You Are

Continuing with our sermon series on The Sermon on the Mount, this weeks sermon focused on the passage where Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.”  I had a really great idea to do a children’s sermon where we all tried salt-free popcorn and then added salt to see the difference in taste but apparently salt-free microwave popcorn is not a thing?  At least it wasn’t at Stop & Shop.  The “healthy” ones all have sea salt.  I suppose I could have used a popcorn maker, but that wasn’t going to happen on a Sunday morning, ha!

Anyway, this is a text that is kind of hard to preach because it’s fairly straightforward.  But there were three things jumped out at me that I thought were worth reinforcing, so I just did a sermon in kind of a bullet-point format instead of just making one point (if that makes sense?).  I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from my congregation, so I hope you get something out of it, too!

Enjoy …

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 15, 2019

Matthew 5:13-16

You Are

You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?

This passage has always kind of perplexed me, and maybe someone can answer my question:  Does salt go bad?

Maybe it is just that I was raised in a household with a mother who really did not believe in expiration dates …

… who, in fairness, was raised by a mother who believed that everything stayed fresh as long as you put it in the freezer – taco shells, cooked rice, bananas, milk …

… but I always thought salt was just … salty. Does salt actually lose its taste?

Maybe someone can give me a science lesson after worship.

Alas, I do not think Jesus is talking about cleaning out the pantry as he continues his Sermon on the Mount, but he is, in fact, talking about who we are, as our very core.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

We are preaching our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this fall and we began last week with The Beatitudes, which were, comparative to this week’s text, noticeably in the third person until the very end, where Jesus switches from the third person – blessed are thepoor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, etc. – to the first person in the very last Beatitude – blessed are youwhen people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

I think this is an intentional switch from the third person to the first person because, remember, Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples – and this makes it more personal.  Jesus is not speaking broadly about just anybody, but intimately, directly to the people who are gathered around him.

You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.

But this is what it means to be a follower of Christ, right?  It is not about blindly following the person who is one rung higher than you on the religious ladder, but rather it is about having this personal relationship – or connection – with God; to be a Christian means that we not only affirm who Jesus is but also Jesus is affirming who weare and what God is calling usto do in this world.

This is a really great passage, because it is one that is really easy to visualize (even if you are not sure that salt can actually lose its flavor), it is straightforward, it is quick to memorize, it turns into great music and it is pretty simple and tangible to demonstrate to children.  In fact, when I was looking at the passage this week, I actually wondered if I even had to preach a sermon on it, because it really is one of those scriptures that just kind of speaks for itself.

And sorry to disappoint anyone who might now be excited at the prospect of a really short service, but there are three things that I think are really important to highlight when we think about this passage and these metaphors and what they mean for our lives today.

The first thing I want to talk about it the way Jesus is, sort of, inadvertently laying the foundation for the conversation that is going to begin decades later in Paul’s letters about being the Body of Christ.

So the Apostle Paul talks about the church as if it is a body; and, in the same way that all of the parts of our human bodies perform different functions so the body can function as one body, everyone in the church performs different functions so the church can function as one church.

And this is not something that Jesus talks about directly in the Gospels, but he is kind of setting Paul up here, because things like salt and light are not just used for one thing – they have many functions.

Both the Old Testament and the New Testament talk about salt and its practical purposes – it was used for preserving, seasoning, fertilizing soil, sacrificing, covenanting, purifying, cleansing and signifying loyalty.  Even today, salt is not just used for cooking; it still has many different functions.

Light, too, does not just have one function – it is illumination in an otherwise dark space, it is a critical component in the growth of plants, it kills mold, dries things out and acts as a natural bleach and exposure to certain light (sunlight) triggers our human brains to release serotonin, which can boost our moods.

If we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world, this does not mean we are all called to do the same thing, this means different things for different people.  It means that we all have a job to do and that our roles are unique to who we are and who God created us to be.

I believe these metaphors of salt and light are not just about something have one function and performing that function, but about something having many functions, in the same way that we all have a different function in this world, in this bodyof Christ.

