Items filtered by date: February 2017
19 February 2017

Matthew 5:38-48

Relationships Include . . . Enemies

February 19, 2017        Maple Grove UMC

 

          We may have smiled and nodded during the Gospel reading today, but if we’re honest we have to admit that those are some very hard teachings, aren’t they?  Jesus says not to resist anyone who harms you.  Whoa!  He says to love not only your friends, but even your enemies.  Really? These are hard teachings, and people know it.

          Just days after the 9/11 attacks, Tony Campolo dared to read in church these words of Jesus about loving enemies and not retaliating.  One listener came to him and declared, “This is no time to go around quoting Jesus.”  “I’ve got news for you,” responded Campolo; “this is exactly the time we had better quote Jesus.”1

          These are difficult teachings.  By that I do not mean that I’m telling you, “Hey, these may be hard for you.”  I mean they’re hard for all of us.  These teaching are hard because they challenge the notion that justice is about punishment or even about our safety, and they contradict the idea that love is about fairness.  They’re not, Jesus says.  Justice and love are not about treating people the way they deserve to be treated, but treating people the way God treats us.  That is challenging, to say the least.

 

          So what does it mean to keep God’s love at the heart of all our relationships, including relationships with enemies?

          Well, for one thing, it implies that it’s okay to have enemies.  There’s the old joke about the preacher who gave a sermon on forgiving our enemies.  At the end of the sermon, he asked everyone to raise their hand if they were willing to try forgive their enemies.  Every hand went up but one.  “Mrs. Jones?” the preacher asked, “why aren’t you willing to forgive your enemies?”

          “I don’t have any,” she replied, smiling sweetly.

          “Mrs. Jones, that is remarkable.  How old are you?”

          “93,” she replied.

          “Oh, Mrs. Jones, what a lesson you are to us.  Come up front and tell us how a person can live 93 years and not have an enemy in the world.”

          The little old lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation and said, “I outlived the wenches.”

          Well, that’s one method. I don’t think it’s what Jesus had in mind. 

 

          I want to start with some questions that are kind of philosophical:  What did Jesus mean when he said to turn the other cheek and to love our enemies? Why did he want us to live like that? What kind of ethics was Jesus teaching?

  • First, I mentioned last Sunday I believe the Sermon on the Mount is a kingdom ethics—that is, how Christians need to live in community with each other. These are essentially rules for how we have to treat people if our life together is going to be happy and peaceful.

         Clarence Jordan shows that the Bible arrived at this kingdom, or community, ethics in four steps:2

    (1) First there is unlimited retaliation. If someone harms or disrespects you, you can get back at them in any way you’re able to, up to and including killing them. There are no limits. It’s a state of nature.

    (2) Second comes limited retaliation. We may think “an eye for an eye” sounds barbaric, but it’s a vast improvement over unlimited retaliation! In a way, it’s still the basis of our criminal justice system: the punishment should fit the crime. It makes a kind of sense. But we also know how it inevitably turns out: if you harm me and I harm you back in a similar way, you’re still angry and eventually you’ll harm me again, and then I have to harm you again. It’s an endless cycle of violence and vengeance. Ghandi is often credited with saying that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

    (3) So the third step is limited love, the Bible’s command to love your neighbor. Even if your neighbor harms you, you’ve still got to love them. This is a vast improvement over retaliation, but is still limited only to neighbors. An example from Jesus’ time might be that if a neighbor, that is, another Jew, knocked out your eye or tooth, he can be forgiven; but if a Gentile did it, then all bets are off. It’s limited love.

    (4) So the final step, the step Jesus takes in the Sermon on the Mount, is unlimited love. Jesus is saying that love must be the basis for all relationships and must be applied universally—to people like us and to people different from us, to people who treat us well and people who hate us. Just love ‘em all, is what Jesus is saying.

         At first, Jordan admits, unlimited love seems counterintuitive, impractical, even dangerous. And indeed there are risks--Jesus himself wound up on a cross. But ultimately, Jordan says, unlimited love is the only way of living with each other that can possibly make any sense. Everything else perpetuates a cycle of violence and exclusion.

