The lives of our spirit, our prayer lives, our relationships with God, our shared religious lives, our lives in the world as Christians has got to be fueled by what is most urgent and important in our lives. It’s gotta be worth its salt. It’s gotta be real, the stuff of our shared lives in the spirit, of the salt of the earth, the stuff of our sweat and our tears.
This Way of Jesus is all about the salt and light of our lives. We’re talking about God embodied here – the salt and light of life folded into the bread and leavening of Christ’s embodied, broken and given to meet us and feed us as we are.
So, to find this salt and light that may be under a bushel here, I’ve been asking lately about what you would like me to preach about this summer – what questions, what matters of the salt and light of our lives are most pressing for you these days, that you’d like to explore in this sacred space and time?
I’ve put this question out there the past few weeks. And I’m not at all surprised that I’ve gotten a lot of awesome ideas from you all – more than I can take on this summer. And please keep them coming.
The question that will launch my sermon today is something that I bet a number of you will want to talk about and a number of you may not want to talk about. May get a little salty. So here we go:
“How do Christians behave as citizens? The Bible does not prohibit politics and religion”
Now, remember the guiding image for today, from Jesus’ teaching: the salt and light of life.
“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Creator in heaven.” – Matthew 5:13-17 (The Message translation)
None of this suggests at all that we should be shy about engaging publicly as citizens with the most pressing and urgent matters of our lives and our society.
Jesus certainly wasn’t shy. The apostles after him certainly weren’t shy. The prophets before him certainly weren’t shy.
They were not shy about taking their God-given, bright and salty selves into the streets and exposing some hard truths about their social order – exposing how their social order too often was violent, vile, mean, lewd, forked-tonged, false-god worshipping, reaping a bitter harvest of the hateful seeds they’ve planted. The prophets and Jesus didn’t mince words.
But they also weren’t shy about doing that all with such love and such devotion to the awe-inspiring reality of the living God. They joined people in their pain and lifted their eyes – they wrote a vision vision and made it plain so that it could urge us forward:
It doesn’t have to be this way – God made us for something better – we can live in better alignment with the living Spirit of the living God.
Jesus, and the apostles after him, and the prophets before him engaged with really nitty-gritty issues in their societies. Violence and peace, law and punishment and reconciliation, justice and injustice, debt and lending, fairness and unfairness in business, morality in what we do with our bodies and with other people’s bodies and with our words. They locked onto the nitty-gritty of who eats and who starves, who calls the shots and who gets spat out and spat on.
And that’s all the stuff of politics.
But … it’s not like the Bible is some kind of manual full of clear answers to the questions of 21st century politics, especially in a democracy that protects religious diversity with a separation of church and state (all of which I believe very strongly in, by the way).
I’ll say it again, “the Bible is some kind of manual full of clear answers to the questions of 21st century politics.”
Sorry, it’s just not that easy. It’s not that easy at the Bible tells us what to do, despite what some people may make it seem like. And this can go for Christians both on the political right and on the political left who can make it seem so straight ahead – if you’re Christian you should vote this way.
But, sorry, there aren’t ready easy answers like that – as people of faith, we have to be mature about our faith, mature about our relationship with scripture, and experience, and inner light, and reason, and mature about the struggle of what it means to take responsibility for being a citizen who is a Christian first and last. What does that mean for how we engage with the battles raging on, the struggles of power, without losing sight of our souls and of the goal to be tending to the commonwealth for the common good.
So, yes, let your deepest values and principles of your faith urge you into public engagement with the political issues that you have discerned are critical for you. Many of these issues are matters of life or death.
Last week we received a very powerful and faithful challenge from Aaron Bobrow-Strain about what it really means in our time to love God, love the neighbor, and love the foreigner as the prophets and Jesus urge us, in the face of the brutal and all-too-human facts of life for so many folks who struggle to immigrate to our country from Central America and Mexico, how this has been true for decades, and how we as North Americans have benefited from policies of both political parties that have meant untold suffering for folks south of our border.
This was a major focus in the national meeting of the United Church of Christ a couple weeks ago. The General Synod of the UCC called for an end to separation of immigrant children from their families and urged our local churches to engage in a serious way with what we feel our responsibilities are to our immigrant neighbors.
Our national body also spoke to a number of urgent matters of our time.
The epidemic of opioid addiction.
The pressing crisis of climate change and our collective responsibility to change human behavior around that.
Issues of mass incarceration – who profits from that and who suffers.
Issues of having expansive and inclusive gender language.
The realities of sexual violence in our society and how churches can be places for support and healing.
And the struggle of how to be one united Church of Christ given some strong disagreements within and between churches in our covenant.
I’d love to talk more about the work of the National Synod this year – I can share more at coffee hour.
But in all of this it is so important that we try to be Christians first and last, we try to be church that is truly open and welcoming of all people in all walks as children of God.
That means beware:
Beware that your allegiance to a political party or political movement, your allegiance to a political leader, your allegiance to a nation itself does not trump your higher allegiance to the living God.
That kind of idolatry happens all the time. Sometimes it has to do with the seduction of power, it can intoxicate us and make us turn away from God. Sometimes it’s moral and spiritual cowardice, or just laziness. Sometimes it’s how, you know, fighting all the time and racking up points and notching up grievances can just make us small and petty and mean. That’s happening to a lot of people – seems to be one of the spiritual sicknesses of our manic, desperate, troll-fest of a world. It’s contagious – a virus that feeds off our anger – so be careful. Don’t lose sight of what’s actually at stake.
Christ calls us to be salt and light.
This is not about our beliefs, but about our being. This about our being in a good way in this world with each other and with ourselves, being in a good way, a life-giving way, in a way that brings out the flavors and colors of this God-given world.
So, Jesus empowered his disciples to heal as they have been healed, to restoring sight as they have had their eyes open, to help people become freedom from the demons that haunt and possess us, this is about about repentance and forgiveness, about turning from ways of sin and death and returning to the ways of our life-giving living God.
This Jesus offered to everyone, everyone, regardless of all that would have us divided.
Let your light so shine.
(Folks who witnessed the inspired preaching of Rev. Kaji Spellman Dousa and Rev. Traci Blackmon at the recent General Synod of the United Church of Christ will see how indebted this sermon is to both of their sermons.)