The second thing I want to talk about is the way that this passage reminds us that we are who God says we are.

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” and, “You are the light of the world.”  He does not say, “You shall bethe salt of the earth” or, “You will bethe light of the world” or, “You can bethe salt of the earth” or, “You might bethe light of the world.”  Jesus is not saying that this is going to happen eventually or that this is some kind of capability that the disciples have, but he is saying that this is already who they are.

And so when we read this passage today, “We are the salt of the earth; we are the light of the world,” we should not think that this is something we are merely capable of doing, but this is who we already are.  The salt of the earth, the light of the world – these are not adjectives or verbs, these are nouns; this is who we already are.

The last thing I want to mention is the fact that these metaphors are not reserved for a certain class of people – and I think this is what speaks to me today as a Christian, as a small town pastor and as a mom who is just trying to figure everything out.

The disciples were not powerful men, they were Galilean fisherman.  At the time, Rome and the emperor were proclaimed as the light of the entire world, which means – particularly with this metaphor about light – Jesus is changing the rules and saying you do not have to be rich or powerful to be the light of this world.  You – you, the disciples, you who choose to follow me – are the light of the world; you are fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament where light overcomes darkness.

This means to me today that I do not have to achieve some sort of level of wealth or power or education to contribute something to the Kingdom of God, that being who God created me to be in this moment is enough.

Salt and light are not rare commodities; they are ordinary and easily accessible.

But they are also life-giving.

We need both of these things to survive.

And so think about it – you, as ordinary people, can also be life-giving.  You can be critical to the survival and the thriving of others.  You can give people hope and work in very small and grassroots, but also very meaningful, ways to change people’s lives for the better. You are the salt of the earth; you are the light of the world.

You.

Just as you are.

As I close out my thoughts this morning, I want to remind you of the last verse of this passage:

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.

So that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Remember to give the glory to God.  First of all, this is not about us, this is about God. So as soon as we start taking credit for things or get overly controlling about things (preaching to myself here), we miss the point that this really is not about us, at all.

And furthermore, sharing with others that we are doing what we are doing – loving one another and serving others – for the glory of God is the most powerful kind of evangelism, because it shows the world that our faith is not just about empty words, but about powerful action, action that changes lives.

This is when people outside the church start to say, I wonder what that church thing is all about.

So remember that you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

I do not think there is an expiration date on either one of these things.

Go, therefore, and season the earth and shine light into the world.  You are who God says that you are.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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Liturgy For Rally Day & The Beatitudes

We kicked off our program year while simultaneously kicking off a 12-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount and I wrote the liturgy we used.  I wasn’t expecting this, but the congregation actually started giggling during the Call to Worship when they realized that I had used a play on the Beatitudes to highlight Rally Day.  It was a fun way to weave the Beatitudes into worship from the very beginning.  For those of you on the lectionary – you’re moving into year A next year, so the Beatitudes will be February 2, 2020, which is Super Bowl Sunday.  It might be fun to find a way to integrate the two (the Beatitudes with football fans, players, halftime show performers, people that work at the stadium, etc.) on that Sunday, as well.

***

CALL TO WORSHIP • The Beatitudes, Rally Day
Rev. Sarah Weaver

When Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain;
and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them saying:
Blessed are the people who gather to worship on Rally Day,
for their hearts will be filled with the Spirit.
Blessed are the children,
for their minds will be opened to learn.
Blessed are the choir members,
for they will experience God through music.
Blessed are the committee members,
for they will find wholeness through service.
Blessed are the staff members,
for they will uncover grace in the most unexpected ways and places.
Blessed are all the members of this church,
for their voices will come together to proclaim the Good News of God’s love.
A new year is upon us:
Let us worship God!

***

PRAYER OF CONFESSION • The Beatitudes, Rally Day
Rev. Sarah Weaver

God, we are so happy to be together today; to see our church family, to feel the buzz of a new year and to dream about what the year might bring. We confess, however, that the flexibility of summer has caused us to fall out of some of our routines. We have missed opportunities to center ourselves in prayer, to serve and to be in community. We have forgotten that we are your blessed children, called to be in community and to bear witness to your love. Remind us, O God, that we are your children, the Body of Christ. Help us to set goals for the year and re-center our lives on you so our year can be an outward expression of your love. Amen.

