Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 12, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - Being Salt and Light

June 12, 2011
Matthew 5:13-16

The Sermon On the Mount

Being Salt and Light

I was driving through Simpsonville the other evening and noticed a couple of church signs that were very interesting. The Church of Christ sign says Turn to Christ or burn. Nothing subtle about that one, is there? Across the road, at Simpsonville Christian Church, in preparation I guess for Pentecost, their sign says Church on fire.

We are continuing our series of messages from the Sermon On the Mount. We spent the past four weeks on the Beatitudes and this morning we arrive at a well-known passage, as Jesus talks about Being Salt and Light.

This is one of those passages that has seeped into our language, as I mentioned several weeks ago. We often speak of people who are salt of the earth kinds of people and about not hiding our light under a bushel.

This morning we will study these images and how they relate to the kingdom of God and who we are called to be.

Salt – adds flavor, it heals, and it irritates.

The gospel adds flavor to life.

It adds life to life! Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote in his diary – I have been to church today, and am not depressed (Barclay, p. 121). What a sad commentary! But how many times have we left worship feeling worse than when we arrived? The gospel ought to be convicting, but it isn’t a reason to dump guilt and gloom on people. The caricature of the gloomy, dowdy Christian is far too often a reflection of the reality of a dreary, gloomy approach to faith.

I believe the gospel ought to add flavor to life, it ought to add life to life, it ought to bring to our lives a sense of joy, or something is missing.

A couple of weeks ago I was in a meeting with some other ministers in our region and we were asked some questions about the story of our calling into ministry. One of the questions was this – was there anything that made you hesitant to embrace your calling? The response was rather amazing – almost every one expressed a hesitancy to embrace our calling because the portrayals of ministry we had seen were rather depressing. We had been presented with models of ministry that were of a gloomy, joyless existence. What a tragedy!

The gospel adds life to life!

Jesus was criticized because he enjoyed life. He was criticized as a glutton and a drunkard (Matthew 11:17). Jesus was a giver of life, and part of receiving life is understanding that life is a great gift that should be celebrated.

The gospel brings healing to life.

When my mother-in-law lived near the ocean I enjoyed visiting there so much. It was the beach, after all. One of the reasons I love the beach is because I can breath better at the beach than anywhere else. The salt air is wonderfully healing to my sinuses that are being destroyed by living in the Ohio River valley. Anybody else have sinus problems because of this wonderful Ohio River valley air?

Salt has healing properties, and Jesus uses the image of salt because he is calling us to the ministry of healing. Our Statement of Identity as Disciples is that we are called to be a movement for wholeness (healing) in a fragmented world. We are called to be agents of healing; healing that is so needed in our world today.

We are called to be healers of relationships, as we talked about two weeks ago. The landscape of humanity is littered with broken and fractured relationships, and we are called to bring healing to relationships.

I mentioned in one of my earlier messages here, and it is worth repeating, that the root of the word salvation carries the meaning of healing. The gospel is a message of healing. Jesus spoke of healing, he brought healing to people, and he passes to us the ministry of healing.

There are those, unfortunately, who pass on a dysfunctional version of faith that, rather than bringing healing, piles one issue after another upon people. It is dysfunctional because it dumps guilt and shame upon people rather than bringing joy and love. Sometimes we have to bring healing to the unhealthy things done to people in the name of religion.

The gospel is a conscience.

When we visited the beach I loved to swim in the ocean, but there was one thing I did not do when I would dive under the water – I never opened my eyes. One of the qualities of salt is that it is an irritant, which reminds us, I think, that we are called to be a conscience to our world.

The gospel is, at times, irritating to people. It doesn’t irritate just for the sake of irritation, but it irritates because it serves as a conscience. The purpose of the gospel is to remind us as we become self-absorbed and self-righteous that we were not created to be self-absorbed or self-righteous.

The gospel has always served the role of conscience to our world. It is the gospel that brought a sense of human dignity to our world. For much of human history, people have been viewed as disposable. In the Roman Empire children were often discarded, literally thrown away, but the church took those children and raised them. The idea of social safety nets – being our brother and sisters keeper – was not present in most societies, but it became common because of the influence of the gospel. We could not begin to catalogue the number of ways the gospel has improved society by the addition of hospitals, orphanages, schools, and so many social agencies and ways of caring for others. Even the desire itself, to help other people has its roots in the gospel. Entire social movements have been born in the gospel. The Civil Rights movement was born in churches. The very idea that people are created free and equal and should be able to live in freedom and equality comes from the gospel. And that is a message that irritated a lot of people. The gospel is a conscience that reminds us that we cannot destroy this beautiful creation God has given us to tend; it is a conscience that says we cannot forget the poor amongst us and we cannot structure the world to favor those with wealth and power and trap the poor in perpetual poverty; it is a conscience that says freedom is a right that is to be enjoyed by every person, not just in countries that do not practice democracy but also in free countries that are slow to guarantee equality to all.

