By Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee
Since my first memory of church there’s been a constant struggle to “redefine” who the church is, what we are doing, and to whom we are doing it. I grew up in the age of vision statements, mission statements and the like. They all serve a good purpose. They help us to articulate the mission to which we have been called and the church’s best possible understanding of how to make that happen.
I have witnessed churches spend months and months crafting delightful vision and mission statements. I have participated in developing well-thought out carefully worded phrases that encapsulate the essentials of the gospel as lived out in a specific time and place. I do not deny the usefulness of such activities because it gives focus and intention to the work we are called to do.
I do, however, wonder if we sometimes get so lost in the work of producing documents about being church, or in philosophizing about church, or even preaching about church that we forget to be church in the moment. We meander about waiting for the next step and busy ourselves fretting over who is going to sit next to us in the coming years that we completely neglect the work and the identity that is now.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have been accused of being impulsive. I do like spontaneity and creativity. I also recognize that there does need to be a road map to the church’s identity.
Last week, I preached from Matthew 5. Jesus tells those who are listening that they are salt and light. They are a city on a hill. What I love about this text is that Jesus does not say that we have to prepare to become these things. Jesus says that we are salt, we are light, and we are a city on the hill. That’s the vision statement.
I am a member of a congregation that just made a tough financial decision. Some were disquieted by it, some were relieved, but in the end most understood that it was a decision that allows the church to continuing being salt and light in our city. One member stated that if we spend our money in such a way as to maintain ourselves we have lost our flavor and we have hidden our light under a bushel. If we use our money in such a way as to continue in ministry and make the Good News known in the community, then we are living into our saltiness and producing light.
So many of us are afraid to claim who we are in this world because a stigma that has been placed upon us as Christians. Even today, announcing ourselves as Christians is often met with a roll of the eyes or a sigh. It does not matter. We are who we are, when we are, where we are. We are conveyors of God’s presence in the world when we offer food to a stranger or shelter from the rain. We are seasoning our towns and communities with God’s love when we pass the peace to a cashier at the grocery store. We are lighting a little of the darkness when we choose to spend our time and money giving instead of collecting. It is that simple.
The church is the church because God has called us to gather in the presence of others who are salt and light. We are who we are, in this time, and in this place—where ever that may be. We do not have to ponder it any longer. We only have to claim our saltiness, own our light, and live it out at the top of the hill.