Church: We’re a mixed bag

When I was young, I used to love sorting things. Buttons, lego pieces, stamps, you name it. My lucky day came when mum gave me a gigantic bag of buttons of all different shapes and sizes. There were at least three of every kind and I kind of loved that every button in that bag had at least one identical friend. There was something orderly about sorting buttons but my greatest joy came from explaining how I sorted them. My poor mother would sit there and listen to me describe my sorting method: by colour, by pattern, by size or, my most ingenius yet, by feeling.

Even as a five year old, I loved to group things together. Unfortunately, I had less luck in my day to day life in finding friends that were similar to me – at least in the early years. I arrived in Melbourne with my parents from Hong Kong in 1992 and spent most of my schooling between two cultures: one at home and one outside of home. I learnt English at kinder because no one else spoke Cantonese. At home, we ate rice and noodles at almost every meal. At school, I ate the sandwiches I had to beg mum to make. The one space where both cultures co-existed was church.

At church, lots of kids were like me. Our parents all migrated to Australia from Hong Kong during the early nineties. Many of us had siblings that were Australian born and with us, grew up in this dual culture. For a long time, church was a safe and necessary space for our parents and us. It was a place where our love for yum cha was met with our love for KFC. A place where our fandom of the Spice Girls was met with our love for Hong Kong pop stars. And yet as I grew older, I realised my desire to always surround myself with similar people wasn’t going to work. In fact, it was impossible. The more my friends and I experienced of life, the more ways we could sort our differences like a bag of buttons. Yet one similarity never changed: the one thing I had in common with everyone at church was the fact that we all believed that Jesus is God’s son, who came to die for our sins and was raised to life again so that in Him we too have the hope of new life. Cultures, circumstances and personalities continue to co-exist at church.

Fast forward to 2020. I look around my church family and we are all experiencing this year with different joys, different griefs, different situations and different schedules. Some of us live alone. Some of us have welcomed new life into the family. Some of us just lost our jobs. Some of us have more work than ever. Some of us are sick of our family. Some of us haven’t seen our family overseas since last year. The pandemic has been a common thing but it has revealed our differences far more than it has united us in our circumstances. The Bible doesn’t say we are a big bag of buttons, but it does say we are God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9). The goal of the Christian life isn’t to achieve unity but to reflect the unity God has already made between us and Christ, and us with each other.

God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 Corinthians 1:9 (NIV)

The unity between us and God is even closer than a beam up to heaven, as the apostle Paul describes us as God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16) where God’s spirit dwells. The building foundation is Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11) and the building is made up of different personalities, interests, passions, and gifts. Different financial situations, lockdown circumstances, and family structures. Different griefs, frustrations, and sufferings. Different races, foods, and cultures. And yet this is the building God chooses to dwell in and let his glory be known on earth. The goal of the Christian life is to be God’s glory in the way we reflect what has been made true for us in Jesus.

In the way we say sorry to a brother or sister when we have failed to honour them with our words and our actions.

In the way we forgive a brother or sister for their ignorance of our circumstances.

In the way we lift a brother or sister up in prayer to the God whom they belong, despite not being able to fully understand their suffering.

In the way we rejoice with a brother or sister despite not feeling as joyous or hopeful ourselves.

In the way we love a brother or sister in spite of our different perspectives on government affairs.

In the way we give generously to those in need finanical aid.

In the way we care for our colleagues and neighbours.

In the way we answer the questions of others truthfully and graciously when they ask us ‘Why Jesus?’.

May those who look at the Christian community, gathered online and in Spirit, see the way we reflect our fellowship with God and with one another, and say ‘Wow. God really is among them.’

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:35 (NIV)