Sunday, February 23, 2014

3-D Holiness



Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
February 23, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Scripture for this sermon was presented as a Readers' Theater, the script of which is below. The readers read the parts and the congregation responded by singing, "Change My Heart, O God." You can hear the music here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEtsHWFE6-w

Lev 19:1,2, 9-18                                           
Speaker 1: The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.
Speaker 2: But how can I be holy? Only God is holy!
Speaker 1: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God.
Speaker 2: God asks me to care for others, even in the way I do my daily work. I will need God’s help to do this.
Response: Change My Heart, O God

Speaker 1: You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the LORD.
Speaker 2: God asks me to care for others, even in the way I use my words.
Speaker 1: You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Speaker 2: God asks me to care for others, even in the way I handle my money and my possessions. I will need God’s help to do this.
Response: Change My Heart, O God

Speaker 1: You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the LORD.
Speaker 2: God asks me to care for others, even in my thoughts. I will need God’s help to do this.
Response: Change My Heart, O God

Speaker 1: You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Speaker 2: God asks me to love my neighbor as myself. The person next door, and down the street, and across town, and across the country, and across the globe. God asks me to be holy, by loving and caring for others. All others. This is the word of the Lord!
Speaker 1: Thanks be to God.
Speaker 2: We will need God’s help to do this.
Response: Change My Heart, O God




You may remember that last week, our scripture reading was from the book of Deuteronomy, a bit of Moses’ last words before the Israelites crossed the river Jordan into the promised land of Canaan.  This week we are still in the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, but we are reading from the book of Leviticus.  This is a pretty complex book, so it is usually divided into sections.  The first section is detailed instructions for worship; if you need to know how to offer your goat up as a burnt offering, this is your go-to guide.  Then there are some pretty intense instructions on what is clean and unclean.  And then, Leviticus chapters 19-26 are what is known as the “Holiness Code.”

This section covers all kinds of rules about what the people must do to be pleasing to God, and it has some serious rules about what you can and cannot eat, who you can or cannot marry, and what it means to be holy.  God reminds the people of two things over and over – first, “I the Lord your God am holy.” And second, “You shall be holy.” This section of chapter 19 deals with what holiness looks like, in action, what holiness looks like not just in words, but in three dimensions – in real life.  The scripture you’ve just heard concerns personal ethics in community, the life of God’s people in relationship to others.  Like the rest of the holiness code in Leviticus, these injunctions are no longer completely applicable in their literal sense. Many words have been said, many more shouted, about what parts of Leviticus should still be taken literally. The reality is probably that none of them really can, since we are no longer an emerging agrarian culture of the 5th century BC.

It doesn’t make sense to us now, for example, to apply the dietary code. God certainly had good reason to forbid the eating of shrimp –who am I to question what that was –but it is safe to assume that holiness for us no longer means what it meant then.  Now, certain people will tell you “you can’t pick and choose!”…“If it is in the Bible, you must follow it!”

But everybody picks and chooses – it’s just a matter of what they pick and how they choose. A few years ago, a fellow named A.  J.  Jacobs tried to follow the Bible, all of it, completely, without picking and choosing, following all the rules – every single one of them. You may know that there are quite a few rules about stoning people to death –blasphemers, pagans, adulterers, mediums, and rebellious children –those are the main categories. The Bible  --Leviticus, chapter 20, says if you run across any of those, you are supposed to stone them to death.

So A.  J.  Jacobs, in his book, described how he spent a year of his life trying to follow all those rules. He wore his hair and beard long, he kept all the purity laws, and one day he went out to stone an adulterer.

