A big part of our job on earth is to be noticeably weird.
To be true, we’re only supposed to be weird in certain ways, but definitely weird nonetheless. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shocks his rag-tag audience by saying to them, “You are the salt of the earth… If salt loses its saltiness, it’s good for nothing except to be thrown out…” Jesus-followers are supposed to add flavour to every environment. This presumes that we bring a noticeable difference to every environment. We’re not allowed to come across as entirely normal. We’re can’t just be natural; we must be supernatural, otherworldly.
But how so? In what ways? What can we do to ensure that our faith communities are suitably ‘flavourful’?
More than anything else, Jesus talked about something he called “the kingdom of God,” or “the kingdom of heaven.” In his first public sermon he issued his thesis statement: “Repent (literally, change your mind) and believe the good news! The kingdom of God is at hand (here, touchable)!” This was indeed good news to those who believed it, because the religious folks of Jesus’ day thought that their hard times were the result of God’s withdrawal from their nation. But Jesus said heaven’s kingdom had come among them. What did that mean, exactly?
The word ‘kingdom’ means something like ‘dominion’, ‘sphere of control’, or ‘order’. Where the kingdom of heaven manifests, things are put into heavenly order. For example, in heaven, is anyone sick? No, that would be out of order in heaven, so when Jesus encountered sick people, he healed them. In heaven, is anyone oppressed by demons? No, so when Jesus encountered the demonised, he cast the demons out. In heaven, is anyone marginalised or lonely? No, so Jesus constructed social circles and communities without regard for social standing, politics or even moral standards. In heaven, is anyone poor or deprived? No, so wherever Jesus brought the kingdom of heaven, the poor were supplied, whether by radical personal generosity (as in the early church communities) or through supernatural means (as in the miracle of the loaves and fishes). In the kingdom of heaven, whatever you have always becomes enough. In heaven, is anyone isolated from God or ignorant of his love? Definitely not, so Jesus taught and demonstrated God’s love and threw around forgiveness like it was confetti, which inspired the lost to seek God. Jesus brought heavenly order against all the forms of dehumanising chaos in the world. He obeyed God’s command to “subdue the earth.”
And then, of course, he invited us to join him in ministering kingdom order to the world. Jesus made clear that following him meant doing what he did, using the same power from the Holy Spirit that he used. He said, “Wherever you go, preach this message: the kingdom of heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Jesus’ invitation to become ministers of kingdom order was itself an ordering act because it empowered us to exercise a radical trust in God — which was the one thing we lacked in Eden, the very lack that spawned all the chaos in the first place.
When you bring heaven’s order to the world, it’s definitely a salty sort of thing. There is no need for great cleverness, no need for showmanship or spectacle. Nothing is required except daily being unique in a way that reflects heavenly order. When kingdom order becomes manifest, it almost testifies for itself.
So, the trick is simply to stay on mission — to keep ourselves honest with respect to kingdom weirdness. I’ve realised that the values Jesus stressed most in his life and teachings are the ones that best ensure our heavenly weirdness. Here are three cornerstone values that we emphasise in my church to keep ourselves suitably weird.
Grace. Jesus wasn’t murdered by sinners; he was the victim of religious leaders who thought that he was dangerously lax about sin and the Law, which is to say that grace is so weird that even religious experts often don’t understand it. Jesus talked frequently about God’s seemingly inappropriate generosity. It caused him to hang out with the most marginalised and morally dubious people he could. It made the early church so socioeconomically diverse that even smart leaders struggled to understand how it could hang together. There is nothing more revolutionary than grace. Does your social circle reflect grace? If it does, then you’ll be in position to make a big difference for people.
Anti-materialism. Across the four Gospels, Jesus preached about love around 15 times, depending on how you count. By comparison, he preached about money and wealth around 60 times. He spoke about the dangers of materialism more than he spoke about any other moral issue, by far. Why? Because money is how the world gets its hooks into us. Without us really noticing, financial concerns very often dictate our daily schedule, our choice of where to live, the people with whom we socialise, and any number of other things that, by rights, should be directed by the Lord. If you want to have a truly unique flavour in the world, be radical in the way you think about and use money.
Supernaturalism. There are good reasons that Jesus insisted his followers rely so heavily on supernatural miracles and ministries. For one thing, they’re enormously useful in caring for people. For another, they ensure that the world will think we’re weird — all the more so if our healings, deliverances and prophecies prove successful! There are loads of people who would never come to my church to hear a sermon but who will show up on the off-chance that they might get one of those miracles they hear about. Supernatural ministry is an entirely unique flavour in the world. Only the church of Jesus has it.
The point is for us to make a difference, and the difference we make is to bring restorative order to disorder. To keep ourselves on mission, it’s wise to constantly emphasise values and activities that ensure we’re cutting against the grain of the world. We’re called to be otherworldly — socially, materially and miraculously. It’s the spice of the kingdom of God on earth.
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