Lighting Our World

Hello and happy Tuesday! Here is my sermon from Sunday morning. I was going to post it on Sunday night and then I figured my New England congregation had their attention elsewhere 😉 – enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
February 5, 2017

Matthew 5:13-20

Lighting Our World

I have to admit that, lately, I have found preaching to be extremely challenging. There is something about living in such a politically polarizing climate that has me at a loss for words.

The thing is, I believe that worship should be meaningful, relevant and accessible. To ignore what is going on in our country right now seems inauthentic. But at the same time, I also believe strongly in the separation of church and state. Our church should be a safe space where all people can come together and worship, regardless of their political beliefs. My opinions are my own and the last thing I want to do is offend someone who might feel differently than me or make them feel unwelcome.

Part of me was grateful for the reprieve in preaching last weekend and was hoping for an easy or quasi-neutral (whatever that means) text to preach on this morning. It seems that many of us are looking for a political respite, of some sort. And, at first glance at the lectionary for this morning seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.

Salt the earth! Light the world! Let’s all do what Jesus says! Okay, now everyone go home.

But then I started doing some background research (whomp, whomp) on the context of this Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew. And, as it turns out, it was written at a time where there were some conflicts within the community it was being written. There were tensions – social, theological, political.[1]

Of course there were.

The Gospel of Matthew was written following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. At the time, many Jews were struggling with identity, wondering what it meant for them to be Jewish.[2] They were tired. They were scared. Their world was changing and they did not know what, exactly, the future had in store.

As individuals within our church, we all have very diverse opinions and understandings of the world. And, honestly, that, in and of itself, is such a beautiful representation of the complexity of the Body of Christ. But regardless of where we all stand politically, I would argue that many of us are feeling a similar sense of fatigue right now in our country as we work through this presidential transition and sort through some of the political tensions that are rising.

And so there I was this week, looking at a community that – 2,000 years ago – was made up of individuals with very diverse opinions and understandings of the world, just like us. Great, I thought to myself. How am I supposed to preach around this?

But then I wondered: If the Gospel writer used this story – these words that Jesus spoke about being the salt of the earth and the light of the world – to try to help his diverse community find a unified sense of purpose and mission, then shouldn’t we do the same today?

The truth is, I think this text does speak to how we can response to everything that is happening in our world right now. This text is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a sermon where Jesus offered proverbs, prayers and moral teachings that have sustained our faith – and, really, the very essence of who we are as human beings – for 2,000 years. We come into the story this morning as Jesus makes an analogy about salt and light. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said. “You are the light of the world.”

In Judaism, salt was often used as a symbol; it was a sign and reminder of covenant.[3] There are many references to salt in the Old Testament; how it was used in day-to-day life and also in connection with both Israel’s covenant with God and their covenant with one another as human beings.

This theme of covenant was reinforced when Jesus said, “You are the light of the world.” Here Jesus was referring to the covenant proclaimed the Prophet Isaiah:

I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations.[4]

The Prophet Isaiah called Israel to be a light to the nations and Jesus called his followers to do the same; to shine light into the world. Jesus called people to let that light shine, to not let the darkness of evil drive out the good, love, kindness and compassion that exists in this world.

And in the same way that the Gospel writer used Jesus’ words to call his community to be light to the first century, we, too, are called today to be light to our world.

Jesus said:

No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.[5]

These words boldly call us to shine light into the world. In the same way that one lampstand could bring light to an entire house, Jesus said we all have the capacity within ourselves to shine an equally bold and powerful light into the world.

So how are we letting our light shine?

Last week, when I finally hit my threshold for how much political sparring I could read on Facebook, I decided to shut my computer, put my phone away and do some long overdue visiting. I stopped in with a few people, made a couple of calls and send some cards. I even tried to get myself a little bit more organized moving forward. I decided that, even though the world is out of whack and there is a lot I cannot control, I can make a difference in my own little circle. I can shine light into my world and into the lives of the people I meet along my own journey.

And, just like the one lampstand that can bring light to an entire house, this light has the potential to shine in God-sized ways and places.

I have to say, I felt better afterwards. There was something about the outward expression of love and compassion that connected me to these words of Jesus and to his call to care for one another. Because, no matter what else is going on in our lives or in the world, this is something that we can always do. We can always care for one another. We can always shine light into someone’s world.

The week after Christmas, the Youth Group had a lock-in at the church. I was supposed to chaperone, but, for many reasons, had hit my “pastor limit” for the day. I talked to our Youth Director, who supportively told me to stay home, that they had enough chaperones to cover the night. I sent him a text that said, “It takes a village sometimes, doesn’t it?” And he responded, “A church in the village.”

Yes it does, doesn’t it?

Ever since that conversation, a theme has emerged in my life and in my ministry: It Takes a (Church in the) Village. For those of you not familiar with old Rehoboth geography, this part of town where our church resides is considered, “The Village.” Back in the day, The Village contained the church, the post office, the police station and the school across the street. Over the years, most of these places have found their way to a new address; but the church has remained.   We are – and have been since this building went up in 1839 – the Church in the Village.

This year, I invite you to embark with me on a journey. Think about what it would mean to embody and practice this theme, “It Take A (Church in the) Village.” What would it mean for us? What would it mean those we serve? What would it mean for the community around us? What would it mean for the country? For the world?

Those who participate in the life of the church through boards and committees have heard this speech already. The Board of Deacons is looking at how we, as a church, can put a renewed effort on pastoral and community care this year. At their last meetings, the Christian Education Committee and the Cabinet both discussed how we can strengthen our community from within by offering more fellowship and adult education opportunities. The Missions Committee continues to expand their efforts to support local organizations serving those in need. Individuals have stepped up in extraordinary ways over the past several weeks, by making meals for families in need and by giving their time and talents back to the church.

Our world may be confusing and unpredictable at times, but I believe we can find grace when we draw myself back to our roots, to the very essence of who Jesus calls me to be as human beings. And I cannot speak for everyone, but I can say that, for myself, in doing this, I have found a new meaning to the term, “Good News.”

And so this morning, as we look at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, I invite you to be the salt of the earth, be the light of the world, be who Jesus is calling us to be. Find a tangible way to make a difference – in your life, in the world and, most importantly, in this church. We are the Church in the Village and I believe, now more than ever, that means something.

Anyone who has ever parented a child, cared for someone who was sick or experienced some kind of tragedy or loss knows that, more often than not, it takes a village. And it does. It takes a (church in the) village; to shine light into the world and to let that shine for all the world to see.

Think about what this means for you.

And then, together, let us take that light and let it shine – let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

 

[1] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[2] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[3] Bartlett, David L. & Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 1, pg. 333 (Homiletical Perspective)
[4] Isaiah 42:6, NRSV
[5] Matthew 5:15-16, NRSV

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