Here’s how he describes the effort, after he meets an elderly man in a park who admits he is an adulterer:
“You’re stoning adulterers?”
“Yeah, I’m stoning adulterers.”
“I’m an adulterer.”
“You’re currently an adulterer?”
“Yeah. Tonight, tomorrow, yesterday, two weeks from now.  You gonna stone me?”
“If I could, yes, that’d be great.”
“I’ll punch you in the face.  I’ll send you to the cemetery. ”
He is serious.  This isn’t a cutesy grumpy old man.  
This is an angry old man.  This is a man with seven decades of hostility behind him.
I fish out my pebbles from my back pocket.
“I wouldn’t stone you with big stones,” I say.  “Just these little guys.”
I open my palm to show him the pebbles.  
He lunges at me, grabbing one out of my hand, then chucking it at my face.  It whizzes by my cheek. I am stunned for a second.  I hadn’t expected this elderly man to make the first move.  But now there is nothing stopping me from retaliating. An eye for an eye.  I take one of the remaining pebbles and whip it at his chest.  It bounces off.
“I’ll punch you right in the kisser,” he says.
“Well, you really shouldn’t commit adultery,” I say. We stare at each other.  
My heart is racing. Yes, he is a septuagenarian.  Yes, he had just threatened me using corny Honeymooners dialogue.  But you could tell: This man has a strong dark side. Our glaring contest lasts ten seconds, then he walks away, brushing by me as he leaves.

Jacobs reflects on the event:
… Even though mine was a Stoning Lite, barely fulfilling the letter of the law, I can’t deny: It felt good to chuck a rock at this nasty old man.  It felt primal. It felt like I was getting vengeance on him.  This guy wasn’t just an adulterer, he was a bully.  I wanted him to feel the pain he’d inflicted on others, even if that pain was a tap on the chest. ”[1]

I think most of us can relate – it sounds really good to say we should follow all of the Bible, but the truth is, most of us tend to reserve the more judgmental sections for those people who we don’t like in any case. So it feels pretty good to pronounce God’s judgment on people we look down on, people who are strange, not like us. This section of Leviticus calls us to account on that, because it explicitly describes how we are supposed to treat other people.

We can’t ignore this passage by saying, “Well, I don’t know any blind people; I’m not acquainted with any gleaners, and besides I don’t even HAVE a vineyard.” That kind of literalism attends to the letter of the law, and not the spirit, and we all know what Jesus had to say about people who do that. No, this description of those whom we are to care for applies  to every category of person who lacks privilege, who is left out, who is struggling, who is made in God’s image, and therefore worthy of our compassion and our respect.

This code of holiness encompasses all people in God’s justice, and God’s love. In other words, when the man who wanted to justify himself asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus answered with a parable, the story of the Good Samaritan. Turns out everybody is my neighbor, from the guy next door to the worst terrorist on the planet. When asked “What is the greatest commandment?”Jesus answered by saying, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.   All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. ”

Jesus did not change the law, or destroy the law – he fulfilled the law – the spirit of the law. If we hear a text like this, or any other part of the holiness code, we will also hear the call to be holy, ourselves.

So, what does it mean, to be holy? We can’t be as holy as God is, no matter how we try. We understand holiness to be two-dimensional: we are committed, dedicated to God and God alone, and because of that, we are set apart from the rest of the world. But that does not exempt us from the law of love, the third dimension of holiness. If we try to obey the letter of the law, and take every word literally, and demonstrate our own dedication to God, our holiness is thin, linear, one-dimensional.

If we simply choose to deploy these scripture as verses to clobber others, we might perhaps succeed setting ourselves apart from others, excluding them in order to protect our own moral purity, but we miss the point, and our holiness may have two dimensions, but that kind of so-called holiness is still flat, with no depth at all.

