Transcribed from the audio.
Please pray with me. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our collective hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today’s gospel lesson picks up almost at the very beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Right before the passage you just heard are the Beatitudes, all the Blesseds. And Jesus is lifting up for the disciples, and us, what it means to be a follower. He’s doing one of his seminal teachings: telling them and trying to illustrate what that walk looks like. And so to help make it concrete for the disciples and us, Jesus uses two rather common metaphors: salt and light. And he says to the disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” Note that he uses the present tense. Not you will be; he says you are. And then he unpacks what that looks like. How they and we are to live that out, to make that manifest.
When you hear someone referred to as the salt of the earth, what comes to mind? What attributes, what actions in that person’s life come to mind when you think of someone being referred to as the salt of the earth? I think for most of us we would think of someone who is loving and caring and generous and compassionate, selfless in doing things for others—the very attributes and qualities that we would each want to emulate in our own lives. And, of course, in the season after Epiphany, we have the image of light and we all think of Jesus the Christ as the light who came into the world to overcome the darkness. Jesus says that his disciples and we are the light of the world and that we’re called to go out and share that good news that Jesus unpacks in the Sermon on the Mount.
And of course, we know that the theological word for sharing the good news is that scary “E” word called evangelism. It seems in the Episcopal Church that we have a particularly acute allergic reaction to the word evangelism. For us it connotes something really rather terrifying. I think for some of us we have an image of sort of a crazy person with a bullhorn shouting on a street corner. And that’s nothing that most of us would particularly care to emulate in our lives. We like the salt of the earth; we don’t like the image of being on a corner with a bullhorn. But I don’t think that that’s what Jesus is saying. I don’t think that that’s what Jesus is calling us to do and to be. Listen again to what he said. “Let your light so shine that others may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” It’s not about shining a light on us. It’s about letting the light within us shine outwardly. It’s being clear what the motivation is. Nevertheless, we hang tight to that allergic reaction to evangelism.
This was brought home for me very dramatically a little over a year ago. We had a 20s and 30s retreat and it was part of my doctoral work with young adult ministry. We had invited Jason Evans, the young adult missioner from the diocese, to come and to walk us through a time of knowing God’s story, finding our place in God’s story, and telling our story, trying to take away some of the allergic reaction to evangelism. Jason asked the group, “What makes you anxious about the word evangelism?” And the response was immediate, quick, vehement: judgmental, divisive, fanatics, offensive, pushy. He then took a little time to talk about the gospel as the good news and asked us, “What’s the good news in your life?” There was a pause and then thoughtfully, quietly, slowly the responses came: relationships, hope, promise, unconditional love, never alone, not totally up to us. The contrast was dramatic, to say the least. And I think that what Jesus is telling us is: it’s not an either/or, it’s a way of being a both/and. And why wouldn’t we want to share the good news—the things that enliven and give purpose and meaning to our lives?
Nelson Mandela got to the heart of this in his inaugural address. He said, “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” An outward focus. Poet Kathleen Norris, in writing about evangelism, takes it a step further. She said that once she could recognize that evangelism was not so much about telling the faith, as living it, she was then able to make the connection with Ezra Pound who admonished poets: “Do not describe, present.” Don’t tell, show. “Let your lives so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
I think for many of us we’re worried about shining a light on ourselves, trying to come off as better than others around us. That’s not Jesus’ teaching; that’s not Jesus’ imperative to us. It is that these things already abide in us and that it is incumbent upon us as followers to live into them, to show, to present, to let the light shine to others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven.
I leave you with one last question as you ponder how one shares the good news. Bryan Berghoef has written a number of books on pub theology and it’s known by different names; some people call it Theology on Tap. But it’s essentially having meaningful conversations about God outside of the church—if you will, in a pub over a beer and a burger or Diet Coke or whatever your beverage of choice may be. You lift up interesting questions to have a conversation about and to toss around. I leave this one with you that he has in one of his books: “Is Jesus more significant for what he said or what he did?” If that question were posed about you or me, how would people respond? It’s not an either/or; it’s a both/and. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.” “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Amen.