Light – to guide the way.

This spring we had a lot of storm warnings and in spite of all the warnings, I never really got prepared. One of the nights, when the power went off, I was stumbling around in the dark in the garage looking for flashlights and wondering why I hadn’t made preparations. I finally bought several flashlights and candles to put around the house.

Light is a guide. We are called to be a guide, to show the way as people of grace and love. In fact, we call some people guiding lights because they show the way to the rest of us.

This is such a positive quality – parts of the world of faith just hammer away at a negativism that tells people how bad they are and all the things they do wrong. I get so tired of that. Do you? Jesus, though, uses healthy and attractive images. He says we are people of light, people of good news, people of love and grace

Some years ago, as a member of a civic club, I was working the concession stand at a Little League baseball game. One of the other local ministers was working in the concession stand with me. After a close call on the field one of the spectators began yelling at the umpire, using some very choice words, and made quite a scene. The other minister shook his head, looked at me and said, can you imagine having that person in your congregation? I said, yes, I can imagine, they’re a member of my church.

Light is a great image. Light dispels the darkness of sadness, and gloom, and hatred, and all the things that harm the human condition.

Being salt and light. We are called to bring life to life, to bring healing, to be a conscience, and to show the way of love and grace.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

June 5, 2011 - The Sermon On the Mount - The Beatitudes - Considering Our Attitudes

June 5, 2011

Matthew 5:4, Isaiah 61:1-2

Matthew 5:5, Psalm 37:11

Matthew 5:6, Isaiah 55:1-2

The Sermon On the Mount

The Beatitudes – Considering Our Attitudes

It always amazes me when I hear people loudly complaining in public. I stopped to eat lunch the other day, and one of the employees was in the back complaining about everything – their family, their job, their life; it was kind of embarrassing hearing such personal details loudly broadcast in public. I learned more than I needed to know about this person’s life. All of us in that restaurant heard intimate details we didn’t need to hear. It reminded me of what I used to hear some when I was growing up. When I would complain I was often told – you know what you need? You need an…attitude adjustment!

We are in a series of messages from the Sermon On the Mount, and within that series we have been in a brief series about the Beatitudes. This is the fourth and final week we’ll look at the Beatitudes. The first week we studied the Beatitudes as a whole to see them as a prescription for happiness. The second week was Considering Our Attachments and last week was Considering Our Relationships. Today is Considering Our Attitudes. Anybody need an attitude adjustment this morning? Anybody get in their car this morning and argue with their spouse or kids on the way to church and as soon as you get out of the car you put on a smile and act as if everything is fine? Perhaps an attitude adjustment is in order.

We will take a look at three of the Beatitudes this morning – blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth; and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

In these three Beatitudes, Jesus seeks to perform an attitude adjustment on us. There is so much we can say about these three Beatitudes, but we’re going to have to squeeze it down to just a few minutes for each one.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

I believe Jesus is speaking to two different types of mourning. One is certainly the mourning that comes with the loss of one we love.

It is very difficult to lose someone we love. We don’t live long on this earth before we lose someone we love. The separation is difficult and the corresponding awareness of our own mortality comes home to us. But Jesus says there is comfort.

I have no idea how many funerals I have done over the years. I should have kept count, but I’m terrible at math so I don’t keep counts. But I’ve done a lot of funerals, and of the things I’ve learned from doing funerals is this – it makes a big difference when one has a sense of hope. A big difference. Hope brings comfort. The promise of resurrection brings hope as does the promise that resurrection brings reunion with those we love, and that is incredibly powerful to people.

There are certain Scripture passages I read at funerals, and one of them is Revelation 21:4 – He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

All sunshine one person has said, makes a desert (Barclay, p. 93). As rain is necessary to produce growth from the earth, there are certain lessons only learned in sorrow. And one of those lessons is the promise of hope. There is a new day coming. There is a life that extends beyond this life. Death is not an end, but a beginning.

Sorrow and loss also teaches us about the love and kindness of others. People will drop everything else to be with one who has lost a loved one. When I pass by a house and see a lot of cars parked out front I assume it means one of two things – someone is having a party or there has been the loss of a loved one. Hopefully it is not a combination of those two things. Sorrow moves us into the sufferings of others. Faith is about caring.