 

 

Blessed In This Season

Hi friends!  We kicked off the program year at RCC this weekend with a fun Rally “Weekend” – we had a Rally Night on Friday night with a cookout, games, s’mores, movie and fellowship for all ages!  Apparently this was an old tradition at RCC that hasn’t happened in a few years (this was my 9th Rally Weekend at RCC and I’ve never experienced it, so it’s been that long, at least!), so we thought we’d do it again this year and had a great time!  The Youth Group stuck around for a lock-in that night and it just kind of put us in the spirit for Rally Day on Sunday.

We did a blessing of the backpacks on Sunday during worship – we invite the kids to bring in their backpacks from home and we put tags on them and then say a blessing over them.  It was great to have such a wonderful turnout with our families (42 kids total!).

We kicked off a 12-week sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount this weekend by looking at The Beatitudes.  I started by talking about why I chose a scripture-based sermon series (as opposed to a thematic one) for this fall and then talked broadly about the Sermon on the Mount before focusing on the Beatitudes.

Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
September 8, 2019

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed In This Season

When we started the Year of Mark last year, I did not really have any expectations.  Jon told me one of the big reasons he did at Westfield was because they surveyed the congregation and members shared that their biblical literacy was not as strong as they wanted it to be.  And while that is a compelling reason to spend an entire year preaching through one gospel, truth be told, I was just kind of bored with the lectionary and looking for a preaching challenge.

The cool part about the Year of Mark is that it was a story; a continual narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We did not jump around from book to book of the bible, trying to figure out where we were and what was going on every week.  This was a first for me in my preaching career, but I LOVED it; I loved not having to give a whole lot of context every week and just jumping in to talk about the text.  I loved building from week to week, feeling like there was continuity in what we were learning about, as a congregation.

And so I knew fairly early on that I probably would not jump back into the lectionary when the Year of Mark was over; that I liked the linear steps of a sermon series.  But this led me into a place of discernment, because I really was not sure what was next.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to sermon series – scripture-based and thematic.  Scripture-based is like what we did with the Year of Mark.  Is it expository; you look at one big block of scripture (either an entire book or a large portion of one) and just preach through it, piece by piece, with no expectations about what you might learn. A thematic sermon series is like what we did with our summer sermon series on hospitality; you take one theme and break it into sub-parts and then find scriptures that coordinate well with whatever you are preaching on.

There are pros and cons to both methods. Thematic sermon series tend to have an easier buy-in with people, because (in my experience anyway) it tends to be easier to get people excited about ideas that are, sort of, tangible and relevant in their own lives than it is to get them excited about a book of the bible.

On the other hand, scripture was meant to be read and understand as a whole and not cherry-picked to defend whatever proclamation we are trying to make.  We learn a lot more about scripture and about our faith when we are forced to preach on hard passages in scripture-based sermon series.  Do you guys remember the look of terror in my eyes when I stood up to preach on the divorce passage in Mark last year?  It was hard and I did not necessarily want to do it; but I am a better preacher because of it because this is how we learn and grow in our faith.

I have come to the conclusion that there is room for both types of sermon series, but that you just need to be intentional about why you are choosing to do one or the other.  Which leads me to this morning – not only is it Rally Day, but we are kicking off a 12-week sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of Matthew, chapters five through seven.

I did honestly contemplate moving away from the Gospels (and we will, I promise!) but as I looked at where we are, as a congregation, and what we hope to accomplish in the fall, which is a very busy season at our church, one where are very often out in the community showcasing our church and what we think it means to be disciples of Christ, I kept coming back to Jesus.

In her first book, Faith Unraveled, the late Rachel Held Evans talks about her crisis of faith and how she committed one summer to reading through all four Gospels because, after pouring through commentaries and systematic theology books, she “decided to see if Jesus had the answer.”[1]  And I think, as both a church and a culture, it is imperative right now that we look to Jesus for the answers to our questions; to make sure our foundation is set in Jesus – in both the life he lived and the lives he now calls us to live.

