A Voice From the Clouds

Sunday, February 26, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 17:1-9

Last Sunday was the end of the season of Epiphany – where we study how God’s light is revealed to the world.  Next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Lent where we will journey into the wilderness for 40 days –not counting Sundays – and take that time for self-examination and preparation for the events that lead to Easter.  Today – Transfiguration Sunday – lies between the two.  This Sunday we go from the season of light to the season of darkness, which seems ironic since the season of Epiphany is during the darkness times of the year, and Lent is during the time when the days are getting increasingly longer.  Yet, that makes perfect sense.  We need to see where God’s light shines in the darkness, and we need to spend time in the darkness in order to see the light.  This Sunday, however, is a pause between the two.  It is a pause between the light and the darkness.  And this pause can feel quite uncomfortable.  It certainly did for Peter, James, and John that day centuries ago on that mountain.

They went up with Jesus to a mountain – most likely Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor – so they could all be together by themselves.  Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but he didn’t really understand what that meant.  He certainly didn’t understand the implications.  Because after Peter made that statement, Jesus told him about his upcoming arrest, death, and eventual resurrection.  Yet, Peter didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus dying, so Peter resisted.  He said, no, you can’t die.  We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. Jesus then said, “Get behind me Satan.  For you are setting your mind on earthly things not on the things above.” It’s after that conversation that Jesus invites Peter and the other two disciples up to the mountain. Yet we don’t hear any lesson from Jesus.  There’s no new sermon on this mountain, no new words or lessons.  Instead, there’s a pause, a pause in the conversation.  And God transfigures or as the Greek says, metamorphos, changes – right before them.  Jesus is changed and reveals God glory in him.  We’re told his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  It shocked the disciples.  They didn’t want to move.  They didn’t want Jesus to move.  Peter even offered to set up a booth or a tent so as to make sure Jesus and the other two prophets remained there just like that.  They wanted that moment – that vision of God – to last forever.  If Peter had a camera he would have taken a picture, and captured Jesus’ glory for all to see.

We’ve all experienced moments like that.  Moments when things are going so good that we just want time to stand still.  We want to savor every moment.  Often we’ll reach for a camera if we can to memorialize it – to make it last forever.  But sometimes we’re so caught up in the moment that we don’t do anything.  We stop everything and stay present in that moment, careful not to lose even one precious second.  At such a time we’re lost in such amazement and awe that we are at a loss for words.

But then the clouds roll in, and they don’t always look like fluffy, white, light, cotton candy-like puffs of sugar.  They don’t even look bright. Like yesterday afternoon, they are dark and foreboding and elicit in us a sense of fear and dread wondering what will come next.  It’s the unknown that makes us uneasy.  It’s the uncertainty that causes us to worry and panic.  The uncertainty of questions we long to have answered, but the answers don’t come.  These clouds signal change, and like Peter we don’t want things to change.  We want them to stay the same.  Peter and the other disciples didn’t want Jesus to have to suffer and die, yet in order for resurrection to happen, the dark cloud of death had to overshadow him.  That dark cloud of death is again overshadowing this congregation as we grieve the loss of our dear Lauren, and yet, that is what this Transfiguration Sunday is all about.  It is for us – as it was for the first disciples -a glimpse of the resurrection.  We need that glimpse, especially in times such as these.  We need to hear God’s voice speaking words of promise from the clouds.

Strangely enough however, that voice isn’t always comforting at first.  It’s alarming.  When the Israelites heard God’s voice from Mt. Sinai, they told Moses to speak for them because they didn’t want to hear God’s voice again.  It was too challenging.  It called them to change. When Peter, James, and John heard the voice of God from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” they too were terrified. Why do people run from God’s voice? Maybe because we’re not used to hearing that voice.  How can we?  With all the noise going on around us every day from every different direction including our own internal voices, we never seem to be quiet enough to hear God’s voice.  And it’s easy to get confused after a while to even distinguish God’s voice of truth from what is not true.  We need a space to be still, to be quiet, to be open to hear God’s voice.  It’s one of the reasons we gather together each Sunday.  When Jesus led the disciples up the mountain that day, he was giving them an opportunity to learn through silence, something we’re all not accustomed to doing.  What we usually here is “Don’t just sit there; do something!”  Here God is saying, “Don’t just do something; sit, be still, listen.  “Listen to him!” Listen to Jesus.