If we genuinely seek to understand and live and act in the spirit of the law, we will come to no other conclusion than John Calvin did, when he said, “Let this, therefore, be our rule for generosity and beneficence: We are the stewards of everything God has conferred on us by which we are able to help our neighbor, and are required to render account of our stewardship.  Moreover, the only right stewardship is that which is tested by the rule of love.  .  .  .  Now if [a person] has not only deserved no good at your hand, but has also provoked you by unjust acts and curses, not even this is just reason why you should cease to embrace him in love and to perform the duties of love on his behalf. ”[2]

To be holy, as God is holy, is to love as God loves. Three dimensional holiness stretches out a hand to the hurting, offers food to the hungry, grants mercy to the undeserving, forgives the unrepentant. [3]

Three dimensional holiness welcomes the stranger, refrains from judging, but when it must, it judges fairly. Three dimensional holiness honors God by loving God and loving neighbor. Three dimensional holiness has flesh and bone and skin and a voice, it is fully human and fully divine, perfect love and perfect justice, forgiving seven times seventy and loving even enemies. God called the people to holiness, and delivered them time and again. God made a holy and eternal covenant with God’s chosen ones, and God led them to the promised land. God continued to forgive and offer mercy, even when the people tried to construct their own systems of justice, and God delivered them again from exile, which, let’s be honest, was their own darn fault. And at last God came to earth, as a human, with flesh and bone and skin and a voice, and showed us how to be human, how to love, how to be holy.

In Christ, God demonstrated holiness in three dimensions –devotion to God, being set apart for service, and a life active in love. I am the Lord your God; be holy as I am holy. Love your neighbor as yourself.  
Amen.



[1] http://ajjacobs.com/resources/yolb-excerpt/
[3] Robson, James E.,  “Forgotten Dimensions of Holiness.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 33 (2011) 121-146

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Saying Yes to Life




Deuteronomy 30: 15-20
February 16, 2013
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Today’s scripture reading comes from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 30, verses 15-20. These verses are near the end of the book, which is the last of the five books of law, the Torah. Moses has been giving a farewell sermon, which must have lasted about five hours. He has been recounting the mighty works of God and the importance of God’s covenant. He has reminded the people of God’s law, and the call to obedience. Now, he’s winding down.

In sermon-speak, Moses is about to “land the plane”, with this challenge and call to decision. Moses is about to die, and the people of Israel, freed from slavery in Egypt and wandering in the desert for 40 years, are now about to cross the river Jordan and enter the promised land. Moses will not be going with them, and these are his last words. Let’s listen for God’s word to us today in Deuteronomy 30:15-20: 

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.   If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the LORD your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.   But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.   I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 

Have you ever seen those joke lists with the “famous last words”?  
They were really popular when I was a kid: 
Gimme a match, I think my gas tank’s empty. 
Pull the pin and count to what? 
Don’t worry, that bear is asleep. 
I know it’s a long way down, but I think I can make this jump. 
If we speed up, we can beat that train to the crossing. 
And the ever-popular: Hold my beer and watch this! 
All of these – famous last words, and bad ideas. 

My mom is good at pointing out bad ideas.  So when someone makes a brash or outlandish statement, like “I will NEVER do that!” or “I would never say such a thing!”  Mom will say, “Famous last words.” 

Maybe that was a little bit of what Moses was about, in this long, long sermon he was winding up. Maybe he wanted to say some famous last words.  Certainly, like my mom, he was passing on wise counsel. But these verses are more than just good advice. They concern matters of life and death, choices with enormous consequences. Perhaps that’s why the sermon in Deuteronomy is so very, very long. 

The Hebrew people had been slaves in Egypt, for generations.  After they finally fled the suffering and servitude they had known, they had wandered in the desert for forty years.  Now they were on the brink, at the river’s edge, about to cross over Jordan. 

If you are born in slavery, and that is the only life you have ever known, it would be difficult for you to know how to live as a free person.  How would you know how to make choices – about your family, your work, about what you would do with your time and your resources?  It would be a challenge, at first, to adjust to the array of choices now available to you. Moses spent a lot of time laying out the choices, and now he is summing up the consequences of those decisions. This is a lot more crucial than “Stay out too late and you are grounded.” This is about making a choice to say yes to blessings, yes to God, yes to life.  It’s like a motivational speech for choosing a blessed life. 

