The other day I was browsing through Instagram, which I hardly ever do, and I came across the name of another local church. Now, this church wasn’t Lutheran, not that it matters, but it wasn’t exactly clear if it had any denominational affiliation at all. Yes, it was one of those churches… But I was curious about it because a friend of a friend (whose profile I was creeping) apparently goes there. So I did a quick Google search, found the church’s website (which wasn’t half bad), and I just browsed around a bit.
Then I saw it.
Apparently, they post audio files of their sermons online. And if you know me, I’m a sucker for listening to sermons, so I couldn’t help myself and took some time to check out their last week’s. And let me tell you something… it was so bad. Sure, maybe I’m being a little judgemental, maybe I’m picky, maybe I just like to put down other pastors’ sermons to make myself feel better about my own mediocrity, but really, it was bad. I mean, it wasn’t funny (that was a joke), it lacked focus (what were we talking about again?), and it was full of nonsensical examples and stories (and what does this have to do with today?).
But I guess if I am going to put down another preacher because of his nonsensical examples and stories, I better make sure mine are sensical, right? Well, after this experience with this church’s website, I talked to my wife about it. I admit that I wanted her to jump on my hater wagon with me, but she just said, “oh I know that church. They seem to be doing well.”
Ugh. That was the wrong answer. At least, that wasn’t anywhere close to the hater wagon that I was hoping she would jump on.
But she was right. They did seem like they were doing well. They have three different locations and clearly a lot of money that enables them to afford a not half bad website, a multitude of staff, and of course, a lot of different events and programs for their community and beyond. I might not agree with their theology and the way they do things, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t and can’t be doing well.
Again, what does this have to do with today? Let’s try to stay focussed and sensical (with maybe a funny joke here and there). In today’s gospel reading, Jesus says to the people in his presence, “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world.” Jesus declares this without any kind of reservation or condition, but he just says to those who are there that this is just the case. They don’t have to act a certain way, they don’t have to say certain things, they don’t have preach in a certain style in order for them to somehow “gain” this title of salt and light. They just are.
But who are “they”?
To be honest, when I first read this passage with the intention of preaching on it, my first reaction would be me. As in, I’m the salt of the earth, and I’m the light of the world. So I’d better pat myself on the back, because I’m the best. You can’t deny that being true, since it’s Jesus who says so.
But then when we really look at the story and the context, we see that this comes right after last week’s beatitudes, where Jesus was saying “blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn…” and so on. He was saying how those on the outskirts of society, those on the margins of life, those who most people don’t want to be or even be around, are actually loved, welcomed, and blessed.
And he continues on with today’s passage. Those same people on the outskirts of society, on the margins of life, and who no one wants around? They are also called the salt and the light of the world. So what I see Jesus doing here isn’t to praise us churchy folk for being folk who act all churchy and stuff, but show us churchy folk that we aren’t really all that and a bag of chips as much as we’d like to think we are, and that those we don’t like, don’t agree with, and maybe even despise and wish to fail are just as included and welcomed and loved as we are.
Man alive that can be a hard pill to swallow.
So those who we love to not love are also considered the salt and light of the world? Those who we cannot agree with and are so blatantly wrong in our eyes can also be children of God? Those who we feel are on the polar opposite end of where we stand can be loved by God?
Well, we can too, can’t we?
We in our pompous religiosity and pious righteousness can be loved as well. We in all our privilege and prestige can be welcomed as children of God too. We, in all of our condescending wagging and pointing of fingers are blessed just as those we are point and wagging at, and declared to be the salt and light of the world, made to be saints.
Still, this might not sit well with us knowing that we are put in the same boat with those we’d rather push overboard. But popular Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber put it something like this, “our being called a saint has nothing to do with us acting like saints, but everything to do with God being love”.
And I love that. I love that it isn’t up to us or our discipline or our abilities or lack thereof that make us saints. I love that it isn’t up to our own supposed goodness or list of accolades and back patting that we can be identified as God’s children. I love that it isn’t up to how well we can act like a Christian, talk like a Christian, or preach like a Christian that makes us Christian. I love how it isn’t our light, that we think it all about good works and bragging rights, that shines out, but it is the light of Christ shining through us. Not to highlight what is good about us, but to highlight what isn’t and is forgiven anyway.
See this light that Jesus talks about isn’t about us, but rather it’s about the grace that God shows us in spite of the darkness that rules inside of us. All the hatred and anger and putting down other pastors won’t take that light away. Rather, it is our shortcomings that bring out that light, because even while those shortcomings can be massive, God’s love for us is even bigger, stronger, and shinier, allowing that light to flow through us for all people to see.
So we who are flawed can let our light shine! We who get on people’s nerves and aren’t as great as we like to let off can know that we are still welcomed and have a role to play in God’s kingdom. We who sometimes aren’t the most liked or agreed with can know that we are God’s blessed children and dearly beloved not because of what we have done or can do, but because God is gracious and merciful and chooses to love.
As we continue in this season after the Epiphany, may we accept this gracious love God has for us and for all people, seeing how we are equal in our diversity and undeserving of forgiveness, and may our light of being graciously forgiven and undeservedly loved shine throughout the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.