Listening is a skill that needs to be learned.  Active listening takes time. It requires deep attention.  It means we need to let go – of our own thoughts and responses – in order to really hear what the other person is saying.  It means letting go in order to receive.  That is perhaps the hardest lesson of all for us to learn.  The caterpillar does it instinctively.  It enters into the cloud of the cocoon where it waits silently while being transformed finally emerging as the glorious butterfly.  Lau Tzu said, “What the caterpillar calls the end; the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” Metamorphosis –transformation – transfiguration – happens in the silence. God calls to us in the silence and says, “Listen to him!”

God calls us to enter into the silence where one can hear the flickering of a flame.  In the silence one can hear the beating of one’s own heart, and soon the beat of the other’s heart. In the silence we hear God’s voice of compassion and mercy.  Soon we hear the collective heartbeats of those all over the world.  We feel their pain; we hear their prayers.  Finally, in the silence we hear the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit; we feel that breath of life.  The Spirit calls us to enter into the clouds and not run from them.  The Spirit invites us to go deeper into the silence in order that we can hear Jesus’ voice and feel his touch.  The touch that removes the fear, the pain, the hurt, and the sorrow.  The touch that tells us to “get up and do not be afraid.  In the silence we learn to distinguish Jesus’ voice from all the other voices.  His is the voice of love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and resurrection.  His voice changes us, so that we too can reveal God’s glory.

Today, on this Transfiguration Sunday, let us pause between the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent and be still, be silent, and feel the Spirit calling us closer to Jesus.  Listen to his voice.  Jesus’ voice will comfort, and sooth, it will be balm for our pain, and warmth for our journey.  His voice will lead us through the clouds, into the wilderness,  to the cross, and to resurrection.  Amen!

 

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Perfectly Amazing

Sunday, February 19, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 5:38-48

“Give to everyone who begs from you.  Do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is quite an ending to the Sermon on the Mount!  Did Jesus really expect us to take these commands seriously – to love our enemies, to pray for those who hurt us, to be perfect?  I wonder what went through the minds of those in the crowds that day when they heard those words from Jesus. And what about the disciples? They knew they were far from perfect. They followed Jesus through town after town – hundreds of miles on foot – and here on the mountainside they hear a list of impossible demands. Jesus had just finished saying they were blessed, but not in a “do good things and you will be rewarded with everything you want, for Jesus says, God the Father makes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If this is a pep talk, it’s not a very good one!

Everyone is listening intently to hear a word of hope, but instead Jesus says, when someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek. He says, give everything you have to someone when they want it and if someone forces you to go a mile, go two. And that Roman government that is enslaving you by keeping you poor …love them. And those Samaritans whom you avoid and don’t follow the same religious practices you do…love them. Yes, love even your enemies.

As the crowds sat looking up at Jesus on the mountain, did they ever think they could do what He asked?  Do we?  That’s just too hard.  The people Jesus spoke to were living under Roman occupation. They were poor and oppressed. They wanted someone to deliver them from all this.  Was Jesus the Messiah they were waiting for or was He only setting them up for a big fall, setting them up for a race they could never win?  And what about us today?  Do we feel the same?  Is Jesus just asking too much of us?  How can we be perfect?

The word perfection brings to mind athletes. It’s almost impossible not to be inspired by the athletes’ skill and determination to succeed. They train their whole lives – hours each day – to be the best in their sport. They seek perfection.  That’s certainly the case for athletes competing in the Olympics. Their goal is to win the gold medal – to be the best in the world. One of the athletes I remember the most is U.S. Olympic speed skater, Dan Jansen. He was a favorite to win the gold medal in the 500 meter race at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada. Some of you may remember him. If not, let me tell you a little about his story.

