A sermon preached by Marci Glass at Southminster Presbyterian in Boise, Idaho on February 9, 2014.
This morning we heard the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. I heard the choir sang a beautiful version of the Beatitudes last Sunday. The rest of the sermon on the mount will take up our attention the coming weeks.
Some of what you heard this morning might be familiar. Even if you haven’t heard it in church, you might have seen it parodied in Monty Python’s Blessed are the Cheesemakers sketch.
Or you might have heard someone say, with all good intention, “blessed are those who mourn” to someone whose loved one has just died.
The sermon can be used glibly, as a sound byte without much theological reflection. “We don’t have to worry about the poor now, because Jesus says the poor will be blessed”.
The blessing of the poor, the mourners, the persecuted, and the meek is NOT an excuse to sit back and ignore the work of Kingdom.
It is, instead, Jesus declaration, as one of my seminary professors put it, that the Kingdom of Blessedness has begun.
The blessings in this passage are not commands, instructing us to go out and be persecuted and hurt and meek. They are promises of hope that as those situations arise in our lives, we will never find ourselves alone in the midst of them.
The beatitudes are where the Incarnation of Jesus are most clear for Matthew, I think. “God became flesh and lived among us” is the gospel of John’s language for it. Matthew shows us the divine Son going up on a mountain side, as his ancestor Moses did, and proclaiming the Kingdom of Blessedness.
In other words, when God becomes flesh and lives among us, everything we thought we knew about how the world shows blessing changes. Randy did a great job speaking to that last week.
Jesus, though, doesn’t have the blessings statements written on stone tablets, as Moses had the 10 commandments. At the end of this passage, Jesus says, “do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.” He’s not trying to erase the commandments we received from Moses. He says he is here to fulfill them.
If you want to know what the Law was talking about—look to Jesus.
If you want to know what the prophets were talking about when they preached of God’s justice and love—look to Jesus.
The incarnation of Jesus, the presence of God with us in the world, is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
The Beatitudes aren’t commandments. The commandments, the instructions come next when he says:
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Let your light shine.
This is the section where we are given instructions in how to live into this Kingdom of Blessedness.
We are told we are Salt and Light.
I want the Salt instruction to be about Jesus wanting us to be spicy, because spicy is exciting and different and spicy has a kick!
Salt does add flavor. But salt is not habanero pepper. Salt is something we need to live. It is essential for life. It is a taste we crave. It is something we notice when it is absent, but not usually something we pay attention to when it is there. Nobody ever says, “wow! The salt in that soup is delicious!”.
By telling us to be Salt, Jesus is telling us to be essential to the living of the world. He is telling us that our work in the Kingdom of Blessedness is something the world craves and needs to live. Be salt.
To be salt that has lost its flavor is to take your essential and needed gift and throw it out to be trampled under foot.
Mahatma Gandhi, who was a big fan of Jesus’ sermon on the mount, was trying, through non-violence, to free India from British Colonial rule.
Britain had placed a tax on salt. They weren’t the first to have done so, but in addition to the tax, they had a monopoly on the trade of it. And it was a repressive tax that hurt the poor the most. Everyone needs salt to live, especially when they labored in the hot sun and lost salt in their sweat. So, because of the tax and monopoly in the early 20th century, salt was prohibitively expensive and difficult to obtain.
When Gandhi proposed protesting the salt tax, other leaders in India’s independence movement thought it was a silly idea. They suggested something bigger, grander, spicier. “It is difficult not to laugh, and we imagine that will be the mood of most thinking Indians,” wrote a newspaper editorial.
But Gandhi recognized the essential importance of salt to the daily living of life. And so, in March of 1930, he and many followers marched 240 miles to the coast where they could bypass the British salt monopoly and tax and make their own salt from the muddy deposits on the shore.
Thousands of people joined him. At one point the length of the crowd was 2 miles long.
The protest spread so far, with people making and selling their own salt, British officials arrested over 60,000 people for making salt. And it spread from there. 18 years later, India declared independence from Britain.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’
Being salt to the world, means helping people find what they need to live.
Shelter, food, safety, health—having physical needs for survival met.
I think there are other essential things we need to live as well.
Hope, grace, mercy, and love.
How can we be salt to the world, helping people know the Kingdom of Blessedness has arrived?
Light is also essential, of course. Photosynthesis and all that— allowing plants to grow, which creates oxygen for us to breathe.
But light can be very subtle. Light shines. And it illumines what had been hidden in darkness. But it doesn’t point to itself. And it can’t control the outcome. We are called to be light. But the light doesn’t get to say “hey! Look over here! Look at me! Look at me!”
It just shines.
The author, Annie Dillard wrote:
“You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”
― Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
As she points out, the stars just shine. Whether we go outside in the dark of night to look at them, whether or not the clouds obscure our view, they just shine.
They neither require nor demand our attention.
What does that mean for us as we live out our call to be light to the world? What do the stars say to us as we consider the instruction to “let our light shine before others”?
The first thing that occurs to me is that the stars aren’t concerned about outcomes. They just let their light shine. They don’t do it to make sure they get the credit or so they convert more people to being light. They don’t shine to seek glory or fame or riches. They just shine because it is who they are and what they are called to be.
There aren’t any ultimatums. Light doesn’t say, “We’ll shine tonight as long as you agree to start treating each other as God instructs you to do”.
I confess my tendency to do that. I want to shine for the people I love, the ones who are nice and kind. I’m less interested in sharing my light with haters and mean people.
But that isn’t my call to make.
God doesn’t tell us to let our light shine for our friends. We are called, simply, to shine.
How would our work in the world, our participation in the Kingdom of Blessedness, be different, if we removed from our shining, concerns about outcome, success, or prestige?
In 2010, Dr. Megan Coffee was an Infectious Disease fellow, working in San Francisco when the earthquake hit Haiti. There was a desperate need for infectious disease prevention in Haiti right after that earthquake and she was asked if she would go help.
Two weeks after the earthquake, she had postponed the rest of her studies and was on a plane to help. She is still there, 4 years later, volunteering her time to help Haitians struggling with tuberculosis.
Her story made me think of letting our light shine, of being exactly who God has gifted us to be in order to share the Kingdom of Blessedness.
Blessed are those who have tuberculosis, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the healers, for they will receive mercy.
In the darkness of a country in rubble, she is letting her light shine, dispelling shadow for people in Haiti.
There are plenty of illustrations, as I look around this sanctuary, of how you are salt and light in the world.
Yesterday as I was visiting with Cathie Walker in the hospital, instead of talking about her own back pain, she was worried about what we could be doing for the people of the Philippines recovering from the typhoon, the people of Haiti (because she always thinks about Haiti), and the hungry people in our community who need to find out about the new neighborhood breakfast you’ve started.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.’
Your advocacy for equality, your work for justice, your support of mission work both here and around the world, your presence in the lives of students at Grace Jordan Elementary School—there are many ways you have been poured out as God’ salt to the world.
As we move into this new year together, how are we being called to be salt and light in new ways?
Looking forward to seeing how you live into the Kingdom of Blessedness that Jesus has brought us. Thankful to be on this journey with you.