     

              So one way of looking at loving one’s enemy and non-retaliation is as kingdom ethics, behavior that makes life together possible and fruitful. But ethicists talk about the difference between consequentialist and deontological ethics. Consequentialist ethics says that it’s the consequences of our behavior that matters, that we should refuse to retaliate and we should love our enemies because these things will lead to the best outcomes. Deontological ethics says that certain things are just right or wrong regardless of the outcome, that we should refuse to retaliate and we should love our enemies because it’s the right thing to do. Which was Jesus teaching—consequentialist ethics or deontological? I’d like to say, “Both.”

              In terms of consequentialist ethics, it’s important to note that in telling people not to retaliate, Jesus did not say to be a victim or a doormat to be walked on. He gave three examples of how to respond to mistreatment. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek,” he says, “turn the other also.” To strike someone on the right cheek implies a backhanded blow, which in that culture was not only painful, but deeply insulting. To turn the other cheek is a nonviolent but aggressive response. It says, “Oh yeah, big guy? I can take it! You have not defeated my spirit, and I will not sink to your level.”

              Again, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” As best I can tell, this was a kind of rude joke. Jewish men wore two garments—their coat, an outer garment, and their cloak, an inner garment. If you’re only wearing two garments, and someone takes the outer one, and you offer them the inner one too—what does that leave you wearing? This is a way of publicly shaming a person who would try to take everything you’ve got, even the clothes off your back. Maybe you can’t stop them from taking your stuff, but you can make them look bad.

              And Roman soldiers could legally require people to carry their pack for one mile, but only one mile. To voluntarily carry that pack a second mile makes the soldier a law-breaker and makes him look weak. It shows that you are in charge, not him.

              So when Jesus says not to retaliate, he doesn’t mean to be passive. Rather these are ways to stand up for yourself without stooping to the level of violence and revenge.

     

                   I believe all of that is true, that ultimately non-retaliation, forgiveness, and love of enemy are the only things that can save the world. I’m not saying I’m often courageous and in tune enough with God to live that way. But I believe it.

              But I also believe that Jesus wanted us to live that way even if it wouldn’t save the world. “Love,” one commentator sums up, “is not a weapon or tool. Genuine love has no ulterior motive; its purpose is simply to benefit the one loved, regardless of [their] response.”3 Clarence Jordan put it, “Jesus didn’t tell his followers to love their enemies because love would or would not work. The idea probably never occurred to him to raise the question of whether or not it was practical. He told them that they should do it ‘that they might be [children of their Father in heaven]4, to be close to God. “Be perfect, therefore,” Jesus concludes, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect, of course, impossible, problematic. But as I heard Laurie Clark say a few days ago, the Greek is mistranslated here. The word doesn’t mean ‘perfect’ in our usual sense; it means ‘whole.’ We turn the other cheek, we let stuff go, we love even those who hate and hurt us, so that we can be ‘whole’ like God, whether it “works” or not.

     

              In a moment I want to tell you a couple stories about loving enemies on an interpersonal level. But I want to note that this works at the national level as well. A recent issue of The Christian Century5 told of a restorative justice project in Uganda led by a retired Anglican bishop. In the 1980s and 90s the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army abducted more than 60,000 children in Uganda, killed over 100,000 people and displaced 2.5 million. With that many people involved, to retaliate or even to punish all the wrongdoers would only further devastate the country. Instead the bishop is trying a process of justice called mato oput, which centers on forgiveness, truth telling, compensation, and a ritual in which enemies share food together. Another article was about the widow of a Japanese reporter who was abducted and killed in Iraq by one of the warring parties there. Instead of seeking revenge, she built a hospital and offered it to those who had killed her husband. Take those stories times 100, times 1000, times what you do and what I do, and the entire world is more ‘whole,’ more like God.

     

              I’ve probably told you before about the time I was playing tennis, doubles with my brother, my sister and my brother-in-law. Somewhere toward the end of the first set, little Charley Yoder started riding his bike back and forth across our court, intentionally interrupting our game. We pointed out that there was an entire vacant court where he could ride without disturbing our game, but he just kept riding back and forth across our court. We told him to Scram, Knock it off, or else. But he just kept riding back and forth across our court. I chased him off with my racket (I like to think I wouldn’t have actually hit the kid), and he disappeared. But of course two points later he was back riding back and forth across our court.

              We decided to take a break, hoping he’d lose interest and go away. But he didn’t; he just kept riding around. I went to get some water and when I came back, I saw my sister and Charley Yoder sitting under a tree playing a game together. I was incensed—this was no way to treat someone who’s ruining our game! It got worse: when they got up, Charley picked up my sister’s racket and she said, “Charley’s going to take my place for a while.”

