God’s First Move

A sermon based on Psalm 85:8-13 and Ephesians 1:3-14 preached May 14th, 2017

The world is so much bigger than we think.

There’s a book by Emma Donoghue, and the tie-in movie—both entitled Room—about a young mother named Joy and her 5-year old son named Jack. Jack’s mother has been held captive inside a 12 by 12-foot garden shed for 7 years, for all of Jack’s life plus another 2 before he came along. This 12-foot square room is all that Jack has ever known. He calls it “Room.” It’s his whole world.

When young Jack began asking questions and remembering their answers, his mother Joy decided it was best to tell him there was nothing more than these four walls that surrounded them—the ceiling a few feet above their heads. There were no windows in Room. Just a skylight above that gave them nothing to look at but blue sky and white clouds. The light of the sun and the dark of night was nothing more to Jack than a one-dimensional covering that he must have imagined existed just a few feet above Room’s ceiling. Jack’s world was tiny and simple.

When Jack turned 5, his mother decided he was old enough to comprehend the bigger picture. The black and white TV in Room, she told him, projected images of real human beings—other people who existed in the world and lived hundreds, maybe even thousands of miles away. We can hear Jack asking,

What’s a mile?

Joy tried her best to tell Jack that the world is filled with billions of people who were just like them. That people had to drive cars to get from one place to another because the places they needed to go were so far away. All this was lost on Jack. He didn’t believe her. How could he? He’d never known anything bigger than the cramped and dark 144 square feet of a garden shed.

At one point in the movie, Jack refuses his mother’s big words about this immense world she is talking about. He shouts,

I want a different story!

His mother quickly replies:

No! This is the story you get!!

Jack’s mind is no bigger than what his eyes can see, his ears can hear, and all they know are the tin walls of a ramshackle shed, the static-y murmur of a black and white TV.

I won’t give away the ending. It’s a profound story you must see for yourself. But, this I will say: Room is a story that should make us wonder about the vast entirety of the world—maybe even the cosmos—and our place in it.

Throughout, questions should bubble up in our minds: This world and this life we live in it, do we believe it’s only as big as what we’ve seen and been told by others, or do we know more? Could it be that we move about this vast planet of ours in our tiny little circles so repetitively that we lose perspective? In an effort to be comfortable with our own small version and vision of things, maybe we have taken the vast dimensions of God’s immense creation and shrunk it down into our own versions of a 12 by 12-foot room.

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Just like 5-year-old Jack, in order to grow to maturity, to know the truth about creation, the God who made it, and our place in it, we must first be made aware of how large the gap is between our tiny vision of things and God’s immeasurable power and grace. What else is there but what we can see through our own skylights?

No matter what we’ve been told, no matter how far we’ve traveled or how wide our eyes are as we go along our way, what Paul wants us to know, right off the bat is that everything about God, the grace He gives, the love He has for us, the plans He’s made for us—they’re all much bigger and louder, more wondrous and glorious than we could ever know. This is Paul’s message to those first Christians in Ephesus. And it’s still an important message for us. First, we must be told that, in the grand scheme of things, the only reason why we’re significant is because God has adopted us as his family through Jesus Christ, and because of this, we do not, cannot, live in our own world. This is God’s world, and in order to know our place in it, we must hand ourselves over to God—to persistently and intentionally give ourselves over to ways of Christ Jesus.

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In the original language this whole passage, verses 3 through 14, is one huge, marvelous, run-on sentence. At 201 words, it’s the longest sentence in all of scripture.

Paul must have thought that the urgency of these words was great enough to warrant the abandonment of proper punctuation and syntax. This news is so good that even a comma would disturb the power inside of this sentence! It’s enough to give any English teacher a coronary.

But the largeness, the grammatical abandonment, of this colossal, run-on sentence should be excused, even by the most strident of grammar Nazis, because its lack of punctuation and its sheer size echoes the gracious abundance of its subject: God.

This one-sentence passage is a torrent of God-activity that refuses to pause or come up for air. It’s an avalanche of blessing that gathers size and strength with every tumbling word, all of it mirroring God’s lavish generosity. How can we keep from singing? How can we stop talking about how amazing God is?! This is the Gospel. This is Good News that will not wait!