Dan Jansen started skating at the age of four and at age 23 he made the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. As hard as he tried, he finished 16th in the 500 meters, but came within a fraction of a second from taking home the bronze medal in the 1000 meter race. A fraction of a second – almost, but not perfect. Still, Jansen did not give up and four years later at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada he was ready to win the gold. A week earlier he had won the World Sport Championship. But on the day of the race – Feb. 14, 1988, he got the news that his 27 year old sister Jane, who encouraged him in his skating, died from leukemia. His family encouraged him to complete the race, but seconds after the race started, Jansen fell and crashed into the side wall. I couldn’t believe it. No one could. There he sat, on the cold ice, in tears, and people around the world wept with him.  Several days later, he competed in the 1000 meter race and after a record breaking start, he fell again. Everyone in the crowd – and those of us watching from the television – grieved with him.

It was far from perfect; in fact it wasn’t even close. Yet Jansen was determined not to give up. Four years later, in 1992, he made the Olympic team yet again, and traveled to Albertville, France expecting perfection, but found himself utterly disappointed after coming in 4th in the 500 meter race and 26th in the 1000 meters.  Leaving defeated, though not totally devastated, Jansen kept training and competing. In 1994, he was back at the Olympics again, this time in Lillehammer, Norway. All eyes were on him as he started the 500 meter race, and yet, unbelievable as it seemed, he came in 8th place. With only the 1000 meter race left it was apparent that his Olympic career was over. All that training – all that hard work – for what? He said in an interview, he felt “flat.” His performance was anything but perfect.  Most people wondered why he would even continue to try to run in the last race. Perfection was something unachievable.

Perfection! There’s that word again.  Just like athletes who want to be perfect and win the gold, so we too often strive for perfection.  Our culture certainly encourages that. Just look in all the magazines at how people are supposed to look! Some people engage in dangerous plastic surgeries to have perfect bodies, work harder and harder to have more things that will give them what they think is a perfect life, seek bigger houses, expensive cars, perfect vacations, perfect credit scores, perfect jobs, it’s exhausting! And the problem is they aren’t any happier, because they can never achieve perfection.

There are many people who strive so hard to be perfect that they are extremely hard on themselves or others.  They lack joy in their lives because they feel they can never measure up.  They’re always comparing themselves to someone else.  But this is not the way God intended for us to live.  This trying to be perfect is a symptom of our lack of faith, because we’re putting our faith in the wrong thing.  We may say we don’t believe in works righteousness, but we still think we have to lead lives as close to perfection as we can in order for God to love us, in order to be worthy of the kingdom.  So many people are so busy focusing on trying to do everything just right, that what is missing is a deeper relationship with Jesus and each other. Jesus didn’t call perfect disciples; he called ordinary people to follow him. So why do we compare ourselves, our churches, our lives to everyone else?

It starts with a misunderstanding of the word perfection that Jesus used.  The word Jesus used for perfect in the Greek is teleios, which more closely translated means complete or whole. Jesus is telling us that we need to be complete, not perfect. He’s telling us to be all that God created us to be, not anyone else.  Each person is perfect or complete according to the way God made us, each with our own unique gifts and talents to use for God’s glory.  Trying to be something we’re not sets us up for failure.  It sets us up to give up or worse, to become a victim to the false expectations we have of ourselves or of others.

Faith means to stand tall not in our own perfection, but in God’s perfection.  Faith means to trust in God’s perfect love, perfect faithfulness, and perfect power.  It is God who is in control and not anyone or anything else.  When we understand that, then we can let go of the false quest to seek perfection, but be who God created us to be.