You may notice that the consequence of choosing well is not any kind of prize or material reward.  Moses mentions prosperity, in contrast to adversity, but there’s no promise that loving God will ward off bad times.  Moses is simply stating what we know to be true:  the choice to love God makes for a meaningful life, a better life. 

His call to them is the call that is heard every week in the synagogue:  Shema, Israel! 
Shema means to listen, to hear, and to obey.  The decision to listen and obey God’s commandments leads to blessings.  Listening to God’s call opens us up to happiness, to joy.  Making right choices blesses everyone; obedience to God benefits the entire community.  For the people to choose obedience meant that they would have a home, and that they would welcome the alien and the stranger. For the people to choose obedience meant that they would have food,   and there would be enough to feed the hungry. Choosing God’s good would mean freedom to live a new kind of life –   not just for them, but for their neighbors.  That choice is not merely about saying no to things that are bad– although that is part of it.  That choice is about saying yes to life. 

Recently, I read an article by a hospice nurse about the top five regrets of those who are dying.  She framed those regrets as the wishes most commonly shared with her. As people faced death, they thought deeply about their lives, and the choices they had made. 

The first and most common regret shared was this:  “I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” When it was too late, people realized that they had missed opportunities to be their whole, true, courageous, genuine self – heart, soul, and strength.  They had gone along with others’ expectations, followed the crowd, instead of making their own decisions, “true to myself.” 

The second regret was voiced by every male, and also by many females:  “I wish I hadn't worked so hard.”  The writer said, “All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."  There’s an old saying that nobody’s tombstone says   “I wish I had gone to more meetings.” Life offers us so many chances for joy, for relationships, for community.  Not that we can’t get that from work,   but mostly, we find deeper joy away from our jobs, with friends and family, or in solitude and leisure. 

The third regret was “I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.” People had not taken opportunities to truthfully say what they were feeling.  Scripture tells us to be truthful, to let our yes be yes and our no be no.  But so often we second-guess ourselves, and miss the opportunity to speak the truth, to share a word of hope, to express our love. 

The fourth regret was “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” People realized, at the end of their lives, that they had let friendships slip.  Again, if our focus is on meeting others’ expectations, on working as much as we possibly can, we tend to let go of the simple and deep satisfaction of friendships. 

The fifth common regret: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”At the end of their lives, people realized that they had missed out – not on bigger houses or fame or more money or success,   but on laughter, silliness, fun – on joy. [1] 

It is so sad, isn’t it, that when death is standing at the door,  so many people finally notice that life is there, too, and has been there all along, dancing around in the hallways, peeking into the office windows, telling ridiculously silly jokes and shaking with laughter, climbing into our laps and grabbing our faces and saying, “Look! It’s me! Life!” 

The choice is set before us, every day. 
What are we going to say? 
How are we going to answer?  
We are a free people, whom God has delivered from slavery – slavery to sin, to others’ opinion of us, to conforming to the world. We are free to choose. Will we choose life?  Or will we simply stand up and close the door, and wait until death returns, leaning against the wall of the hospital room, arms crossed, waiting for us? 

God’s people, long ago, crossed the River Jordan, crossed over into the promised land. We know from their stories that they did not always follow Moses’ advice.  But not long after Moses died, they walked down to the Jordan’s banks, following the Ark of the Covenant carried by the priests.  The waters receded, as the Red Sea had done when they ran from Egypt, and they crossed over into Canaan on the dry land.  At that moment, at least, God’s people said yes.  We are far from that moment, both in time and space, but every day we stand on the banks of that river, and every moment we are faced with choices. 

We live most days pretending we don’t see death around the corner; we live too many days ignoring the beautiful life that tugs at our sleeve, that playfully bumps our shoulder as we walk down the street, that runs ahead of us, giggling.  We put off the yes and no until the day arrives when we begin thinking about what our own last words will be.

Still, the choice is before us, between death and life.
Live then, as a resounding yes!

