(Matthew 5: 13-20)
On those days when there’s nobody here, I like to go down to the Mission Work Room because, to me, it represents the salt and light of our church. It smells so good because of the many bags of bean soup mix we have stored there ready to distribute to God’s hungry children. We’ve taken ordinary and bland beans that we’ve gotten from the Food Bank and by adding some spices we’ve created something simple and tasty that provides a filling nourishment for the hungry. Because of the long bank of windows, the room is filled with light from the outside. But it also reflects light. We gave the old sanctuary a good cleaning and put a fresh coat of paint on the walls and did some major decluttering. It’s now filled with the items we use to make fire starters, hygiene kits, fleece blankets and scarves, warm blankets and items we’ve collected for Bayside Housing and Services for their clients who are looking for permanent housing. It’s a very spiritual room and you can feel the love emanating from it if you just stand quietly and take it in. It really comes alive on Thursday mornings when our missionaries gather for the weekly project. The room fills with laughter and friendly chatter from those who have been moved by the Holy Spirit to be the hands and heart of the Living God.
And that’s exactly what Jesus is trying to teach us in our scripture reading for this morning which, coincidentally, comes right after the Beatitudes which we talked about last week. They actually go hand in hand if you read them together. Jesus says; 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. A little pinch of salt can make an otherwise bland meal tasty and special. It doesn’t hide or mask the flavors the different foods have to offer in, say, a nice stew. You want to be able to taste the other ingredients but it’s that little dash of salt or other spices that gives it a delightful kick where you say that’s some pretty good soup. That’s the reaction I get when people come into the church for help and I offer them a bag of soup mix. Those that have been to the Food Bank recognize it and freely proclaim how good it is, and I take great pleasure in telling them that it is prepared here at our church. And, that’s what we’re trying to do here at Community United Methodist Church. Our many mini-missions are the salt that we add to our Christian life, which can sometimes become bland and boring. The missions are what spice up our Christian life and it adds a secret ingredient of spirituality in that you come to realize in your hearts that you are giving back to God for all that which you have been blessed with. And those that eat our soup exclaim: Wow! Those Methodists are on to something there. Thank God for their soup.
Then, Jesus goes on to say; 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 a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. The world, for many, is a very dark and unforgiving place. Unless we’ve been there ourselves, we have no idea what it’s like to worry where your next meal is coming from, where you will get the money to pay the essential bills to keep the lights and heat on, or where you can park the vehicle you are living in at night where you will be safe from predators, or will that cough turn into pneumonia and how will you be able to afford a doctor let alone the price of prescription medicine? As Christians, as Followers of the Way, we are called upon to be that light. Jesus knows we reflect his light, but he wants us to put his light where those stumbling in the darkness can see it and come to it. This has been a good year for our church as our light has burned brightly and we have put it where it can be seen. The last, the least and the lost have been coming to us for help but just as importantly, the entities we’ve been supporting for the last several years are now coming back to us with ideas, suggestions and requests as they know we are creative and capable in finding solutions to problems, and not problems with the solution. Our little rays of light are the volunteers who work at the food banks, the winter shelter, ECHHO (Ecumenical Christian Helping Hands Organization), Habitat for Humanity and the mission trips we’ve taken to help others rebuild. Our light and warmth comes from the knitted hats, the fleece scarves, the blankets, the fire-starters, the socks, the underwear and warm clothing we’ve collected and distributed to those in need, no questions asked. The light comes from our Benevolence Fund which helps pay for QFC cards for groceries and gasoline, for automobile repairs, to pay overdue utility bills, for propane to cook and heat with, and for missed rent payments. All of these little rays of light combine to create a big bright light that draws people to us so we can do God’s bidding which underscores what Jesus meant when he said; 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. We know that because we are now known as “that” church that helps the homeless. They are thankful to God that we exist and do what we do.
Monday, as I was writing this sermon, I got a call from a woman we’ve helped out over the past few years. She called to say that two of her homeless friends were staying with her and she wanted to know if we had any blankets and could she bring them by. I told her sure thing and that I’d be here. The first woman was pretty sick and said she had cancer and needed gas money to go to the doctor. I gave her a gas card and one of our green cards and pointed out the contact information for ECHHO and that they could help her with trips to the doctor. The second woman was 40 years old and told me she had been living in her car for over a year. I gave her a gift card and filled out an application to Bayside Housing and Services. We then went shopping. I took them down to the mission room and clothes closet where they picked out some warm clothes. In the mission room I gave them each a warm blanket and asked if they needed hygiene kits which they gladly accepted along with some extra hygiene items. They asked if we had backpacks, which we do, and I gave them each a backpack. I sent them off with some fire starters, a bag of our new red beans and rice soup and a prayer thanking God for sending them to us. And, the woman we’ve been helping told me that she has an appointment with OlyCAP later in the month for some housing. What an affirming experience. When you come to Community wanting one thing, you leave with so much more!
What Jesus is telling us is that if seasoning has no flavor, it has no value, meaning that if Christians make no effort to affect the world around them, they are of little value to God. I worry about the churches that have lost their saltiness and pray in earnest that they find that thing that will add the much-needed spice to their Christian walk and mission. If we are too much like the world, we are worthless. Christians should not blend in with everyone else. Instead, we should affect others positively, just as seasoning brings out the best flavor in our food.
And the same applies to hiding your light. You can’t hide a city that is sitting on top of a hill. Its bright light can be seen for miles. While we may be at a disadvantage being tucked back here in the trees, we don’t let that stop us from shining our light out into the community. We do that by living our lives for Christ glowing with a light that shows others what Christ is like. And, we have to be careful not to hide our light. Our light can be hidden by 1) being quiet when we should speak, 2) going along with the crowd, 3) denying the light, 4) letting sin dim our light, 5) not explaining our light to others, or 6) ignoring the needs of others. It is incumbent on us to be beacons of truth and not shutting our lights off from the rest of the world. If the world needs anything at all, it needs more light. And that’s why I worry about all those churches who have shuttered their windows preventing the light for Jesus Christ from shining out into the world.
We close out this portion of our scripture reading with Jesus telling us that he did not come to abolish the law or the prophets, that he came to fulfill the law. He tells us that the law of God, the commandments, are still in effect and that we should be showing others how to lead a righteous life. He said that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. That statement got me thinking about our modern-day Pharisees and teachers of the law, those who talk a good game of self-righteousness but whose life says something quite the opposite. They’re like the flame that draws the moth to the light and ends up burning the moth. You know, that bad experience with “organized” religion. Jesus was saying that his listeners needed a different kind of righteousness altogether, love and obedience, not just a more intense version of the Pharisees’ righteousness through legal compliance. Our righteousness must; 1) come from what God does in us, not what we can do for ourselves, 2) be God-centered, not self-centered, 3) be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and 4) go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law. We should be just as concerned about our attitudes that people don’t see as about our actions that are seen by all.
And, our actions here at Community are a true reflection of what we hold in our hearts. We truly do have a servant’s heart and attitude and are constantly looking for other ways in which we can serve. All we need is for you to let your light shine and be that little pinch of salt that makes what we are offering the last, the least and the lost wanting more as we not only feed the body but also the soul.
Please pray with me.
Come! Live in the light! Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord! We are called to be light for the kingdom, to live in the freedom of the city of God! We are called to act with justice, we are called to love tenderly, we are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God. Merciful and loving God, move us through the Holy Spirit to be your light in a dark world that draws the lost to you so they can live their lives in the warmth of your love. Instill in us the desire to use our gifts to be that salt that gives your Word true meaning and relevance in a troubled world. Set our church upon a hill to be a beacon for those who are lost and searching for a way to you through your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.