The second type of mourning is a mourning for the human condition. It is a mourning that looks at the world and is broken-hearted at the condition of humanity and our own brokenness. It is a mourning that moves us to step beyond ourselves and into the lives of others to heal that brokenness. It is possible to look at the condition of the world and say forget it. I’m after what I can get and everybody else is on their own. But faith calls us to move beyond the boundaries of our own lives and our own concerns to heal the brokenness in the world.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Meek – now there’s an adjective we all want attached to us, right? When you think of how you would like to be described, doesn’t the word meek immediately come to mind? How do you want to be remembered Dave? Well, I would like first and foremost to be remembered as being a very meek person.

Our culture has basically destroyed and idea that one would aspire to meekness. Where would Donald Trump be if meekness were his defining quality? (I don’t know, but I have to confess, I’d like to find out).

To say that the meek will inherit the earth is similar to the other paradoxical statements Jesus made – you have to lose your life to find it (Matthew 16:25); the first shall be last (Mark 10:31); and whoever wants to be great has to be a servant (Matthew 20:26). It’s the way Jesus points out that many of the qualities people aspire to are in the wrong order. There’s an irony that he points out, and we can see the truth of it in history. How many great kingdoms, with all their might and power, have fallen to the sands of time and are little more than a distant memory. The powerful may control the earth for a time, but they never keep it. Alexander the Great – he and his empire is gone. The mighty Roman Empire – gone. The great British Empire – gone.

Empires and rulers and armies come and go, but Jesus says there is a power that outlasts all other powers – it is the power of meekness, which is another word for humility. Meekness is not weakness – it is a different kind of power. It is the power that comes from humility, and Jesus says this is a power far more powerful than the kind of power sought after by the kingdoms of the world.

There really is something about power that is corrupting. We have seen some tragic examples in the news recently of powerful men behaving very badly (noting that men generally are the ones who hold power in our world). There is something about power that seems to make people think they can do whatever they want. And the kingdom response is to say that is not how a real man behaves. A real man does not treat women is such a manner.

Humility, very importantly, recognizes one’s own sinfulness and one’s own need for God. The great tragedy of humanity is the desire for complete independence. It leads to the idea that God is not needed. Many people think of independence as a strength, but Jesus speaks of it as a problem, as it cuts us off from our real source of strength.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

All of us say, at some point most every day, that we are hungry. The reality, though, is that we know neither real hunger nor real thirst. When we are hungry, we open the refrigerator or pantry and get something to eat. When we are thirsty we open the refrigerator or turn on the tap and get a drink. In the time of Jesus, most people lived on the edge of very real hunger. It was not possible to keep much food in one’s home, because there was no way to safely store it or money to purchase more than perhaps a day’s worth. And imagine, in that part of the world, where much of the landscape is barren, that you are traveling and the wind begins to blow sand and dirt and you have to cover your face because you are walking or riding an animal. There is no way to keep the sand and dirt out of your nose and mouth; imagine then, how much you would long for a drink of water. Those who listened to Jesus know real hunger and real thirst.

Jesus is saying that beyond the hunger and the drive for life’s most basic needs – food and water – we have a deeper hunger and thirst. It is a hunger and thirst for the spiritual. Some people may not recognize or accept that truth, but we are spiritual beings and there is a deep, spiritual longing within us. Built into the language of this Beatitude is the idea that we are much more than just our next bite of food or the drink of water for our immediate thirst, but people with a longing for something that will once and for all brings satisfaction. Living in a consumer-driven, stuff oriented society it is easy to seek to fill that hunger and thirst with stuff. Buy this, buy that, get this, get that, and where does it get us? Does it ever give us a sense of satisfaction? No. And amazingly, some people have even turned the gospel itself into a formula for getting more stuff! It’s called The Prosperity Gospel – just pray with a specific formula and you can get whatever you want. The Prosperity Gospel is a blight on the kingdom of God. It is a distortion of Scripture.

I heard a young man pray a very interesting prayer some years ago. He was in the 5th grade and volunteered to pray at a gathering and said this – Lord, help us not to see you as nothing more than a big vending machine, ready to give us whatever we want. I don’t know where he got that but he was demonstrating wisdom beyond many of us much older!

There is an interesting note in this beatitude. Jesus doesn’t say one is blessed only if you achieve righteousness, but only if we hunger and thirst for it. There is a note of grace in the way Jesus phrases this beatitude. Jesus recognizes that we are going to stumble and fail along the way, and so grace is always offered.

So Jesus seeks to adjust our attitudes – he offers comfort to those who mourn but also asks us to step into the mourning of others; he asks us to embrace the way of humility; and the asks us to fill our spirits with the things of the spirit, which truly satisfy.

May we pray.