Monday, February 07, 2011

Salt and Light

Salt and Light

In my last year at Bethany Theological Seminary I was part of a musical acting troupe which presented a month’s worth of productions of the Steven Schwartz musical, “Godspell.” A musical which recounts the entire book of Matthew in song. Most of you have probably seen it, perhaps some have even acted in it. The catchiest number, by far, is the rollicking “Light of the World,” and each night I sang the words with enthusiasm. But as I found myself reflecting on the words this week, and humming the song incessantly, unceasingly, it occurred to me that that salt part, the part about being salt didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. Light on a hill, sure. City of God, yep. But salt?

I did a little research and learned that salt was considered a most valuable commodity in ancient times, in fact if you were a worker circa 20 or 30 A.D. you may have been paid in salt, rather than coins. And that little fact has led to the etymological twist of the word “salary.” Which, I would not advise you to share with your employers as the current market value of salt won’t enhance your 401K much…it might be better to stick to the dollar for now…

What Jesus was sharing with his disciples in his continued foray on that mountain is that those who teach about the kingdom of God, those who live into the coming world of hope, those who act as if the reign of God has come down now, will be valued and their lessons will be as common and useful as that commodity which seasons and spices our foods. Indeed, that we must be salt, by seasoning the culture with the vision that Jesus offered.

I want to share with you a story this morning, this morning as we remember our call to be agents of healing, and proclaimers of the kingdom, and actors of the Word. This morning as we think of light and salt.

In a time before time, when the world was young, two brothers shared a field and a mill. Each night they divided evenly the grain they had ground together during the day. Now, as it happened, one of the brothers lived alone; and the other had a wife and a large family. One day, the single brother thought to himself: “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have only myself to care for, but my brother has children to feed.” So each night, he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s grainery to see that he was never without.

But the married brother said to himself one day: “It isn’t really fair that we divide the grain evenly, because I have children to provide for me in my old age, but my brother has no one. What will he do when he is old?” So every night he secretly took some of his grain to his brother’s grainery. As a result, both of them always found their supply of grain secretly replenished in the morning.

Then one night in their evening sneaking the brothers met each other under the moonlight halfway between their houses and suddenly realized what had been happening. They embraced each other in love there in the darkness. The story is, that God witnessed their meeting and proclaimed, “This is a holy place, a place of love, and here it is that my temple shall be built.”

I think just as likely God could have said, “In this holy place my community is being established, or in this holy place my light is being shone, or in this holy place you are being seasoning salt by allowing yourselves to be used sacredly.” The point is that the brother’s sense of generosity and authentic love was ushering in the kingdom, right there, in that space between their homes. They were on the threshold of heaven as they embraced under the moonlight, as they lived into a vision of equality and abundance, each putting the others needs first.

This morning we have been waltzing among our own kingdom thresholds. Our children gathered all those cans of soup, soup that their parents and grandparents and friends purchased, soup that will feed hungry bellies. Pantries will be filled to overflowing which will undoubtedly relieve worried parents who may wonder where the next meal will come. We usher in the kingdom of God in this way as we respond to the needs of the hungry in our community. We act as salt and as light.

And as Christians we must, for The Christian Century magazine last month reported that the total number of people in poverty is 43.6 million—the highest number since the 1950s. But unlike the 1950s, the greatest increase in poverty is among children. One in five children is affected. One in five of our youngest and most vulnerable don’t have enough to eat! One in five. And with all the resources and technology of our world, with our abilities to send satellites into space and to fight wars in countries who struggle with their own issues of destabilization we cannot yet feed that fifth child who stands before us hungry? Think about that. We are the wealthiest nation in the world and we cannot feed our children? How is that possible? And how far must we be from the kingdom that Jesus envisioned if we have those kinds of numbers? He who welcomed children and sustained those who were hungry.

David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, talks about the disparities in our country and the problem of hunger and says that he believes the problem of poverty in the US is uncomfortably close to us, and it overwhelms us, so in frustration and fear we simply turn away. It could be us, we think, there but for the grace of God go I we sigh, and we choose to shield our eyes because it is just too overwhelming.

And so what can our Christian response be? How can we be salt in this world? How do we shine the light? Where is the holy threshold which will bring us back near the kingdom? This morning is a start, these cans of soup, these dollar bills and quarters. These are wonderful first steps, and they are important steps but I think that there is more. More that can happen to draw the community of God near.

David Beckmann argues, in his role as advocate for the hungry, that there is one other thing we can do as committed Christians, and I share it with you at the risk of sounding too political in the pulpit, so I beg your understanding and grace in advance. Regardless of your political affiliation, wherever you stand in your beliefs about how our country should be run or who should run it, there is, I believe an imperative as Christians which we must take seriously. Beckmann reports that when he asks Christians how they help the hungry, most claim to contribute to food charities, as we do faithfully here at Peace. But when he asks them how many have contacted their elected officials to urge support of food stamp programs and school lunch programs, very few people raise their hands. It seems to me that wherever we are politically this is a reasonable and important response, another way to affirm our role as disciples to usher in the kingdom so that that fifth child gets fed, another way to draw the kingdom of heaven down to earth. A place where under the moonlight we meet our brother and know we walk on the sacred ground of God’s grace and love.

This morning there is a table set for us as well. A place where we can come to have the aching sense of discontent, and frustrated feeling of powerless soothed. There is a place for you at the table of our Lord, the one who welcomed all to the table. This is a place where we sit arm in arm with the hungry and know ourselves as no different. This is the sacred table where we break the bread and divide it so that all are fed and filled. Around this table we shake off our shackles of disillusionment and judgment and imagine ourselves as salt, pure and worthy. And as we look around the table, we gaze into the eyes of our brothers and sisters and know that in those eyes we see light, the light of our God.