              “No way!” I shouted. But she’s my big sister, so she got her way. We finished the set—me, my brother, my brother-in-law and Charley Yoder. I did not enjoy it. He wasn’t very good. And he smiled with joy the entire time. “Turn the other cheek,” Jesus said. “Love your enemies,” he said. It’s a hard teaching.

     

              Finally this: Will Campbell was a white Southern Baptist preacher who became a civil rights leader in the South. He wrote a book about his life called Brother to a Dragonfly. (The language, just so you know, was Will Campbell’s uncle’s, not mine.) Will tells how in 1959 his father died after a long illness. Will was exhausted from caring for him, overcome with sorrow. His sister, though, came and said, “Will, I know you’re tired. . . But will you stay with him tonight?” He promised that he’d keep watch over the body that night.

              Several hours into the night Will heard, “Believe it’s cooled off a bit.” “Yea,” he replied, “I believe it has.” Slowly, he writes, it occurred to me that someone from out of the darkness had spoken to me. I did not need to turn around to ask who it was. I’d not heard the voice for a long time, but I knew it was a favorite uncle from my childhood. In recent years he’d been one of the most critical and vocal ones concerning my activities in the civil rights controversy, expressing bitter disappointment and displeasure that his own nephew had turned out to be what he called a nigger lover and renegade preacher. I’d ceased to visit him when I came home because I loved him too much to risk his rejection.

              He moved quietly out of the darkness and sat down beside me. I tried to see my watch. “It’s three o-clock,” he said. I assumed he knew about the promise I’d made my sister, and had been sitting in the shadows since the last mourner had left, deciding in his own time when I had been alone—though not alone—long enough.

              He poured coffee from a lunch box thermos and handed it to me. And until the dawn, Will Campbell writes, I sat in the redemptive company of a racist Jesus.6

              “Turn the other cheek,” Jesus said. “Love your enemies,” he said. And maybe even harder, let them love you. Our God-Centered relationships include . . . our enemies. It’s a hard teaching. And the only way to change the world.

 

 

1 Tony Campolo, “The Best of Times, the Worst of Times,” The Sunday After Tuesday: College Pulpits Respond to 9/11, ed. William H. Willimon (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 52.

2 Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount, revised ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1970), 63-68.

3 Douglas R.A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 60.

4 Jordan, 68.

5 The Christian Century (February 15, 2017), 18-19.

6 Will D. Campbell, Brother to a Dragonfly (New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1988), 150-51.

 

 

12 February 2017

Matthew 5:21-30

Relationship with Others Is Relationship with God

February 12, 2017             Maple Grove UMC

 

            What if during worship everyone got up, walked across the room, and engaged in heartfelt conversation with someone?  Or what if everyone got up and walked out of church calling some long-lost friend on the phone?  Bad behavior in Church?  No, I think that would great!  Hold that thought—I’ll come back to it. 

            But first, what about those teachings where Jesus seems to equate anger and insult with murder and lust with adultery?  What are we to make of that?  Does he really mean it?  Are we all in a lot of trouble? 

            Chapters 5-7 in Matthew’s Gospel are called the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is the Bible’s purest, highest description of how Christians should live.  And today’s teachings about killing and adultery are the first of what scholars called “the Six Antitheses.”  Six times in this sermon Jesus says, “you have heard it said that . . . but I say to you this.”  In addition to killing and adultery, these antitheses are about divorce, taking oaths, retaliating when someone wrongs you, and loving not just our neighbors but even our enemies (more on that one next Sunday).

            So morally challenging are these antitheses and the rest of this Sermon that several common interpretations over the ages essentially say that these teachings don’t exactly, or don’t fully, apply to most of us.  For example, Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages taught that only monks and nuns were expected to fully comply with the Sermon on the Mount.  Some Christians believe the Sermon on the Mount can’t be fulfilled here and now but only when Jesus returns.  And one Lutheran interpretation is that the Sermon on the Mount is intentionally impossible for us to live up to and that Jesus was trying to teach us that we can’t meet God’s demands on our own and that’s how we learn to rely on the mercy and grace of Christ.1 Clever interpretations, all of them, by people far smarter than I. But it strikes me that they’re all ways of trying to avoid the fact that Jesus wants us to live higher and holier lives. 

