiness. Jesus didn’t say ‘Go out into the world and spend millions of quid on great big buildings’. He didn’t tell us to build Wells Cathedral, or the Vatican, or my favourite, Salisbury Cathedral. He’s just not interested, mate! He isn’t. He cares about love. He cares about worship. He cares about care. He cares about the broken woman at the well, the sick woman touching his robe, the troubled young man, the madman running naked in the tombs. If he was here as God made man again he would be with the junkies, the drunks, the down and outs, the thieves and the criminals, loving them. Loving them. But where am I? I’m not there.
I just wrote “The world doesn’t think like God thinks. The world doesn’t value what God values.” and now I wonder if God values our churches. I wonder if I do because now, of course, I’m not just talking about the building, I’m talking about the real church, the people, I’m talking about me.
Do I truly worship? Do I? Or do I go through the motions? Do I say piously “Be fed and keep warm” and pass by on the other side of the road (to mix up teaching with parable)?
If we are not attracting people into our churches by the magnetism of God’s love, displayed in us, then to hell with churches.
To hell with them.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:16&17)
Thank God that my church has stepped out from its narrow building. Thank God, because it’s by his grace that people are beginning to come and listen to the great story he has to tell. Just an hour ago we had a wonderful worship service in a shabby school hall. Wonderful worship, Godly teaching, great! Not a perfect space, not a stately building, not even a comfortable building, but one in which for an hour and a half there was a demonstration of God’s love.
But here’s the thing, we are physical creatures in a physical world and to serve the poor, to shelter the homeless , to feed the hungry, to pray with the despairing, to mend the broken … we need… some buildings. But we don’t need pews, and pulpits, and altars and spires and ritual. For BIG LOVE we need a BIGGER CHURCH than that. For BIG LOVE we need a church as big as the world. For BIG LOVE I need a bigger heart, a Jesus heart. And only he can give me that.