So why the Sermon on the Mount?  Well, it kind of started with all of these funerals I have been doing.  I tend to use the Beatitudes (which is today’s passage) a lot in funerals and so, as I keep reading these words that we just heard, it has left me with a desire to keep reading and hear the rest of what Jesus has to say on the mountain.

The Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7 – is the best-known portion of the Gospel of Matthew.  These three chapters are the most widely read chapters – they contain the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer and various sayings that have been woven into the repertoire of popular proverbs and folk wisdom.[2]  The theme of this sermon is discipleship – what does it means to respond to the call of Jesus?

Despite the fact that this is fairly early on in the Gospel, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount lends credence to the divinity of Jesus.  When Jesus goes up to the mountain it evokes the imagery of God’s revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai.  And in verse two, where it says, “Then [Jesus] began to speak,” the literal translation of this is, “opening of his mouth,” which, again, sort of implies this revelation of God and, again, the divinity of Jesus as he ascends to the top of this mountain to teach.

It is important to point out that Jesus purposefully distances himself from the crowd and is speaking directly to the disciples.  The disciples are his intended audience, which means that this sermon is an inherent Christian teaching and not just an exposition on good moral behavior.  This is a critical point we allhave to wrap our heads around, because I think often we say, “Oh you just have to be a good person.  Don’t worry about the religious stuff.”  But because Jesus chooses to speak solely to his disciples here, he is boldly declaring that it is not enough to simply be a good person, but that, as Christians, we have to make a deep and radical commitment to follow Christ and his teachings.

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes, which are expressed as blessings.  The word “blessed” appears nine times; it comes from the Latin word, Beati, and the Greek, Makarioi. Jesus used to the word “blessed” indicated God’s favor towards certain types of people – some vulnerable (the pour in spirit, those who mourn, the meek) and some who are working fervently for the Kingdom of God (those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness sake).

The Beatitudes, as a whole, remind us that we are not alone – that God is with us, no matter what we might be going through in life, and that God sees what we are doing and going through and is affirming us by bestowing a blessing upon us.  It creates this image where every single member of the Body of Christ is blessed in the eye of God; this radical and unending love that encircles us, assuring us that no matter who we are or what we are going through, we are blessed, we are makarioi.

So whether we are deep in a season of mourning or we are fighting for peace and righteousness, we are blessed, we are makarioi.

 As I thought about the Beatitudes this week, I realized that this blessing is not just something that is bestowed upon us at one point in our lives, but through every single season that we journey through. I am sure most people can relate to what I am about to say – there are seasons of life where I feel like I am on top of everything and doing well and feeling strong and then there are season of life where I feel like I am Bambi learning how to walk.  But the really cool part about the Beatitudes is that it reminds me that no matter which season of life I am in, I am blessed in the eyes of God.

I am makarioi.

We all are.  No matter what our journeys might look like right now.

As I close out my thoughts this morning, I think it is pertinent to point out that Jesus starts this sermon – this teaching on discipleship – by reminding the disciples that they are blessed.  And so as we gather on Rally Day and gear up for another year of discipleship, I want to remind you all of the same thing.

You are blessed.

You are makarioi.

If you have got it all together or you are a hot mess right now – you are blessed.

If you laughed this morning while you got ready for church or you cried and were not sure if you could make it – you are blessed.

If you come to this space with answers or you are still confused by a lot of questions – you are blessed.

If you are feeling close to God or distant – you are blessed.

If you are feeling strong or feeling weary – you are blessed.

If you are surrounded by people who support you or you feel isolated and alone – you are blessed.

Whatever season of life that you are in right now – know without a doubt that you are blessed in the eyes of God.  You are makarioi.

And with this blessing, may you be commissioned as a disciple of Christ to spread the Good News of God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining love.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1]Evans, Rachel Held. Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions. Page 102.
[2]HarperCollins Bible Commentary

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