Date: November 23, 2014
Title: “Salt of the Earth and Light of the World”
Preaching: The Rev. Jeremy Smith
Scripture: Psalm 100; Matthew 5:13-16
Introducing the Scripture
The Gospel of Matthew, even though it comes first in the New Testament, was likely written second or third with the Gospel of Mark written first. Matthew and Luke both contain this section we’ve been studying this month about the Beatitudes. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the peacemakers (or the placemakers). Luke adds on some “woes” to his list to warn those who are rich, too well fed, or who laugh at the proclaimers of the Good News.
But Matthew ends the Beatitudes with this section that we read today where he warns people that they need to live out the Beatitudes in ways that people see, hear, taste and touch. That it is not enough that we know we are loved by God when the rest of the world cannot find the time to love us, but that we need to share this with others. Indeed, it’s almost inevitable: whenever we know in our heart we are blessed, that blessing comes forth as a light that cannot be hidden under a basket but must be placed on a window ledge or lampstand for all to see.
Listen now as Paul reads our Scriptures for today…
One of the areas where I have no discernible skills is in languages. I’m always impressed with people like Amanda and Jenn and others who have strong Spanish skills, or people like Dora and Karl who think in german, or when I sat down for a meal with the Lius and they prayed in Mandarin. Or when the Choir sings in latin. I took hebrew, greek, and five years of German, and I just don’t retain much of it. I can translate LOL and ROFL and some emoji, but I leave the serious translation to the professionals.
However, sometimes that’s a bad idea as it seems that even international corporations get it wrong.
- Pepsi had a slogan back in the 1960s that said “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation.” In Taiwan, it was translated by some as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.”
- Coca-Cola wasn’t much better as in 1928 the phonetic translation of “coca-cola” could be written by local Chinese shopkeepers as “bite the wax tadpole” which sounds delicious.
- In Italy, a promotional campaign for Schweppes Tonic Water failed when the product name was translated as ‘Schweppes Toilet Water’. Later campaigns had better results.
- Finally, Parker Pens brought a new fountain pen to market in Spain. In America, the tagline was “finally a pen that won’t leak in your pocket.” I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the translation of “finally a pen that won’t cause you to have a baby” is a good translation. Youth can ask their parents afterwards to learn more.
I talk about languages and translations because there’s a translation issue going on this month. You see, there are many translations of the Bible. From the good ol’ King James with the thou’s and thinketh’s to the New Revised Standard that is in your pews to many more on the Bible App on your phone. Now the most recent one is called the Common English Bible, and it’s the translation that our children’s ministry uses in their curriculum. It uses more contemporary language.
However, when the Common English translation gets to what we’ve been studying this month–the Beatitudes–it translates the word blessed as “happy.” Happy are the meek, happy are the peacemakers, happy are the persecuted. I struggle with it. I don’t think for those people being blessed has the same feeling as being in a room without a roof as Pharrel would say.
I think we get that happy and blessed are not quite the same word because they take the punch away from how we usually view the Beatitudes. I’ve always thought of Beatitudes as the Reversals. I may be poor now, but I’m making riches in heaven. I may be sad now, but my patience will be rewarded in heaven. It may not be the cool thing to be a peacemaker now, but it’s all the rage up in the clouds.
As humans, we love the reversals. We see it in our Disney stories.
- Cinderella going from cleaning floors to dancing on them.
- Mulan beating entire armies even though women are not allowed to be warriors.
- Prince Hans being the surprise villain instead of the love interest, and Princess Anna saving her sister instead of a boy doing the saving.
We see it all the time in religion and politics.
- That New York governor who made a name for himself rooting out corruption and then was corrupted himself.
- That Florida legislator who called for drug-testing of welfare recipients and then was busted for cocaine.
- That megachurch church planter in Seattle who lost his church that he planted himself.
- That anti-gay pastor who turns out to be…protesting a bit too much.
The reversal is so perfect that it hurts.
So many of the biblical stories are reversals where the corrupt get theirs even though they are on top now. Little wonder considering Jesus’ crowd, those people that he hung out with. The poor, the maimed, the broken, the lost, the hopeless, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the ones who have nothing, who would love to turn the tables and be told something better is coming down the road. These images of reversals speak to the biblical crowd as much as they do to us today.
And so for a long time I’ve seen the Beatitudes in that way: the big reversal that even if we aren’t doing well today, all will be better when God’s reign begins.
nd yet, God’s imagination, God’s possibilities for us, is not limited to future reversals. God’s way of being in our lives is not deferred to the future. God’s hope for us is not limited to a future in heaven while our world wastes away.