Right away, through this torrent of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, the message is clear: in order to grow into the life that God has for us, in order to grow into spiritual maturity, what last week we identified as the goal of the Christian life, we must abandon all our shallow notions of who God is, all of our tiny twelve-by-twelve, Room-sized views of things, all of our too-small perceptions of how the world works and how God works in the world, and give ourselves over to the magnificence of what God is doing through Christ Jesus—the salvation He is working within us and among us, as well as far beyond us. God is not merely a part of our lives. That’s way too small and backwards, Paul says here at the outset of Ephesians. We are a part of God’s life.

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In order to open our eyes and then our lives to all this magnificence, Paul fills his run-on sentence with seven action verbs: blessed, chose, destined, bestowed, lavished, made known, and gather up.

None of these verbs have us as their subject. God’s the One doing all the action here. We are the objects of all of these verbs. We do not bless, choose, destine, bestow, lavish, make known, or gather up ourselves. God’s the One who blesses, chooses, destines, bestows, lavishes us. God is the One who makes known to us who we are, and gathers us up.

God’s the first Mover. In this salvation life, we do not begin on our own. These verbs, they’re God’s ways of jump-starting the work of salvation inside of us and among us. God has the first move. All of our action is merely a reaction to all that God has done and is doing for us in Christ Jesus, His Son and our Lord.

These words are in chapter 1 of this letter for a reason. Paul wants us to know this from the start or else all of our starts will be false ones. Let us not waste any more of our time thinking that we are the ones who make any of this happen. Let’s not live one more second of our lives—including our life together as Church—under the delusion that we’re the ones who make something of ourselves. Notions like that are just as tiny as 5-year-old Jack looking up at a tiny patch of blue through a sky light thinking he’s seen the whole world. God has made room for us to stretch our vision. To see things we have never and will never be able to see on our own.

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The older we get, the less we know. You’ve heard that before. In our younger years, we think we know it all. But as we growth into maturity, as we step out into the world, we slowly begin to realize how small we are inside of it.

It’s those moments when we stand beside the ocean, as the song goes, and find ourselves small and insignificant in the vast array of God’s creation, that we begin to realize how tiny we are and how little we know. The moment we realize this is a moment of amazing grace. It’s the instance when we abandon all those overinflated thoughts we have about ourselves, when we slowly let go of our own significance and begin to find ourselves all over again in the vast and Divine family of things. This is the first step into spiritual maturity. When in one way or another, we say,

God, this is all you and none of me

As Paul writes,

It is in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for.

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I hope I don’t give away the ending of Room if I tell you that 5-year old Jack and his mother, Joy, are finally freed from the confines of their 12 by 12-foot world.

Once outside of Room, Jack sees the immense glory of creation—what was once a mere rumor that he refused to believe. At the end of the film, we hear Jack say:

I’ve been in the world 37 hours. I’ve seen pancakes, and stairs, and birds, and windows, and hundreds of cars. And clouds, and police, and doctors, and grandma and grandpa. But Mommy says grandma and grandpa don’t live together in the hammock house anymore. Grandma lives there with her friend Leo now. And Grandpa lives far away.

I’ve seen persons with different faces, and bigness, and smells, talking all together. The world’s like the black and white TV in Room, but it’s on, all at the same time, so I don’t know which way to look and listen.

There’s doors and… more doors. And behind all the doors, there’s another inside, and another outside. And things happen, happen, HAPPENING. It never stops. Plus, the world’s always changing brightness, and hotness. And there’s invisible germs floating everywhere. When I was small, I only knew small things. But now I’m five, I know EVERYTHING!

And the book-readers and the movie-goers and God himself laughs, and we all say:

Jack, You haven’t seen anything yet!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

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A Christian’s Influence

A sermon based on Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 preached on February 5th, 2017

Sermon audio

Today, we continue looking into the Sermon on the Mount. Last Sunday, we looked closely at the Beatitudes, the series of eight blessings Jesus bestows upon His followers, all of which come together to give us one comprehensive picture of what Christian character looks like—the attitudes we should have and the things we should pay attention to in order to grow into God’s idea of full human being. The rest of the Sermon on the Mount is simply Jesus’ effort to enflesh—to put skin and muscle, tendon and tissue around the bones that are the eight beatitudes. And, if we continue to listen carefully to the rest of what Jesus has to say in Matthew chapters 5 through 7, the closer we’ll come to developing into the full-bodied and faithful creatures that God wants us to be.