Say yes to this life by loving the LORD your God, by walking in God’s ways, and observing God’s commandments. Then on that day when death finally slips in the door, we can cross over to the Promised Land without regrets, having been true to ourselves, having lived lives of meaning and joy, having been loved and having shared that love, having known the satisfaction of friendship and community and having felt and shared the great, profound adventure of life, fully and without regrets.  When we go into God’s presence, at the last, we’ll join the host of angels and the great communion of saints in endless praise and thanksgiving, in gratitude for our lives, and for God’s call, and for saying yes to life. 

The decision seems obvious: to say yes to life.
Then life says yes to us.   

Amen. 




[1] http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/01/top-five-regrets-of-the-dying

Sunday, February 9, 2014

A Grain of Salt


A Grain of Salt
Matthew 5:13-20
February 9, 2014
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry

As we prepare our hearts for God’s word from the gospel today, I want to set it in context for us. We’ll be spending a lot of time in this gospel during Lent, but until then, this will be our last focus on the gospel until the first Sunday in March. Matthew’s gospel is written for a community that is Jewish at its heart, located probably in what is now Syria, during the last quarter of the first century. The Scriptures on which they rely are what we would call the “Old Testament” – for them, that is “The Bible.” But there are more Gentiles joining them, so they are, like us, living in the tensions of transition – fully rooted in the faith of the past, and looking toward the future. They are excited, but apprehensive, about what this new way of living will bring. They are followers of Jesus, ready to go but unsure of where they will be led. The author of the gospel of Matthew sees Jesus as the fulfillment of the law – the Torah – the full expression of God’s covenant. These verses are the epilogue to the Beatitudes – that series of “blessed are” verses. They are related in several ways, the main way is that they are, like the beatitudes, in the indicative voice. That is to say, when Jesus says, “You are salt” or “you are light,” he is not saying “try to be more savory” or “you should be a light to others.” He is metaphorically identifying the Christian community. Let’s listen for God’s word to our community today in Matthew 5:13-20      
             
[Jesus said] “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.  Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

A few days ago, I saw something in the Presbytery newsletter about confirmation retreats coming up at Stronghold. I checked out the website to see what the dates were, and was surprised to see that it said, “leading our retreat is the Reverend Christina Berry, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Sterling.”
Ohhhhh……um……I am? I immediately contacted Stronghold. Am I?
Turns out it was a mistake. Sigh of relief.

I wonder if the disciples, listening to Jesus’ sermon, had the same reaction.
You are the salt of the earth …. You are the light of the world… Really? We ARE? Seriously? Yes. You are. Seriously.

To feel the full weight of this pronouncement, it’s worthwhile to consider the importance of salt in the world of the first century. We know the importance of light – to illuminate, to guide us, to wake us, to keep us healthy. There’s not much argument that light is a good thing.

But salt? Well, salt is just not as popular as it used to be. Salt is the former box office star that has now faded into oblivion, hanging around in the background.  He used to be much sought-after, but now he’s only invited to the party because there are still a few people who remember his fame. He’s been discredited, too, as something not quite so desirable, and certainly we have to watch out for him. Don’t want to get too much salt. But back then, Salt was on the A-list. Everybody wanted salt. It was valued not only as a commodity for seasoning and preserving, it was also an antiseptic, and was used as a kind of money. Slaves could be purchased with salt. A ration of salt was as a part of a Roman soldier’s pay. Hence the term, “not worth his salt.” Salt was used with covenant offerings at the altar to God, and has been taxed, fought over, withheld, and given as gifts. The Roman word, “sal” is the basis of our words: salutary, salary, and salad, just to name a few.

So when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth,” those who heard him must have been a bit taken aback. It’s as if the farm hand, standing around at the back door to the barn, is told that he is now the CEO of a corporation.  
“You are the salt of the earth.”
“I am? Me?”
“You are the light of the world.”
“Who? ME? No, Jesus, I’m not. Really. That’s an awful lot of responsibility, see?”
Because if we are the salt of the earth, if we are the light of the world, ohhhh, this is going to be a problem.