            I assume and I believe that Jesus really wanted us all to live this way—to weed anger and lust out of our hearts, to hold marriage sacred, to let our word be our word, not to strike back when people hurt us, and to love all people, even our enemies, even those who persecute us.  I’m not saying I live this way—I need God’s mercy every day.  I’m saying that I believe Jesus wants us, he longs for us, he expects us to learn to live this way. 

            Now I would want to make that conditional in a couple of ways:

  • First, Jesus uses some strong and exaggerated language in the Sermon on the Mount. Did he really want us to gouge out an eye or chop off a hand? Well, I don’t think so. But I know what he means. . . And did he really mean that being angry is exactly the same as killing someone? I don’t think so, but I know what he means. . . The exaggerations show how seriously Jesus meant these teachings.

  • And second, I think Jesus was teaching a kingdom ethic. This is how Christians are meant to live in community with one another. This high and holy way of life may not be possible for each of us separately and individually. But together, as fellow disciples of Jesus, much more is possible.

 

So Jesus said, "You've heard it said, 'You shall not murder,' but I say to you 'If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be handed to the council; and if you say, 'You fool,' you will be liable to hell.'" So does this mean, asks Tom Long, that "if you lose your temper at a church committee meeting and unload a piece of your mind on some poor soul across the table," that you're going to hell?2 Thankfully, no, since that would be bad news for me, and maybe a few of you as well.  The Greek word Jesus uses for anger means literally to swell or run over; it was used of people who boiled up inside until they were ready to explode.3 This kind of anger doesn't just suddenly occur; it has to be allowed, even cultivated over time.

Clarence Jorden--the civil rights leader I mentioned last Sunday who helped found Habitat for Humanity--understood that murder is already being born when we lose respect for someone else as a human being and allow ourselves to overlook the infinite worth of every child of God. He notes that one early sign of this kind of overrunning anger is self-pity: craving attention or respect and not getting as much as you think you should, always feeling like you're carrying more than your share of the load, being unwilling to see how you have contributed to the problems around you.  Allowed to flourish and spread, self-pity is fertile ground for the kind of anger Jesus is talking about.4

It is not hard to see how this is a kingdom ethic, the way we need to live for Christianity community to work. As one Lutheran bishop puts it, "In this commu- nity, it's not enough only to avoid homicide.  There is no room even for . . .  insult, or name-calling—no room for behaviors that chip away at relationship and community."5 But it's also easy to see that the person this kind of anger and self-pity hurt most is the one who carries them around.  How joyful, how blessed, can life be when you're always lugging around that load of hurt feelings?  The surest way to guard against killing, Jesus is saying, is to develop within yourself a peaceful disposition.6 Amen?

 

And again Jesus says, "You have heard it said, 'You shall not commit adultery,' but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." First of all, notice that even though back then, as now, it was common to blame women for men's bad behavior, Jesus will have none of that.  He directly instructs men to control not only our behavior but what's in our hearts.

But as with anger, surely Jesus didn't mean that sexual desire is wrong, or everyone's in trouble. Rather than desire, Tom Long teaches, by lust Jesus means our basic attitudes, the choices we make about what we will allow to take root in our imaginations, to shape our thoughts, to govern our actions, and to mold our relationships.7 Lust is, ultimately, looking at someone with an intention of breaking a covenant, looking at someone as a means to your end rather than a human being to love and care for.  Unless we are mentally ill, each one has the capacity to decide what we will keep thinking about, what we will allow ourselves to look at, and what our intentions toward others will be.

I met once with a couple planning to get married, but along the way he developed a relationship with another woman. I don't mean that he touched that woman, but he met with her, he called her frequently, he confided in her.  And his fiancé found out. He and I met to talk about it.  He said, "I just couldn't help myself."  I asked, "Is that really true?"  He thought and then said, "Well, no.  I didn't help myself.  But how can I stop it from happening again?"  And I said, "You tell me:  how can you stop it?"  And over the next hour he said:

  • I can take out of my phone the personal numbers of any woman I might think of confiding in. Uh-huh

  • I can make sure I don't meet with other women one-on-one, but only in group settings. Uh-huh.

  • When I'm feeling hurt or depressed (which is one I tend to get in trouble), I can reach out right away to a safe person to help me feel better, so I don't reach out to an inappropriate person. Uh-huh.

There were others, but you get the idea. Lust is looking at someone with the wrong intentions, and there are many ways to cultivate right intentions in all our relationship.  Amen?