If the Beatitudes of last week come together to describe a Christian’s character, today’s lesson describes a Christian’s influence—the approach we take as we relate to the world, how we engage others, how we are called to be difference-makers, and how we put the Beatitudes to work. Sometimes, we hear the Beattitudes, each one of those Blesseds, and we say,

Well, that’s nice, those are beautiful words, Jesus, but how do we live them out? And what for?

When we begin living out the blessings inside the Beatitudes, when we start shaping our days and our decisions around them, what do they make of us? And this is Jesus’ answer: When you live the blessed life of the Beatitudes, you will become an influencer. You will live as salt, and you will live as light.

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Salt and light seem on the surface to be two completely different things. Isn’t Jesus mixing metaphors here? But when we dive into the thick of the metaphor, use our imaginations to draw out the substance and character of both salt and light, Jesus’ words begin to make sense.

First off, both salt and light are no good on their own. Just a tip: Don’t eat a tablespoon of salt. I did it as a dare once, and it’s gross. Aside from Double Dog Dares, we would do no such a thing.

Salt is useless on its own. Neither do we stare into the sun. Our parents teach us this from a very young age, but we do it anyway, and we learn the hard way that light by itself is no good on its own. In fact, kinda like salt, on its own it does harm. Light can’t do its thing unless it has something to reflect off of. Both salt and light are no good unless they’re poured out, thrown onto everything around them. That’s how both fulfill their purpose.

Another thing about both light and salt: neither one is made to draw attention to itself. Both work to reveal the character, glory, texture, and substance of other things. We scatter salt over a pot of homemade chicken soup to bring out the flavor of each ingredient. That salt doesn’t work for itself. It works for all the other things inside the pot. Same thing with light. Without a surface to shine off of, light does nothing. But, give it a surface to bounce off of, light finds its purpose, it reveals the character and shape of a thing. Our verse 14 says,

light brings out the God-colors, the God-shapes, the God’-textures in everything.

 

Without salt and light, our lives and many things in them would lose their meaning and significance. They would be bland and tasteless. With them, though, everything comes alive! We are salt and light, Jesus says. And, notice the way He says it. He doesn’t say,

If you want to become salt and light, then that’s an option you have, but only if you want to…

He doesn’t say,

You better be salt and light, and start acting like it!

 

Neither does He say,

I have an idea! Why don’t you start acting like salt and light?!

Jesus says we already are salt and light. We don’t get to opt out of this one. This is our character, our purpose. This is how we should be difference-makers in the world.

It’s important to stop right here, though, and clarify something. Notice there are no imperatives here. No command to be salt and light. No must’s or shall be’s. This isn’t something we have to do or else. Rather, salt and light are what we will inevitably be once when we take the 8 beatitudes from last week and live into them. Our Christian Character, shaped by the Beatitudes, yields salty and light-bearing lives. This is our Christian influence. We cannot help but be salt and light in, to, and for the world.

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Salt has an edge to it, though, doesn’t it? It bites back. Light can reveal what we or others do not want to see. And both can burn. Both salt and light, for better or for worse, can reveal the true character of things. When Jesus called us these two things, salt and light, He had both the upsides and the downsides in mind. But He tells us to be them, anyway.

The prophet Isaiah is an example of how being salt and light has an edge and a bite to it. Isaiah shouts out to his own people. God tells him to hold nothing back as he does so. And with words that God gives him, Isaiah confronts the peoples’ ways with God’s biting, edgy truth. Isaiah calls his people out on the floor in the passage we read this morning. Through the prophet’s voice, God confronts the people with their unjust behaviors. It appears they’re only pretending to be right-living people, but their actions speak a whole lot louder than their words. Isaiah declares to the Israelites that God can see right through all their religious activities. All their devotion to God is hollow, insubstantial. It’s just for show.

The kind of devotion that God wants comes down to how we treat others. Do we live to break the chains of injustice? God says that’s what real devotion looks like. We are to take steps to get rid of exploitation wherever we see it, to free the oppressed, and cancel suffocating debts, sharing food with the hungry, and inviting the homeless into our houses. Put clothes on the naked ones among us, and giving ourselves to our own families. Do those things, God says, and become difference-makers! That’s right living according to God! That’s what being salt of the earth and light for the world is all about!