We aren’t called to just be good and wait. We aren’t called to wall ourselves in this temple and wait until Jesus comes back or the 100 year earthquake happens (whichever comes first). Our time to be blessed is not in the future, it’s in the present. Our time to seek this blessing is in the now. Maybe the translation is onto something: blessed can feel deferred to the future, but happiness is now.
Jesus ends the Beatitudes with the scripture for today “You are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world.”
My partner Chelsea is a terrific cook and I can count on one hand the number of times she’s made something less than perfect. This past week she made cookies and mixed the dough, spooned them out, put them in the oven, and was cleaning up and noticed she forgot the salt. She tried to salvage it by sprinkling salt on the cookies as they were cooling, but it didn’t have the same effect.
That’s not the salt we are called to be. We aren’t called to be the afterthought. We aren’t called to be the spice added in later. We are called to be the very spice that enlivens the dough, that creates something new, and when the oven gets hotter, when the situation becomes more volatile, when you see injustice with your own eyes, when you know of abuse and violence in a coworker’s life, when Ferguson is not in Missouri but it’s next door, that’s when we are called to be the salt turning our situations into something new. We can’t be the salt added in later or at the last minute: we have to be the salt that is involved all the while.
We have a tendency to be passive and share our outrage on social media and critique those who aren’t doing it the way that we theoretically would. And yet it is often best if we are ourselves in the situation as best as we can so that we are spicing it up during the process instead of added on at the end. Brene Brown is a researcher and storyteller and she says this about being salty “If you’re going to go in the arena and spend any time in there whatsoever, especially if you’ve committed to creating in your life, you will get your [butt] kicked … But if someone else is not in the arena getting their [butt] kicked too, I’m not interested in their feedback.” We have to be the salt that is involved all the while.
There’s a guy named Arnold Abbott in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He’s a 90 year old WWII vet that has been arrested three times in the past few weeks. His crime? Feeding the homeless. He and his group have offered hot meals to the homeless population in the city park for 20 years. Recently that was outlawed, and Chef Abbott and his friends kept going, getting arrested. They refuse to be told to be less salty. They refuse to hide their lamp under a bushel.
There’s another man named Dr. Martin Salia, the chief Surgeon at United Methodist Kissy Hospital in Sierra Leone. We prayed for him last Sunday because in his profession, he contracted Ebola and was transported to America for treatment. A day later, he died. He was the only surgeon in the hospital. He could have abandoned those who had contracted the disease to save his expertise for those whose lives he could have saved. He could have seen he already was blessed in heaven by the lives saved and didn’t need to take this on now. Instead, he turned on the light, set it on a hill, he dove right in, and tried to make life better for others, losing his own life in the process.
The poet James Oppenheim once wrote “The foolish person seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under their feet.”
Maybe blessed does mean happy. It’s a blessing and a drive that the empires of the world cannot define or take away. It’s a hope that the 99% have that is a foreign language to the 1%. It’s a happiness that cannot be created by having more Facebook friends, having your party in power in politics. And it’s a blessing that gives us the drive to flavor our world in ways that are not natural to it, listening to God’s imagination instead of our limited ones.
In closing, today is the end of the Christian year. The church universal has a cycle of Sundays with assigned readings and themes, and today is the last Sunday. Our new year starts next week with Advent that anticipates the birth of Christ. So today is Christ the King Sunday where we think about how Jesus does reign in this kingdom that you cannot see, taste, or touch.
This Christ the King Sunday, we are invited to remember that the “Kingdom of God” or “Reign of God” — to which Jesus constantly pointed and talked about moreso than Heaven — is as fully available now and always as it was 2,000 years ago. The question that remains each Sunday is whether we will choose to live as if the one whose kingdom reigns is not the Empires of this world, but God.
Arnold Abbott is living in that kingdom. Dr. Salia worked in that kingdom. The women and men that volunteer in our homeless shelter are living in that kingdom. Our church is living into that kingdom. In 2014 alone through the leadership of the Church and Society mission team, this church donated 2400 pounds of food to FISH emergency services, donated $2000 to the Compassion Clinic in August, offered community programs on aging, voting, and eradicating malaria. Any one of you who focuses on how to bless others today rather than waiting for a blessing in the future is living into these Beatitudes. And I celebrate with you.
My hope, friends, is that you salt the earth. That you light up the night. You will get your butt kicked. You will fall short. You will fail. But you will be tending that light on the lampstand that reminds the kingdoms of this world that there’s a light that will never, ever be snuffed out. Glory be to God. Amen.