 

But let me return to where I started: what if everyone suddenly got up in the middle of church and engaged in heart-felt conversation with someone?  Jesus said, "So when you're offering your gift at the altar [loosely translated, "when you're at church"], if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift."  Jesus is saying that our relationship with God is all mixed up with our relationships with other people.  We are not fully reconciled to God until we are reconciled with one another. That is a challenging teaching for these divided times we live in.  And to make it even more challenging, Jesus did not say "If you're at the altar and remember that you have something against someone else, make sure to go and point it out to them."  That can be important in relationships too—don't get me wrong.  But it's not where Jesus focuses.  He says, "If you're at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, go and be reconciled." 

One way we've been talking about God-Centered Wellbeing is that it's seeking to keep our relationship with God and God's love at the heart of all our other relationships. This gospel lesson teaches an important corollary:  All of our other relationships are always at the heart of our relationship with God.  You can't escape the messiness of your difficult relationships by coming to church; all of that comes with you to the altar.  In fact, at the altar is where our need for reconciliation becomes so compelling that we just might get up and do something about it. 

It happens all the time. Not long ago one Maple Grove member was disappointed and hurt by something another Maple Grove member said, and in turn he said some hurtful back.  He took a few weeks off and was thinking of leaving the church completely.  But as took Holy Communion one Sunday, he looked across the room and saw that person he was angry at taking the very same Communion at the very same time.  And his heart cried out to be reconciled in the name of Jesus.  So he reached out to that person, said he was sorry for what he'd said and wanted to repair things between them.  And the other person rethought what he had said and affirmed that person in a healing way.  The altar of God had done its holy work

So what if during worship everyone got up, walked across the room, and engaged in heartfelt conversation with someone? Or what if everyone got up and made a phone call to a person they hadn't talked to in ages?  Bad behavior in church?  No, no—it's called living out the Sermon on the Mount.  Go, be reconciled to your sister or brother; church will still be here when you get back.  Our relationship with God is our relationship with others.

 

1 See J. Carl Laney, “Nine Ways to Approach the Sermon on the Mount,” https://www.westernseminary.edu/transformedblog/2016/02/22/7141/, accessed February 10, 2017.

2 Thomas G. Long, Matthew, Westminster Bible Companion (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 56.

3 Clarence Jorden, Sermon on the Mount, revised ed. (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1952), 88.

4 Jordan, 57.

5 Brian Maas, "Living by the Word: Reflections on the Lectionary," The Christian Century (January 18, 2017), 21.

6 Joardan, 54.

7 Long, 54.

 

05 February 2017

Matthew 5:13-16

Salt & Light: It’s All About Relationships

February 5, 2017

 

            Before he was the bishop of Alabama, Will Willimon was the chaplain at Duke University, where part of his job was to have conversations with students about faith and religion and life.  One student told him that he and his roommate weren’t getting along well.  “Why not?” Willimon asked.  “Because he’s a Muslim and I’m not,” the student said.  Willimon asked why that made a difference.

            “When we moved in together, he asked me what my religion was,” the student replied.  “I told him that I was a sort of Christian.  A Lutheran.  I told him up front that my family and I weren’t the very best Christians, that we only went to church occasionally, and it wasn’t that big a deal to me.  But my roommate has this nasty habit of asking embarrassing questions.”

            “Like what?”

            “Like after we had roomed together a few weeks, he asked me, ‘Why do you Christians never pray?’  I told him, ‘We pray all the time.  We just sort of keep it to ourselves.’”

            “He said, ‘I’ll say you do!  I’ve never seen you pray.’  He prays, like, a half dozen times a day on his prayer rug in our room.

            “The last straw was Saturday morning, when I came in from a date, and he asked me, “Doesn’t your Bible talk about avoiding dissolute living?”

            “I told him, ‘Look, it’s not dissolute living; it was just a party at the Tri Delt house.  I told you I’m not the best Christian in the world.  You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me!”1

 

            You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me . . .  I sympathize with that student; I’m not eager for the Christian faith to be judged by everything I do and say either.  But it begs the question:  what should people judge the Christian faith by?  Well, Jesus answers that question in the Gospel reading today.  And no, it’s not how often or where we pray or even whether or not we party with the Tri Delts.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.”  And “You are the light of the world. . . Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  What should people judge the Christian faith by?  Well, according to Jesus, by us, by how we engage with others and shine on those around us, by our relationships with one another and with other people.  And surely our salt will be saltier, surely our light will shine brighter, if we keep God’s love at the heart of all those relationships.