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Salt, in order to do its work, must be poured out. Light’s the same way. It must go where there is darkness, and there it does its thing. With these words, Jesus speaks about our influence and the difference we’re called to make, indeed will make, if we step up to the call of God upon our lives and are faithful to the work that God calls us to dare and do. For Christians to be influencers, we must be distinctive and involved.

We have a tendency, though, do we not, to lean towards comfort, conformity, and complacency? Most of the time, we just want to blend in. Become a part. Let others come up with the plans and policies with which we live our lives, and then simply follow their lead. We follow in unquestioning allegiance in the ways of others. But by doing so, we give away our distinctive voice and character, and influence, and before we know it, we’re simply repeating what others say, and uncritically and unthinkingly proclaiming someone else’s vision and version of truth, or living out someone’s else’s vision and version of life. That’s the danger that Jesus is confronting here—our tendency to lose our uniqueness in our effort to simply blend in.

Salt and light never blend in. Whenever they show up, they change the situation. They change the look and flavor of whatever they’re poured into. By their very nature, salt and light are change agents, and so should we be! An influence for good. Distinctive, involved, and hard to ignore!

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The clatter and din and anxiety of these days in this current political climate—it’s immense. It’s really too much to take. We’re all on edge, have you noticed? No matter our political leanings, we are a hurting and uncertain people right now. Many of us feel attacked, embittered, misunderstood, and to one extent or another, we feel like our personal agency has been compromised or even taken from us. Do you come this morning exhausted by it all?

It’s easy to become a part of the uproar. To add to the chaos of these times. The greatest danger in doing so, though, if Jesus’ words here have anything to do with it, is that we lose ourselves in the process. We can easily give away too much of ourselves or lose our distinctiveness and character if we give in to the hand-wringing, the grenade-lobbing, the senselessness of this loaded and loud moment.

I believe that Jesus words to us this day, amid all this, is to take up a different manner, to undergo an attitude transplant, to take a bigger perspective, to step off the battlefield that so many of our fellow Americans are waging war on—trying to destroy one another on, and to step up onto a different sort of field, into a different way of being. To become an influencer, to cultivate something new, a different conversation, to be the people who plant new seed beneath our feet—something nourishing and life-giving. To rise out from all the messiness, and practice a new way, speak in a new voice. To be difference-makers. Live in the sort of way where we can be strong and distinctive reminders to anyone who pays attention, that we stand for the way of love and grace. That we have no use for the ways of hate and fear and division. That’s being salt. That’s being light. When everything we are, everything we do, and everything we say points toward love. That’s the Christian’s influence. You and I are agents. We’re here to sprinkle, plant, and shed a little bit of heaven around.

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No one ever said that would be easy. Discipleship is daring work. That’s why it’s so rare these days. It is into this world full of accusatory, pointing fingers, furled eyebrows, and snarling teeth that Jesus has placed us and called us to be salt and light. And that’s hard. Following Jesus is hard. It’s so much easier to hate and speak than it is to love and listen.

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus says.

“But that’s hard!” we say.

Jesus replies, “Yes, neighbor, I know,”

So let’s trudge on, living our way into the way of love. Acting as salt and light of, for, and in the world. It’s a daring way, and it is the Way of Jesus.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Come By Here

Come By Here | Patrick Ryan – Psalm 27 and John 1:1-18 – 12/4/16

Sermon audio

We’re singing during the sermon this morning. If you would open your hymnals to #338, we will sing one verse at a time at different times during the sermon. The hymn is Kum By Yah, but we’re gonna sing it this morning with one little tweak. Kum By Yah, translated into English, means Come By Here, so I invite you with each verse to sing the words Come By Here with me.

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There are 3 birth narratives recorded in the Gospels. We know, of course, about two of them. We read them every Christmas. They’re the ones every Christmas Pageant and every nativity set is based on: the Maji from Matthew—gold, frankincense, and myrrh; the shepherds kneeling and the cattle lowing come from Luke’s version of the story. But John’s gospel has a birth narrative, too. But the birth story that John is most interested isn’t Jesus’—it’s ours!

Verse 9:

The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world.