Jesus is saying, “stand up, be who you were created to be!” He is reminding us as Psalm 139 says, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” What Jesus was giving the crowds that day and to us today is a new way to live. We don’t need to act a certain way to have dignity; we have dignity because God created us and loves us just the way we are.  Love was raining down on the crowds on the side of the mountain that day and it is raining down on us today. Jesus – God’s love in the flesh –is feeding us with the words of life!

And we today are fed not only by the Word of God that we hear today, but by Jesus Himself. The Word made flesh dwells among us. In the sacrament of Holy Communion we receive the Body of Christ and we become that which we eat – the body of Christ – for each other.  We receive this sacrament of grace when we are gathered together for worship.  It’s so special, so essential to our life, that we like Luther should want to receive it every day.  Through this gift of grace we are being made holy by Christ’s perfection, Christ’s righteousness. We can never be perfect on our own, but through God’s grace we are set free.  We are set free to stand up against whoever or whatever tries to keep us from being all that we were created to be. Because of the cross of Christ we can love all people with the perfect love that comes only from God.

Our identity lies not in what others see, but what God sees. We are beloved children of God. When we face uncertainty, we have the promise of the resurrection. When we feel defeated and ready to give up we have the courage to go on knowing the Spirit of the living God resides within us perfecting us to see as God sees and to love as God loves. No matter what our circumstance, we can stand up and never give up knowing that the Spirit of the living God resides in and through us.  .

It’s that truth that sets us free – free to be all that God created us to be.  We are free to be loving, compassionate, kind, generous, grateful, gracious, faithful, advocates of justice, messengers of hope, restorers of peace, the salt of the earth, and light to the world.  We are free to run the race of faith, and if we fall like Dan Jansen we are able to get up and try again and again and again. In the words of one of my most favorite Scripture verses from 2 Cor. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed!”

Dan Jansen was struck down, but not destroyed. The winter Olympics of 1994 would be Jansen’s last Olympics. His 8th place finish in the 500 meters left little hope for any kind of medal, but he would run the 1000 meter race no matter the outcome. He wasn’t seeking perfection this time. He was just going to finish the best he could. As I watched him in that final race, something amazing happened, he picked up speed. He passed one racer, then another, then another, and Dan Jansen….won the gold medal! I don’t know who was more excited Jansen, the crowds, or myself!  And as he took the victory lap around the ice, he carried on his shoulders his one year old daughter Jane, named for his late sister.

Jansen later said in an interview, “I finally skated to my potential.” By letting go of perfection, Jansen found it. In letting go of our perfection, we too find it. We find perfection not in what we do, but in who God is. We find perfection not in comparisons or competitions, but in being who we are created to be. The Word made flesh dwells among us. It dwells within each one of us. We too have been lifted up – lifted up by the cross of Christ. Be Christ’s hope, and light, and love in the world!  God has a purpose for you.  Be who you were created to be; and see what amazing things God will do!  Amen!

God’s Law of Love

Sunday, February 12, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 5:21-37

This is the third week that we have been studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from the gospel of Matthew. The first week we learned who we are as Jesus’ disciples. We are called blessed by God. Last week Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, and as such, we have a responsibility to share that with the world. This week Jesus’ words seem to grow harsher and evoke feelings of discontent. He brings up a list of actions that most people try to avoid – murder, adultery, divorce, but he wasn’t bringing up this list to say to the disciples “if you avoided these things good for you.” Jesus was trying to make a point that everyone is missing the mark. Jesus says that anyone who ever gets angry, looks at someone lustfully, calls someone a fool, or swears is guilty of sinning. In fact Jesus ends this segment of the Sermon on the Mount today by saying that anything that comes out of a person’s mouth other than yes or no is liable to be evil. How did Jesus go from telling us we are salt and light to telling us that anything we even think or say could basically be sinful? And the bigger question is why? Why is Jesus being so hard on us?