 

            So in part, the way we are salt and light, how people will judge the Christian faith, has to do with our internal relationships, the way we love one another in the church.  In the Greek of the New Testament, when Jesus says “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world,” the word ‘you’ is not singular, but plural.  In the South it would be “y’all are the salt of the earth,” or back in Kansas we’d say, “you guys are the light of the world.”  In other words, I am not the light, and you and you and you are not the light individually.  We are the light of the world, together. 

            One way the world will judge the Christian faith is by our internal relationships.  That’s why in John 13:35 Jesus tells the Twelve, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  You might expect him to say that other people will know we’re his disciples if we love them; but instead he says people will know we’re his disciples if we love one another.  I’ve heard it put this way:  the church’s greatest witness to the world is the quality of our life together. 

            Now, admittedly, that’s harder than it might seem.  The truth is, it can be easier to love a perfect stranger than someone who lives in your own home.  And sometimes, the better you get to know a person, the harder they are to love!  The rapid pace of change in our culture and the current passion in our politics makes simply loving one another especially challenging right now.  I know I’ve said some things that didn’t help others feel loved.  And I’m aware that there are times when I'm quicker to look for reasons to criticize people I disagree with than I am to find reasons to be kind to them.  Maybe you’ve been like that too?          

            As salt of the earth and light of the world, I’d like to take a deep breath, take a step back, and make a fresh start at this loving one another.  Why?  Because the witness of the gospel depends on it.  Because not just me and you and you, but "y'all"--we all—are the salt of the earth and the light of the word, together.  People will, and are, judging the Christian faith by how we love one another.

 

So being salt and light is partly about our internal relationships, how we love one another in the church; but being salt and light is also about our external relationships, how we treat our neighbors well beyond the church.  Jesus says, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works.”  And New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight, points out that both salt and light are important not just in and of themselves, but because of their impact on something else—salt impacts food, light impacts darkness. 2  And Christians impact our neighbors and the world. 

                    Being salt of the earth and light of the world means that our relationships will give us away. Clarence Jordan was a civil rights leader in the 1940s and 50s and was also helped found Habitat for Humanity.  He notes that “Jesus isn’t saying here that you shouldn’t hide your light [under a basket.  What Jesus is saying is] that nobody ever does that.”3 We can’t do that.  Our light is shining, whether we mean it to or not.  So when we feed the hungry, when we welcome strangers and people who are different from us, when we visit the sick and the elderly, our light is shining.  And when we do not feed the hungry, when we do not welcome strangers and people who are different from us, when we neglect the sick and the elderly, our light is shining then as well. 

            Again, Scot McKnight describes what it looks like when a church lives out Jesus’ call to be salt and light.  He visited a church called New Covenant Fellowship in Champaign, Illinois.  “The only way I can describe this church,” he says, is that “the boundaries between church and community are porous.  The church is an offering to the community and the community seeps into the church.”  Do you feel how this church’s relationships with those around them are like salt and light?  There is no “in” or “out” at New Covenant, just people in relationship with each other.  McKnight says that the day he was there he “experienced some homeless folks, a middle-aged woman who showed signs of schizophrenia, some Jewish neighbors who thought the topic of [the day’s] teaching was of interest to them. . . “The salt and light metaphors,” McKnight concludes, “reveal that the church’s fundamental task is to mediate God’s presence.”4 In other words, it’s all about relationships.

 

            Y’all are the salt of the earth, Jesus said.  Y’all are the light of the world, together.  You’ll remember that student who told his Muslim roommate: “You shouldn’t judge the Christian faith by me.”  But people do judge the Christian faith by us, by how we love one another, and by how we welcome and include and love our neighbors near and far.  I, for one, have heard this scripture this week.  I repent of ways that God’s love has not been at the heart of my relationships and I am committed to putting God’s love back at the heart of all my relationships.  I wonder who will join me on that journey?

 

1Adapted from William H. Willimon, “Árguing with Muslims: God-Talk on Campus,” The Christian Century (November 16, 2004), 34.

2 Scot McKnight, Sermon on the Mount, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 56.

3 Clarence Jordan, Sermon on the Mount (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1970, Koinonia Edition), 42.

4 McKnight, 61.

 

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