That’s it. That’s all that John has to say about Jesus birth. Only 13 words.

Let’s look at the next 4 verses, 10-13:

The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him. But those who did welcome him, those who believed in his name, he authorized to become God’s children, born not from blood nor from human desire or passion, but born from God.

None of that has anything to say about Jesus’ birth. But it has everything to do with our birth.

In the person of Jesus Christ, we can be born in a spiritual way, so that we have eyes to see the world in a different way—that God’s presence and fingerprints are all over this world, that God has come to give us second birth so that we may really live. We are born not from blood or from human desire or passion (those are all way to describe our normal conception and birth), but instead we are born from God, and it is in that spiritual birth that we have and live a new life in Christ. That’s the kind of birth John is most interested in this Advent. Not Jesus’, but ours. With this Jesus, God has come close so that we may become something new. God becomes human so we can have a newly-birthed vision.

That’s the miracle and message of Advent. In Jesus, God has come by here.

Join me in singing verse 1 of Come By Here.

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Advent also means making space for God to arrive. This is a season to move around the furniture of— and remove all the clutter in—our hearts, our minds, our lives, so that God has space to arrive—to be Emmanuel, God with us and for us. But the greatest news of all is that God is up to something much bigger than that. Christmas isn’t so much about Christ being born inside us as it is about the coming of Christ into the world. As I mentioned last week, Advent is an invasion. It’s the time for God to take over. And God doesn’t merely want to move into the room we make inside of ourselves. That’s way too small an idea—and way too small a space for our infinite and immeasurable God. God wants to take over the earth! In the Message translation of v.14, Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson, puts it this way:

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.

Christmas is God ringing the front door bell, dropping His luggage on the front porch of the world, and telling every single one of us that he’s not here to visit. He’s here to move in. For good! So we better make space for him. Advent is God telling us to skootch over on the couch a bit so there’s a spot for Him right next to us! Advent is the world’s chance—every heart’s chance—to prepare Him room.

In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come by here!

Join me in singing verse 2 of Come By Here.

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Advent is when we ask for God to come close, and Christmas is the rude invasion of the Divine into our neighborhoods! But our making space for God to dive headfirst into our lives means that God takes a huge risk.

Advent exists because our Creator God risks becoming a part of His own creation. It’s when God, the Divine Artist, dives into His own painting. Christmas is when the Infinite becomes finite. When the Immutable becomes vulnerable. When the One who is Eternal Life finds out what it’s like to be mortal. When the Invisible One takes on skin—sees through watery eyes and hears with fleshy ears.

Christmas means God becomes an infant who cries, needs His mother to feed Him from her body. This infant will grow into a man who will shed salty tears when his best friend Lazarus dies. He will shed more of them when those He called His friends betray Him. Later, He will shed blood when cross and crown splinter the surface of his skin. God knows life and He knows death, and in His being born and in His dying, God through Christ walks with us through this life. Right by our side. Come hell or high water. He’s never run away from trouble. He’ll never leave our side.

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I have a friend who has displayed this Divine truth to me—this kind of hell or high water faithfulness. This “stick-by-you-no matter-what-edness” that we’re talking about. But in order to tell that story, I need to back up a bit to my elementary school days. We’d go on field trips—to the park, the Capitol building in Richmond, even DC. Let’s say I was in the 4th grade. Maybe three foot ten on tip-toes. On field trips like these, there’s a ton of walking involved, and even though I was supposed to be buddied-up for safety, my buddy would always grow impatient with my short and slow steps, so he was always ahead of me. I could never keep up with my schoolmates or my teachers. I got used to walking far behind others. That’s just the way it was. Patrick’s pulling up the rear again!

Fast-forward to high school. My best friend’s name was Erica. She was here two weeks ago for the wedding. On a trip to Montreat our Freshman year—with a lot of walking and a lot of mountains!—she and I would walk together from one place to another, and she noticed my tendency to walk behind her, even when we weren’t walking all that fast, even when there was plenty of room for me right beside her, I stayed in back of her.

At the end of our week together, she bought me a gift. It was a little plastic card, something I could carry with me in my wallet. It said,

Do not walk ahead of me. Do not walk behind me. Walk beside me, and be my friend.