In order to understand this we have to consider the times in which Jesus was speaking and what the culture was like. In those days, for example, the laws concerning divorce were different than they are today. A man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. He could wake up in the morning and say, “you have bad breath; I’m divorcing you.” Seriously. And the laws concerning divorce only required a man to write it on a piece of paper, and it was done- no courts, no lawyers, no waiting period. The woman had no recourse to protest it at all. A woman was literally kicked out of the house, she had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, and no one would help her. She would be an outcast, with no job and no way to earn any money. She would be left to live a life of poverty and isolation. There was no hope of choosing a better life for herself. Her life was over. And that was not okay with Jesus. Jesus came that we would have life and have it abundantly. In this sermon, Jesus is saying it is not part of God’s plan that people should be treated with such disrespect. Jesus is saying that it is not part of God’s plan that people should be tossed aside when they no longer serve a person’s purpose as some sort of object of fulfilling one’s wishes. Jesus is saying that it is not part of God’s plan that we let our anger build to such a force that it leads us to hurt others, say cruel words, and crush another’s soul. Jesus is saying that God’s vision for the way humans treat each other requires a new set of laws – laws that that are different from the ones our cultures promote.

Especially today we see that our society promotes individualism, autonomy, and independence. We are told that what we think or desire comes first. Yet Jesus says that God’s kingdom is different. God’s kingdom promotes connectedness, community, and dependence. Jesus says we are to care for each other and all those around us. The laws that Jesus promotes are based on God’s law of love. We show our love of God by loving one another. And Jesus says, not just when we want to, but all the time. Every action we do impacts those around us. Our actions have a ripple effect. We may not think one small action makes a difference, but it does. Every word spoken in anger affects not only the person it is directed at, but countless others. Our actions start a chain reaction of events. That is why Jesus said our words have to be carefully chosen. Harsh words spoken to someone can cause them in return to treat others differently, to make bad decisions that will affect someone else. That person will then affect the next person. Before we know it, our one action has impacted more lives than we ever imagined. That is why Jesus demands his disciples to live under the law of God’s love. Because God loves us and has blessed us, God gives commandments and laws to us to make our lives better not just for each individual person, but for the entire community. Jesus’ words today about obeying God’s laws are spoken out of love, the kind of protective love a parent has for their child.

David Lose, a well-known ELCA pastor and excellent preacher in the United States, illustrates this beautifully with a story from his friend. He said, “My friend, Frank, was about eight years old at the time, when he started arguing with his sister. Before long, arguing turned to pushing and shoving, and, soon enough, Frank had his younger sister pinned to the ground with his fist raised in the air. At that moment, his mother came into the room and told him to stop it. In response, Frank – as he described – reared up as only an eight-year-old can and declared, fist still raised in the air, “She’s my sister. I can do anything I want to her.” At this point, Frank’s mom swooped across the room, towered over him, and said, “She’s my daughter –no you can’t!””

God feels the same way about us. God is the fiercely protective mother who will not stand for us to hurt each other. These actions grieve God. Jesus reminds us that God’s laws are there to protect God’s children just like the mom in that story. God says, “No, you can’t treat each other any way you want. No, you can’t hoard everything for yourself. No you can’t discriminate and exclude people. No, you can’t call people names. No, you can’t spread lies about people. No, you can’t twist the truth to suit your own needs. No you can’t do whatever you want. She’s my daughter. He’s my son. No you can’t”

God gives us choices, not just to benefit our own lives, but to benefit all lives. That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus; it means to choose to follow Jesus’ law of love. As a disciple we no longer make decisions based on what is good just for us individually, but for all God’s people. That’s not always easy; it doesn’t always feel good, but by choosing to act and speak with love – the kind of self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed us – we are choosing abundant life for everyone.
All people – not just those sitting here today – have been created in God’s image and God loves each and every person, and God will not stand for any of God’s beloved children to be mistreated.

Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount has called his disciples blessed. He has said we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world and because of that we have a responsibility to care for each other. We have a command from Jesus to create a beloved community that brings people in to experience the kingdom of God. We come together as a congregation to worship God, to hear God’s word, and to practice what it means to be that beloved community together so we can take that example out into the wider community when we leave here. This is how God will heal our families, our relationships, our communities, and our nation.

Jesus’ preached a long sermon on that mountain – longer than any sermon that you’d ever want me to preach. It’s taken us four weeks just to get through it, section by section. He took the time to preach this because his words are that important. Don’t let them just be just words. Let them speak to your heart. Let them flow through your actions. Let them transform you to live like Christ who showed us what real love looks like. Amen.

The Salt and Light of Life

Sunday, February 5, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Matthew 5:13-20

“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Talk about setting the bar high! It seems like Jesus has given the disciples a list of things that are impossible to attain. And I wonder what they must have thought as they heard these words Jesus spoke from the mountain that day. Did their minds think back to the days of Moses when he gave the commandments from the mountain? It certainly must have sounded like a new list of laws was being handed out!

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth Salt was very important in the ancient middle east. It certainly was used in cooking to make food tasty, and to tenderize meat, but it was also used for trade, as money, for healing, and for religious purposes. Salt was used to seal an agreement. The ancient Hebrews used salt to make a covenant with God – a “covenant of salt” – as it says in the book of Numbers. Salt was important and the disciples understood that. When Jesus said, “if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?” Good point. Once it’s gone, there is no getting it back. We need salt. It’s essential for life. We need it to keep our bodies in balance; without it we are lifeless.

Jesus continues by comparing the disciples to lamps. He says they are lights to the world and that “no one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand where it can give light to all in the house.” Jesus was telling them not to hide their light; the light of God within them. He said he wanted others to see their good works, but not to draw attention to themselves, but to draw attention to God. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Those words must have fallen on their ears like heavy boulders because how could their righteousness ever exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees who always tried to follow all the laws and do the right things?

Just a few minutes before Jesus had spoken the famous words of the Beatitudes and they must have left the disciples confused. Blessed are the poor in spirit – poor? How can being poor be a good thing? Blessed are those who mourn? How can mourning be a good thing? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst and are persecuted for righteousness sake? The disciples and all those in that area still lived under Roman occupation. They were persecuted and it didn’t seem for any just cause. And there was constant turmoil between the Jews who worshiped in the synagogues and those who now followed Jesus. It must have seemed to the disciples that righteousness was not something they could accomplish. Hard words to hear then and now. I’m sure the disciples felt as though they were in the dark. Darkness is not usually where people want to spend their time either physically or emotionally. We want to understand. We want to be in the light or at least have some light to guide our way.

Several years ago when I was visiting family in New England I was driving from CT to NH and the snow that had started falling quickly intensified into a full-blown snowstorm. The darkness soon followed and I found myself trying to drive in the darkness with the white snow charging directly at me preventing me from seeing anything. To say I was afraid would be an understatement. My driving – and those around me on the highway – had slowed down to a crawl. This was turning out to be the longest drive home. While the snow was blinding, I searched for lights to guide my way. I tried to stay behind a car that was driving slowly so I could follow their light. As dim as the lights were they helped. I had nothing else to follow – the lines marking the lanes were covered over in snow and ice, the trees on the side in the dark looked like a large wall of white, and there was nowhere to pull over. I truly thought this might be the last trip of my life. Yet, I followed the lights and slowly I grew closer and closer to my destination. Still, it seemed as though I would never get there. The road conditions continued to worsen. It was almost impossible to see where I was going and stay on the right path. Occasionally I would see a stranded car that had veered off into the ditch. I didn’t want to end up in the ditch! I didn’t want things to end this way. I needed something else. I needed light and…. Salt – salt to clear the roads. Yes, where was the salt of the earth? That’s exactly what I needed.

