Date: July 23, 2017
Title: “Snapchats – Worth a Thousand Words”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
In 1804 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark set off down the Missouri River, looking for a direct water route across North America to the Pacific Ocean. After 15 months of back-breaking upstream slogging, after enduring hordes of mosquitos and terrifying grizzly bears, after pushing through a month-long portage around an immense waterfall, and after surviving a cold, dark winter,
the Corps of Discovery came to Lemhi Pass, the mouth of the Missouri River, and what they thought would be at last the easy part of their journey to the ocean.
You see, Lewis and Clark thought they would walk up a hill, look down the other side at a gentle slope leading to the Columbia River. They thought once they got to the Columbia it would be easy to paddle their canoes all the way out to the sea. So they climbed to the top of the pass and they looked out over the land, and what they saw were the Rocky Mountains.
The map of the Louisiana Purchase – the only map they had – didn’t have the Rockies on it. No one knew about those mountains, no one could have dreamt of their stature and grandeur and challenge. Imagine that moment, when Lewis and Clark and all those intrepid explorers realized they had just wandered off the map.
Perhaps they felt something of the wonder, the anxiety, and the confusion that Jesus’ first disciples felt when they sat with Jesus on that mountaintop and heard him call them the salt of the earth and the light of the world. They, too, must have felt as if they had wandered off their map, for the world Jesus laid out in front of them was radically different from the one which lay behind them.
And so it is with us. We too have wandered off the map. In the words of futurist Bob Johansen: After centuries of stability and slow, incremental change, in less than a generation our world has become volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
We are like the Corps of Discovery, standing on the top of Lemhi Pass and staring, open-mouthed, wondering how we will ever learn to canoe the mountains! But here’s the thing… what Janice read from the Gospel this morning … it is not a commandment. It is a promise. Jesus does not tell us “You should be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He doesn’t say “You have to be, or even you better be” salt and light. Rather, he says you are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world. You already are, even if you don’t know it, even if you once knew it and have forgotten it, even if you have a hard time believing it. You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
It is a promise we desperately need to receive, to embrace and to embody if we have any hope at all of canoeing the mountains ahead of us. It is a promise we need, and a promise the world needs even more. I won’t be releasing any tightly held secrets when I tell you this is a difficult time for many people in the world. Mass migrations are being fueled by political instability and unprecedented violence in many places, unchecked consumerism and misguided notions of progress threaten the planet’s well-being, while fear and distrust of differences move us away from community toward isolation and a rugged individualism which only weakens us as a whole. We need – more than ever before – to be salt and light for the world.
When you truly believe Jesus’ promise – you don’t debate it, you don’t’ second-guess it, you don’t’ wonder about it. You just go and be it. You are salt and light. Period.
And if a picture is worth a thousand words – whether on yesterday’s Kodachrome or today’s Snapchats, how much more will our actions be worth when we no longer let our light be hidden or our saltiness be lost? Pastor Martin Niemoller knew all about Jesus’ promise. A pastor in Berlin during World War II, Neimoller quietly hoped that things would change, that the darkness enveloping his nation and the evil sweeping the world would somehow just go away and that he wouldn’t have to do or say anything, but could simply hide away inside his church. Finally he realized they had wandered off the map, that things were only getting worse, and that something had to be done. Shortly before his arrest by the Nazis, Neimoller preached a sermon in which he said:
You are the light of the world. What are we worrying about? When I read out the names of church members missing or arrested, did we not think “Alas and alack, will this wind, this storm, that is going through the world just now not blow out the Gospel candle? We must therefore take the message in out of the storm and keep it safe.”
It is during these days that I have realized – that I have understood – what Jesus means when he says “Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind. Away with the bushel! The light should be placed upon a candlestick!” We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; that is God’s concern. We are only to see that the light is not hidden away.
My friends, we do not have to worry whether the light is extinguished or not; we only need to see to it that the light is made visible, and is not hidden away because of our fear, our timidity, or our apathy. The Gospel is not a viewpoint or an opinion or even an alternative fact. The Gospel is a truth-teller.
It does not silence the already oppressed; It does not cast suspicion on those who are different. The Gospel does not act out of fear, nor does it look aside and deny the planet’s pain. It does not build walls to keep some out, or to pretend to fortify those within. The Gospel tells the truth of God’s love and our participation in it. The picture Jesus wants us to share, the “snapchats” Jesus wants us to send are not about knowing God’s law or interpreting God’s righteousness. The picture worth well more than a thousand words – the picture that God desires, are the snapchats of us living the law, living the Gospel of grace.
Faced with unexpected mountains, we may have to abandon our canoes and find a new way to travel. Like Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, we may to move from a geography of hope to a geography of reality, where it is no longer possible for us to hide our light or to horde our saltiness. Because the world needs us – children of God, followers of Christ – to tell the truth and to point the way to God’s realm of justice and peace.
Today is the fourth week of a five-week sermon series we’re calling The Real Social Network. Each Sunday we’ve taken social media platforms as an image, or metaphor, for the Christian life. We began with the movement from Luddite (those who fear technological change) to Technophiles (those who obsessively embrace it). We used Facebook and Twitter to flesh out what it means to develop Christian community. And now today, the image is taken from Snapchat.
Snapchat, if you are not familiar with it, is an app used on mobile devices to send photos and videos that last a very short time, no more than 24 hours. So Snapchat was never meant to be a once-and-forever, one-and-done kind of storytelling. The same is true of our discipleship. Our light-saving, salt-spreading actions of love and justice, hope and peace cannot be seen as once-and-forever, one-and-done kind of things. Gospel grace is an ongoing story which we are forever writing in collaboration with Christ. It is not enough to claim Christ if we do not live in Christ. It is not enough to visit the beloved community if we are not also building beloved community, one snap at a time, one action in every moment.
For you are the salt of the earth. You are light for the world, when you are floating easily down the river and when you are faced with canoeing the mountains. You are already salt and light. So be it! Amen.