And in that moment, and for many years after that, through her presence, Erica would show me what the presence of God was like—it was like a best friend who wants me to walk right beside her! In Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God walks with us, beside us, stride for stride. With him, we will never walk alone. In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come beside us!

Join me in singing verse 3 of Come By Here.

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As we sing our songs this Advent, we praise God for all the ways He has become fully known to us. The heavens were full of angel song that first Christmas, and they still are. Advent is when we take time to pay attention to the way all of creation both sings and echoes God’s praise. If anything is true about the first song that John the gospel writer sings, it’s that Christ was God’s first song. That Christ existed in the heart of God from the very start.

It’s no accident that the first three words of John’s gospel are “In the beginning,” the same three words than begin the book of Genesis. With those words, the 4th gospel declares two cosmic truths at once—that Christ was with God before the very first word that brought creation into being, and that with the coming of Christ to earth in the person of Jesus, God renews creation, starts over again—breathes life into all things now just as He did at the very beginning of time.

With the incarnation of Jesus, God declares to us that every aspect of our human lives matter to God because He has lived this human life with us. Its ups and downs, its hardships and victories, in all of its confinements and confoundments, God promises to be Emmanuel, and that God declares that there is no worry too small and no challenge too great.

This is the Good News of Advent: that God in the person of Christ lives it all with us, right by our side, sharing life with us, stride for stride. Advent is that song we hear and the heavens echo that promises us that our lives and our prayers are heard and understood by a God who has ears—ears that were once shaped just like ours, that God listens intently because God loves us and understands us intimately. And with Him here as our Emmanuel, we will never walk alone.

Join me in singing verse 4 of Come By Here.

In the person of Jesus, God has—and still does—come by here!

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

You Are the Cilantro of the Earth

A sermon on Isaiah 58:1-12 and Matthew 5:13-20 preached on February 9th, 2014

Sermon audio

Jesus continues his sermon on the mount with these words. Last week, we looked at the beatitudes where Jesus pours blessings upon those who are most likely not to receive the blessing of the world. The poor in spirit, the meek, and the oppressed among us.

Through his first sermon, Jesus is setting up the scaffolding for his entire ministry. It’s a ministry based on going out to where the people are and blessing them. Jesus will live his life traveling from place to place to be where the people are. Throughout the gospels Jesus and his disciples traveled from village to village, healing those who were outcasts. Offering a word of invitation and welcome to those who had been cast out because they were too sick to be welcomed in by others. Jesus spent his life connecting with whoever would listen—whoever had ears and hearts open wide enough to hear and obey.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a field trip. Life as followers of Jesus calls us to engage the world with good news—to go out and make Christ known to others simply by sharing ourselves with others and letting others know that God’s blessings are still plentiful

We live the life that Jesus calls us to when we immerse ourselves into the life of our neighbors, our community, and our world.

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After Jesus pours out blessings upon those who are not blessed by the world, Jesus gives us a unique calling with these worlds from the sermon on the mount: you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

These days when we use the phrase “salt of the earth” we mean something different that what Jesus meant it by it. When we describe someone as “salt of the earth” these days, we’re saying that we think he or she is an unblemished example of what God intends for a person to be—they might live an ethical life, they’re nice to everyone, they’re annoyingly flawless—the always cheerful ones, the ones who brush their teeth three times a day and floss too, the ones who always make it to church no matter what.

We’ve co-opted the phrase to mean someone who’s as close to perfect as any human being can be. But when Jesus uses the phrase, he’s saying something entirely different. Jesus isn’t describing status or even behavior, but function. We are to function in the world as salt functions when you use it in a recipe. What Jesus is saying is that we should add a kick of flavor to a decisively bland world.

So, in order to understand Jesus better, let’s leave salt behind and let’s substitute another seasoning into this recipe that Jesus is conjuring up. Instead of salt, let’s be cilantro.

 Jesus says, “You are the cilantro of the earth.”

We’re seasoning that this world needs, and a dash of us sprinkled on top of and then stirred into the world gives it the kick it’s missing. What does Emeril Lagasse say? “Bam!”

See, when Jesus calls us “cilantro”, he’s saying we’re here to save a world from becoming too ordinary, dull even. Jesus is saying we live to add zest to life.