You are the salt of the earth! This is what Jesus was trying to tell the disciples that day on the mountain. He had just finished telling them that they were blessed. The poor in spirit are blessed because once emptied, they have room for God. Those who mourn are blessed, because Jesus is talking about those who mourn over injustice and are compelled to do something about it. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will rise up and work for justice for all people. Jesus is telling the disciples they are blessed and reminding them of who they are. He did not say you need to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth!” You are the light of the world!” He was not admonishing the disciples by saying they had lost their saltiness and were useless. Does salt ever lose its saltiness? I’ve had containers of salt for years and it’s still just as good. Salt is a preservative. Jesus says we are salt; we have the power through the Holy Spirit to be agents of healing in this world. And Jesus says we are the light of the world. No matter how small we may think our light is, the beam of light from one small flame shines a great distance. One small flame on top of a hill can be seen in the total darkness over 30 miles away! Thirty miles, from one single flame – that’s amazing. One small flame cuts through the darkness. Jesus is saying, “remember who you are!”

It’s easy to forget who we are in Christ. And some have never even heard that they are salt and light. When the struggles and challenges of this world overwhelm you, it easy to fall prey to fear and to look for the salt and light in the wrong people or things that can lead us astray. It’s easy to be led astray by voices that try to tell us we or someone else is worthless, or that certain people are better than others. And when we listen to all the voices except Jesus we forget to live the way Jesus taught us to live. Instead we give in to fear and shut people out and hide our light, afraid to let it shine for fear of being ridiculed, or left out, or vulnerable to giving up our safety. Yet, Jesus never called his followers – his disciples to live in safety; he called us to live like he lived – and that was not to keep silent in the face of opposition, not to hide our light, but to live to better the lives of others.

The news is filled with stories that cause us to fear, and the temptation is to think that it is just getting too bad for us to do anything about it. We ask, “What can one little light do amidst all this darkness?” And so we try to hide our light. We hide it in self-absorption, or complacency, isolation, or self-preservation. But the truth is that it is not how big the light is that matters. Darkness is overcome by even the smallest of flames. Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.” We don’t have to do something to be that salt and light; but because of who we are we have a responsibility to use this salt and light to give glory to God by caring for all people just like Jesus and to let them know that they too are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Today, we celebrate Scout Sunday here in our congregation, and their mission is to do just that – to better the lives of others through acts of service. The characteristics that they strive to embody like kindness, trustworthiness, cheerfulness, are not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of others. And today is Souper Bowl Sunday, a day when the youth of our congregation remember Jesus’ command to care for the poor and feed others. All these groups of youth are being salt and light to the world.

We through our baptism are forgiven and blessed children of God. We are children of the new covenant in Jesus Christ. We are children of the promises of God – promises to be with us and never forsake us. Promises of hope. One light can do a lot! One light can lead those in the darkness of hopelessness into the light of hope. The problems of this world are not insurmountable when we have the power of the living God who works in and through us. Yes, these can be scary times, but we are children of salt and light. People need the light of Christ seen through us. They need to experience God’s kingdom.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can spread salt to melt the icy paths of injustice just as the snowplow that finally appeared for me that stormy night melted the icy road that tried to keep me from reaching my destination! Yes, the lights of the giant metal snowplow appeared in front of me – plowing and salting and making straight my path. I was never so happy to see a snowplow in all my life! No matter how slow it traveled I stayed right behind it. Hope had arrived! It helped me to catch my breath – to stay on the path, and ultimately to reach my final destination. Salt and light – essential elements to life.

And Jesus says we are that salt. We are the light of the world. Individual grains of salt may be small, but collectively salt makes a big impact! An individual light may be small, but joined together they can illuminate the darkness like the dawn! Together we can heal the world!

Our righteousness will never exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, but the Good News is that Christ’s righteousness will! It is Christ’s light shining in and through us that will reveal the kingdom of heaven. We are indeed blessed to be the salt and light that adds life, and light, that heals, and reveals God’s glory! Pour on the salt! Turn on the light! Shine radiantly! Amen!