February 5, 2023

"To Be Salt and Light … to the World”

Rev. Scott Landis

Matthew 5:13-16

The “New Revised Search Committee” met last Sunday after church for a couple of hours. This group is tasked with the responsibility of bringing to the church the candidate they believe is the one God is calling to serve our congregation for the foreseeable future. No small task! I ask that you pray for them regularly as they engage in this critically important work in the history of Keawala’i. The work that they will do – will have a phenomenal impact on our church for many years to come. 

I reminded the search committee of our Church Profile that was created a couple of years ago when we began this process. You may remember that as many of you met in small groups to talk about your dreams for Keawala’i.  The Profile focuses on three main questions that help us to discern WHO might be the best leader to serve our church. The questions:

Who are we?
Who is God calling us to be?
Who is our neighbor?

These are questions we ought to be considering all the time - not just in times of transition. Even though answering them involves some internal speculation as you think about your relationship to the church, you’ll notice their focus is ultimately external. [Pause]

Archbishop William Temple was known to say, “The church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are NOT its members.”

Think about that for a moment. “The church is the only organization on earth that exists for those who are NOT its members.”

It’s the reason why these questions are so important. While they begin with some internal review – both individually and collectively – ultimately, they challenge us to look beyond ourselves and beyond our walls. Who/what/and where is God calling us to be? And who is our neighbor – the ones God is calling us to serve? Or to use the teaching of Jesus in today’s gospel lesson asks, how are we to be Salt and Light to those who are NOT our members? [Pause]

Matthew’s community was much like ours today in many ways. Matthew wrote in a time of theological and social tension. His thoughts were formed at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple – the place where the faithful believed God lived. 

The Jewish community at the time experienced a great deal of internal conflict as they grappled with confusion in their understanding of what was left of Judaism WITHOUT the Temple, and what did it mean to be Jewish in a “post-Temple” world? This forced them to ask similar questions: Who are we? Who is God calling us to be? Who is our neighbor … now? [Pause]

We have not experienced that kind of destruction.  Our land and our place of worship remain intact — at least for now — but consider the similarities in this “post-covid” world that some are even referring to as “post-Christian.” 

We’ve had challenges here getting back our sea-legs as our attendance, giving, and programs have all taken a hit. We’ve had to close our doors almost as many Sundays as they have been open in my tenure which has forced us to revisit those questions – even since the last Church Profile was written. 

Who are we – now? Who is God calling us to be – now? Who is our neighbor – now? Questions that take us back to Archbishop Temple’s observation – we exist not primarily for our members. Rather, our calling is to those who are NOT members. That’s where it is important to be salt and light – to the broader community. [Pause]

I asked my liturgist, Robin, to read today’s lesson from two different translations. The first – the NRSV – is one that is likely more familiar to you. It is lovely and communicates the central point. But the Message translation, I think, really brings it home. 

To be salt in the world, Eugene Peterson translates, is to bring out the God-flavors of the earth. 

To be light, is to bring out the God-colors of the world. [Pause]

While I am certainly no cook, I do know from watching enough cooking shows that just a pinch of salt enhances the flavor of almost any dish – even a dessert. Too much is not good, but just the right amount and your guests will be clamoring for the recipe. 

And light, well, the right kind of lighting makes every one of us look that much better. Soft lighting – candlelight for example – brings out the best – even on my “bad side.” While garish fluorescent lighting makes me look hideous even on a “good-hair-day.” 

The calling is to go to the unseasoned places – the dark spaces and bring out the flavor and illuminate the oft-times unexposed colors. In short, it’s to bring hope, to bring healing, to bring possibility, and opportunity to those who may or may not ever darken the door of the church. That is not easy to do in a time of confusion and bewilderment and limited resources, when not a one of us knows where things are going. But this is why, I believe, Jesus offers us these hopeful words. [Pause]

Former New Testament professor Mary Hinkle Shore said of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” within which this passage is contained that “This was Jesus’ ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.” Like Dr. King, Jesus offered words of challenge and optimism describing not what their faith in God WAS, rather what it OUGHT to be. Both Jesus and King had the ability to rise above the confusion and conflict – indeed, the hopelessness of their current situation and challenged their listeners for what COULD BE – IF – those who claimed to be disciples would only get out of their safe cocoons and bring flavor and light where it was most needed. And notice – the challenge was not to be salt and light ONLY to their local community. No – it was to be salt and light to the whole WORLD! [Pause]

In just a few minutes we will be receiving the spiritual food to do that work. The bread – the cup – they will not be enough to satisfy your physical hunger, but they will be enough to empower your spirit as God’s Spirit unites with our spirit to bring out the God-flavors, the God-colors in us so that we can do the same for the world. But we have to be willing to take that risk and explore new ways of being salt and light for the world. 

And then, as you prepare to leave to take that risk — accepting the challenge — as we sing “This Little Light of Mine,” be ready to see a change – in your life. In the one sitting next to you. And in the ones throughout the world as you embody Jesus’ dream at a time when it is so desperately needed. 

Share that dream as you live that dream of hope by offering your gifts to the world. 

May God give each one of us the salt and light we need to change the world – for good.


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