Notice the way Jesus says we are cilantro. He doesn’t say we can be cilantro or he’s making us into cilantro. We don’t hope to become cilantro. Jesus says we already are cilantro. That is how we live in the world as disciples of Jesus. We’re here to kick everything up a notch.

Cilantro and salt are no good on their own. I figured that out the hard way back in high school when a couple of friends and I played truth or dare, and someone dared me to eat a heaping teaspoon of salt. It was terrible. It was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done.

That night I found out that salt is no good on its own. Salt has to be used on or in something to find its purpose. A little cilantro in a bowl of salsa and you have an excellent way to use tortilla chips, but no one’s ever had a plate of cilantro for dinner. Neither salt nor cilantro are any good on their own. They are intended to be used as a part of a bigger recipe. Jesus wants us out there mixing ourselves into the world. Jesus is out there calling us to be fully immersed in our community so we can add some flavor to it. Jesus is telling us that we serve our best purpose as his disciples when we mix ourselves up and blend ourselves into the recipe of the world.

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I’m no scientist, but as I understand it, light works in the same way. In order for light to work, it has to reflect off of something. Until light bounces off a wall or anything at all for that matter, it isn’t yet light. Light to needs something to shine onto before it serves a purpose. We are the light of the world: no matter where we are, we reflect off of everything around us so that others may see things more clearly.

As Christ’s disciples, we shed light in dark places, we illuminate dim corners, we lend radiance to the world’s gloominess. And remember, Jesus isn’t saying we can be light if we feel like it or try hard enough. Jesus isn’t saying that we can be light when we want to, Jesus is saying we already are the light of the world. We are the one’s who shine God’s light so that no one needs to stumble their way through the darkness. We are light so that others can find their way.

Jesus wants us out in the world shining brightly, sharing our light with others, reflecting off of something. Just like light itself, we are only useful when we immerse ourselves into the world so that others may see again. This is our calling as disciples of Jesus. To be salt and light. We are called to plunge ourselves into the world. To give the world taste and texture, definition and shape.

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Many of us in Barboursville met in the basement of First United Methodist Church last Tuesday evening. A couple of early birds showed up and gathered around 6 tables, and by the time 7 o’clock came around we had 8 or 10 tables gathered in a much larger shape—and even then there wasn’t enough room for everybody around those tables. And it’s good that we all seemed to agree that we as a Christian community here in Barboursville need to begin some sort of outreach program to take care of those in our community who need extra help and resources.

We decided to start off by scheduling a monthly soup kitchen at 1st UMC, with the meal provided by a specific church each month. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We also discussed the idea of providing kids with tutoring, visiting the area guidance counselors and teachers to find out from them what the specific needs of our community really are. And it sounds like the Barboursville Police Department will be a very helpful partner in this task, providing us with their expertise and insight into who needs our help. People are thinking three dimensionally to help alleviate both the causes and the results of poverty in Barboursville.

It is when we extend ourselves outward into our own neighborhood and answer the call of those who are suffering, that we serve Christ—that we act as salt for the earth and as light for the world.

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How else can we be salt and light for the world? Is there something burning inside of you that the world needs to see? What gifts have you been given that would add flavor to either this church or to our community? Is it painting or singing? Playing an instrument during a worship service? Could it be tutoring a child across town on a Tuesday afternoon or spending an hour or two being a listening presence to a person who’s hurting? It is making art? Swinging a hammer? Reading to a child? Teaching an adult in our community to read?

You are salt. You are light. Jesus calls us out into the world to make it more vibrant and zesty—to share a bit of the good news of the life and light that we find in Jesus Christ.

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Now might be an important time to say that we do none of these things because we think it will earn our salvation. If we live our lives trying to earn our way onto God’s good side, then we’re not doing what we do for a good reason. We don’t earn God’s favor. It is only God’s grace through Jesus Christ that has earned us anything. All of our efforts to make the world a better place, everything we do to share ourselves with others as salt and light, should not be seen as our way of gaining our salvation, but as our grateful and joyful response for what has already and freely been given to us through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The love that God has for us is so great that we cannot help but share it with others.

This is how we should live and serve—in grateful response to God’s amazing and gracious love for us. This is how we should live—immersed in the world, infusing it with flavor and brightness.

We are salt for the earth and light for the world.

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful.

Alleluia! Amen!