It reminds me of that old joke – you’ve heard it, I’m sure, about the two little boys at the breakfast table who were fighting over who would get the first pancake.
Kevin said “I should get the first one, because I’m five and I’m the oldest.”
Raymond said, “I should get the first one, because I’m the littlest.”
Their mother, seeing a teachable moment said, “Boys, if Jesus were sitting here,  he’d say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.”
Kevin turned to his little brother and said, “Raymond, you be Jesus!”

But here Jesus is, saying you ARE the salt of the earth, you ARE the light of the world. 
Whether you like it or not.

Then he makes the responsibility even more explicit: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments,  and teaches others to do the same,  will be called least in the kingdom of heaven;  but whoever does them and teaches them  will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Misleading others – still in the kingdom, but not on the A list. Teaching others – great in the kingdom of heaven.

Salt and light. Not for ourselves, but for others.
Archbishop William Temple is frequently quoted as having said, “The Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself, but for those who live outside of it.”

That’s a prickly kind of saying – the church – this church – our church, does not exist for itself,  but for the benefit of those who are NOT its members. If we are salt and light, it is not for our own personal advantage or gain. It is for others. You are the salt of the earth.

You know something I left out of that list of the attributes of salt? It makes people thirsty. Salted popcorn at the movies is the best ever. But it makes me willing to pay three dollars and fifty cents for a soda pop. Salted nuts at the bar, complimentary, are there to make you thirsty.

We are the salt of the earth,
and something about us ought to make people thirsty for the living water of the gospel.
We are the light of the world,
and something about us ought to illuminate a path out of darkness for people who are trying to find their way.

I don’t know what those traits might be for you. You are all of you good, nice people. All of you. Maybe you volunteer in one of the many fine social service programs that our community offers to those less fortunate. Maybe you take special care to show kindness to everyone you meet. Maybe you go out of your way to look out for a neighbor. Maybe you are unable to pitch in yourself, so you pitch in financial support. Maybe you are salt and light in the way you pray for others. These are all fine things to do.

Do others see your good works, then, and give glory to your Father in heaven?
Because your wonderful kindness, our excellent work in the community, your generosity and my ministry of presence are all for that purpose – to give glory to God. To make people thirsty for the living water that keeps you going, to light a path to faith for those who feel lost. And sometimes, it can be a good thing to say, out loud, in words, what it is that moves you to do these acts of ministry and mercy. Because I love God. Because I’m a Jesus-follower.  Because Jesus loves me when I don’t even deserve it, and I try to share that love with others, so they can feel it, too. Being salt and light, to bring glory to God.

As if that weren’t difficult enough, Jesus has to go and add  “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,  you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And therein lies the good news.  Yes, it is good news!

Because our identity as salt and light are not mistakes. This is not a scripture “to be taken with a grain of salt.” On the contrary, Jesus identifies us as salt and light because he is naming a new reality. He is not pointing out our excellent potential to become nicer. He is not challenging us to try harder to be someone better. He is telling us to BE WHO WE ARE and thereby bring glory to God in heaven.

Who we are is salt – to preserve, to purify, to season and add savor, to make others thirsty for the good news. Who we are is light –  to brighten and illuminate, to waken and guide, to show others a path to the living water,  where their thirst can be slaked. Who we are is salt and light. We are God’s beloved and precious children. We are disciples, people who have encountered grace and promised to follow its source, people who have glimpsed that light of the world, and now reflect and refract it into a world of shadows.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
Maybe each one of us is just a little grain of salt, but we are salt.
Maybe each one of us is just a tiny flickering candle, but we are light.

Jesus said it:  Let your light shine before others,
so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Or, like the little boy said, until he comes again, “you be Jesus.”


Amen.