Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Sunday, February 5, 2017

You are Salt and Light!

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ, amen.

As I was putting my call sermon from December 4th and my sermon from last week on my online blog, I realized that though these sermons were almost two months apart, I talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer both times. And, at the risk sounding like I am totally uncreative, I thought it would be a good idea to mention him AGAIN, in order to share with you who he was and why I have quoted him so much in the past and probably will in the future.  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor in the 1930s who preached, wrote, and was a leader against the Third Reich, and the Nazis did all they could to prevent him from speaking out. At one point Bonhoeffer escaped to the United States, and could have lived here permanently, out of harm’s way. But he could not stay away from his people. So he bravely came back to Germany, and not long after was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. He was executed just days before his prison camp was liberated by Allied forces.

About a year ago a Catholic acquaintance heard me preach on Bonhoeffer and he was shocked: “What? He’s Lutheran?” he said, “I assumed he was Catholic.” Nope. The Catholics get plenty of cool people… like Mother Teresa and Stephen Colbert. But WE get Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer is OURS!

Lutherans don’t have saints the same way Catholics do, but we still lift up models and heroes of the faith that show us how to live as disciples of Jesus during challenging times.
There is still plenty to learn about being a disciple. The Sermon on the Mount keeps going and Jesus is still preaching. In fact, his sermon goes on for about two more chapters, and we’re going to get a pretty solid chunk of it in the next few weeks before Lent starts.

“Previously in The Sermon on the Mount”: Jesus flipped the expectations of the world upside down by telling us who is really blessed in God’s kingdom – the poor in spirit, the outcast, the mourning, those hungry for righteousness, those who work for justice and peace. 

Bonhoeffer knew what it was like to be blessed by Jesus as he was hungry and thirsty for righteousness, as he mourned for the state of his nation, as he was reviled and persecuted by those who sought to silence the message of the Gospel. Bonhoeffer also how to live as salt and light, and how hard that would be in a world that would rather make that light stay hidden.  

Speaking of things that are hidden, February is not just “Valentine’s Day Awareness month,” or “Super Bowl Month.” February is also Black History Month, a fact that seems to get buried underneath all the red hearts and guacamole.

If you haven’t already seen the movie Hidden Figures, after fellowship time, drive over to the Regal Cinema or the theater of your choice and catch the next matinee, you’ll probably make the 12:25 showing. Hidden Figures is based on a book that tells the story of three African American women who worked for NASA in the 1960s. I’m going to let that fact sink in for a moment. Black women, working in math and science, in the 1960s.

When a fellow colleague asked Mary Johnson, one of these amazing women, “If you were a white man, would you wish to be an engineer?” Mary answered, “I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.”

I don’t think it’s spoiling the movie to reveal that these women were the true “hidden figures.” At every turn, they were minimized, ignored, feared, misunderstood, and excluded. But at every challenge, the minds of these women shone out as they did their patriotic duty to safely launch John Glenn into orbit. They could not help but shine as the brilliant women that they ARE, pioneers and heroes in their own right. It’s pretty awesome that we can learn about the amazing stories of these hidden figures by watching points of light projected on a giant screen.

It is a property of light to shine. Light can’t NOT be itself. It can’t NOT shine. Light doesn’t have to TRY to be light. Salt doesn’t have to WORK AT being salt. They just are. Light doesn’t second-guess itself or worry about what the other photons will think if they shine. Salt doesn’t strive for the perfect work-life balance before deciding that it has the time to be salty. Salt flavors, light shines. It’s what they do.

Jesus said, “You are salt and light.” The end, end of story. We just are.

But that also means, if we are the light, we can no longer remain hidden, even if we wanted too. Light shines - the Body of Christ is seen in the world. It’s who we are. If we follow Jesus, we won’t be able to help ourselves. It’s going to get us noticed by people whose notice we may not want.  But this light is also going to make us see things that we might rather not see.

If you look into bright light for long enough, a shadowy image of that light will stay in your retinas for a few minutes. And on the flip side, if we look into darkness for too long, our eyes can adjust to the lower levels of light, if the sun sets slowly enough or we wait long enough in the dark.

The world seems like a pretty dark place right now for many of us. But after a while we can convince ourselves that it really isn’t all THAT dark after all, especially when certain aspects of the darkness don’t affect us ALL that much.

But many of our brothers and sisters have been plunged into darkness and despair. Those who are misunderstood, feared, vilified because of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or nationality are suffering in the darkness. Their struggles are unseen, unnoticed, or deemed as unimportant. And there are many in the world who would like the darkness, and want to keep it that way. The darkness may be scary, but perhaps even scarier is how comfortable the darkness can become to us.

The beginning of the Gospel of John states that “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) That light is the arrival of Jesus, who came to defeat darkness and the power of evil, and to the world who God is.

With Jesus, the mask comes off, and we get to see the love of God in action. Like Clarke Kent taking off those fake glasses that were never really fooling anyone anyway, revealing a real flesh and blood superhero who came to save the world. But not by flying and jumping higher or running faster than anybody else. Instead, he saved the world by becoming a normal, regular, everyday human being. A human being who could experience pain and sadness and grief and even death. A human being who was also God’s son, who died and rose again so that we might live, too.

So when Jesus says we are blessed, we’d better pay attention.

So when Jesus says we are salt and light, we’d better listen up.

So when Jesus says it’s time to assemble the super heroes and super heroines, we’d better be ready to saddle up.

We belong to a real-life league of heroes, one who don’t wear capes or have secret identities. WE, actually, wear our identities on our sleeves, in plain sight, for all to seen.

Admission to this league of heroes isn’t reserved for the fast, strong, or superior. We belong to this league because we are God’s beloved children. We don’t consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer a hero of the faith because he was perfect, supernaturally brave, or above making mistakes. He’s a hero because Jesus trusted him to be who he was called to be – salt and light until the day he died.

We are light and salt for the world. The darkness will only get darker until we decide that we are going to BE who we ARE. Like beacons of light, we reveal the injustice of the world, which would rather work undisturbed hidden in a cloak of darkness. We shine to say to our brothers and sisters, “I see you, I see what’s happening to you, and I’m NOT ok with it.” 

Like salt, we are the spice of the world that brings out the flavor of love and kindness that already exists out there, which the world has chosen to forget or is too afraid to show.
The world is watching, and people are going to notice. The world is going to try and prevent us from being who we are.

A little salt and a little light go a long way. Just a little light in the darkness, shining wherever you are, can make a big difference. You don’t have to be the next Dietrich Bonhoeffer. You just have to be the next YOU. Child of God, salt of the earth, light of the world. Amen.

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