Creator God, help us to center ourselves in your loving presence this day and recognize with deep gratitude the abundance of your grace. And may our hearts be opened once more to your call as we reflect on the words and invitation of Jesus. Amen.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus begins his public ministry by building a community. First, he grabs some local fisherman and invites them to follow him as disciples and to join him in this community-building effort. “You’ve got a new job,” he says, “come fish for people now.”
Then he moves through the villages around the Sea of Galilee teaching in the synagogues and healing people all along the way. Word begins to spread and he gathers quite a following, not just from Galilee, according to Matthew, but “great crowds” begin to form from the surrounding region.
So one day, he climbs up on the hillside and sits down and begins to teach this new community, this mix of disciples and seekers… people in need of hope, people in need of healing, people who wanted to learn and grow, people who longed for God’s loving Spirit to touch them, and transform them, and make them feel whole again.
And the first thing Jesus tells them is “you are blessed.” You who feel poor in spirit; you who mourn; you who are meek; you who hunger; you who are merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers; you who have been persecuted and tread upon… You are blessed – all of you. And God is with you. Rejoice; be glad, for the Kingdom of God is yours.
And then, after this blessing, he gave them a job to do.
“You are the salt of the earth,” he said. Perhaps you’ve been feeling a little bland lately, but your job is to be salty.
“You are the light of the world,” he said. Perhaps you’ve been hiding your light a little lately, but your job is to shine.
Perhaps it’s time for you to find your saltiness again and help season the world around you with the good news it desperately craves.
Perhaps it’s time for you to take off that bushel basket you’ve been hiding under and let your light shine before others so they can see what God can do – so they can see God’s love shining through you.
Did they all believe it, I wonder? Did they believe that God’s blessing was upon them; that God’s love was alive with them and in them… and that this blessing was a gift… that they didn’t need to do anything to earn it because this blessing is given in grace?
Did they believe that they, who were not the politically powerful and culturally influential, were the salt of the earth and the light of the world?
Do webelieve it?
In the previous chapter of the gospel, Matthew begins talking about Jesus’ ministry in Galilee by quoting the prophet Isaiah who said, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:2). For Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of this prophetic proclamation. Jesus is the promised light.
But here’s the thing about this light… it spreads. We proclaim that Jesus is the Light of the World. But Jesus proclaims youare the light of the world, first to those who gathered on that hillside, and eventually, through the gospel message, to every seeker and disciple since.
The light of God’s love that shone so brightly through Jesus shines on through you. Remember how that spark of the Holy Spirit that ignited Jesus’ life and ministry spread like wildfire to the whole group of disciples gathered at Pentecost. At the heart of our calling as the church in the world is a call to shine.
But here’s the thing about these images of salt and light that Jesus puts forth… neither salt nor light exist to simply serve themselves.
No one wants to eat salt all by itself. Salt exists to season and flavor other things. In fact, in the book of Leviticus, there is an instruction to add salt to a burnt offering before it is burned on the altar of the Lord (Leviticus 2:13). Maybe God doesn’t like under-seasoned food.
There are several references to salt in the Old Testament. In the case of Leviticus, it is part of this act of sacrifice and maintaining of the covenant with God – and has to do with loyalty and fidelity. The phrase “sharing salt” also pops up speaking to the importance of eating together and relationship. Salt purifies a polluted body of water in Second Kings. Salt is also known a preservative (especially in that world before refrigeration) that maintains the goodness and value of the food it preserves.
In all these things, salt doesn’t exist just for itself. It’s a helper. It’s a doer. It serves a greater purpose.
And light too, of course. Light exists to shine into the darkness so we might see. Light dawns upon the earth each morning bringing warmth and growth to living things. Light illuminates the path before us making this journey of life easier than if we were just stumbling around in the dark. Light draws our attention to things worth noticing and invites a response.
In all these things, light doesn’t exist just for itself. It’s a helper. It’s a doer. It serves a greater purpose.
And, just like us, neither salt nor light, created themselves. They are part of God’s beloved creation, integral parts of a bigger whole, just like us.
Jesus said: You are blessed. You are salt to season and preserve. You are light to shine. Be what you are. And, by doing so, people will see what God is doing in this world, in you, through you. And perhaps then they’ll see that they too are salt and light. Perhaps then they too will learn to shine.
I wonder if sometimes we are afraid or hesitant to shine because we think we’ll draw too much attention to ourselves. But shining isn’t about showing off. Shining isn’t about ego. And if it becomes that, then isn’t the kind of shining Jesus was going for because the light we shine forth is not our own… it is God’s light given to us to share.
Instead, shining is about authenticity. Shining is about owning our blessedness, our belovedness in God’s eyes, and using our lives for the good of the world so others too may know they are blessed and beloved. Shining is about using our gifts – our resources, our abilities, our talents, our creativity, our intellect, everything we are, to live lives that shine forth God’s radiant love and illustrate our greatest call to love God and love our neighbor.
And shining isn’t dependent upon perfection. In fact, if we wait for perfection, we’ll likely never take any risks. And shining is sometimes risky – especially when we step out and try new things.
Social scientist and author, Brené Brown, says that sometimes “we spend our life trying to spackle our cracks, but that’s how the light gets in.” We all have cracks. No one escapes life without a few. We sometimes try to fill in the cracks with stuff, money, addictions, external admiration – things that might make us feel better temporarily, but don’t last.
But God isn’t fooled by spackle. And God doesn’t mind our cracks. That’s how the light gets in. And that’s often how the light shines back out too. Think of how many true, inspiring, and motivating stories of healing, transformation, and redemption begin with some cracks.
St. Francis is one of my favorite examples of this. His journey into ministry and the founding of his monastic order began with a heart and spirit that were utterly broken by the trauma of war. He returned from battle and began to question why his city must war with other cities. Why did they think power and territory were worth dying for? This can’t be what God wants for us. There had to be another way to live. It was, literally, his “come to Jesus” moment.
And those cracks, those important questions, led Francis on a journey of self-discovery and ultimately helped develop a community and a theological and spiritual tradition that is grounded in recognizing our place in a bigger creation, our radical dependence on God, and living simply so others may have enough. Francis took his vow of poverty to an extreme; Franciscans since then have been a little more temperate.
Francis wasn’t perfect; he was human. But he risked a change when life had left him feeling cracked. And he found his way to shine.
Shining is sometimes risky because love is risky. And shining requires courage because love requires courage. We might fail sometimes. We might get discouraged sometimes. We might get our hearts broken sometimes.
But if we don’t shine, who will?
Jesus knew that his time on this earth was limited. And so he built a community that could carry on his mission from one generation to the next. He showed them the light of God’s love and helped them find it within themselves so they would be able to shine on into the future. For a time they thought the darkness had won. But it turned out that the light wasn’t so easily extinguished. Easter dawned instead. And the light shone on.
And now it’s our turn to shine.
And the great news is that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves. We are a community of faith. And we are in covenant and relationship with other communities of faith across the globe.
And the great thing about light is that the more individual lights you bring together, the brighter things get. Love multiplied and magnified – when we shine together, that is what we can offer the world.
So often these days we hear those questions of relevance. Is church relevant anymore? Is any organized religion relevant any more? Or is it all just old fashioned, outmoded, and out of touch?
These are important questions we shouldn’t take lightly.
I think it is pretty obvious that I do think church is still relevant. And here’s why:
This world, God’s world, needs us to shine the best light we know how to shine.
People need to hear that they too are blessed and beloved (especially those who’ve felt put down or pushed aside). People need to know that healing and wholeness are possible. People need to hear that they too already have this great, God-given light within them; that they too can use their gifts and their lives and shine.
People need to know that faith is not really about fearfully following the rules. Instead, people need to know that there are communities of faith where awe and wonder and openness to mystery are embraced; where questions, and dialogue, and exploration are encouraged.
People need to know that there are other folks in the same boat, taking the same, sometimes joyful, sometimes treacherous journey through life. People need communities of support and encouragement, friends who will be present in good times and bad.
People need to know that there are places of sanctuary and rest in this world where they can come be inspired and experience God in the beauty of sacred music and space and the power of prayer; where they can find meaning in sacred stories that have been handed down for generations and discover that their story has a place in the greater story too.
People need to know that there are communities of faithful people that care about the needs of others and work together to address those needs; people who feed the hungry, who treat people with dignity and respect, who seek a more just world.
The world needs us to shine, Bay Shore Church, so the light can keep spreading. Amen.