13“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
To Preserve and to Hold
She worked over the terra-cotta urns. Stuffing large fish into the pot followed by generous layers of salt. Her children ran at her feet in and out of their home. Today’s catch would feed her family when times got hard.
Where we add salt for flavor or to preserve our constant surplus of food— for her- salt kept her family alive. Allowed them to eat in times when food was scarce.
In a similar way, laws gave people structure and guidance on how to navigate the ins and outs of daily communal life. Where we might see laws as restrictive - laws kept people alive.
in days before light switches, street lights, and iPhone flash lights— light brought clarity. Light was a guide in the midst of darkness and chaos.
Listeners to the words of Jesus knew that salt and law and light were necessary to preserve life.
Todays text comes immediately on the heels of the Beatitudes. The great vision of the world as it should be.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God.
These first seven blessings cast a vision for how we should live in community- they imagine a world we are called to live into each and every day.
But this was not the world as it was. The world as it was was a mess— that’s why each blessing is followed by a promise- that living in this way will have rewards— the people must trust that the rewards will come—
The end of this blessing let’s the people know that the road will not be a easy. Living in this way - working for a world where it is not the rich and powerful that gain rewards— but the meek and merciful peacemakers who do— is radical and challenges the status quo and is seen as a political threat.
So when the people live into this way — when they buck the status quo and become merciful righteous peacemakers — they will surely hit hard times.
So Jesus assures them—
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
The Beatitudes and todays text are inseparable.
Because in order to live into the vision of a world that is ‘not yet’ .. in order to sustain real persecution and the pain of being reviled — you must preserve your strength. You must do what you need to do to maintain your light.
And for this we need to be ready. We need each other, and we need the best tools to help us on the long path of living into the kingdom of heaven on earth.
We need to become salt to preserve, and become law to guide- so that we may be light.
Salt preserves because it absorbs the water that bacteria need to grow. When salt is present it displaces the breeding ground for poison and disease - it keeps food fresh and life giving. Jesus reminds the people that they are to be salt. They are to preserve this way of being - this way of meekness and mourning, righteousness and peacemaking- in the midst of adversity and strife.
The second section of todays reading- one which is too often overlooked- or even cut from this passage— declares the law as another tool for preserving this way of being.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.
— Our protestant Christian sensibilities have an guttural adversity to any promotion of ‘the law’ as primary— but it is important to note that this is due to years of abuse and co-optation for menacing purposes—
Jesus was a man who embodied the law- every bit of it— and this law is to serve as a guide to sustain us.
Where our state and national laws negotiated, fought and politicked for - the law of God transcends - the law of God is constant- and the law of God is not a box to be checked- but a way of being to be lived.
When we live this way of being grounded in the law- boiled down to genuine ‘love of God’ - beyond our own self interest— and ‘love of neighbor’ with a constant eye to expanding our definition of ‘neighbor’
we see that we have what we need for our light to be preserved in the midst of adversity.
We have the tools. And we must activate them.
We are in an interesting time.
A time when we feel division in our selves- in our communities and in our country.
When it seems that we have lost sight of that Beatitudes world.
The world where the merciful peacemakers - those who mourn, the poor and the hungry sure don’t seem to be experience blessing.
In my work as the Director of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado, I work daily with those who experience marginalization and oppression. We work to challenge stereotypes about Muslim and refugee communities. We work to combat the racism that is poison deeply embedded in our psyches and systems. We stand with and empower those who are homeless and in deep poverty. We work for rights, equality and thriving for people who are GLBTQ, and stand up for women’s reproductive rights and choice.
These are more than political battles. This is work for the human spirit. For life and thriving and blessing for all people. Even those with whom we disagree.
This is work that is easy to feel bogged down in in these days. It is easy to feel disheartened and frustrated - even reviled and persecuted.
We are in a time when those who seek to transcend political divisiveness and vitriol have difficult work ahead.
But there is good news. We are not the first to face a world that feels overwhelming and messy. There are millions who have gone before us - for century upon century - there are those who have worked to keep the light shining when the obstacles seemed daunting.
From the story of Hagar who demands to be blessed even after being rejected and despised,
to a young couple - ready to deliver a baby- searching for a place to be welcomed when all have denied them shelter.
To those whose names are famous for enduring hardship and shining light in chaos- from Harriet Tubman to Rosa Parks and Ella Baker, Martin Luther King Junior, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa….
But in the shadows- making a way when there was no way are thousands of women who raise children while enduring abuse and marginalization, people who find strength to speak truth to power, to engage in the difficult conversation, to stand on the side of those who are cast out, bullied and ignored.
People who everyday bring their salt to spaces filled with bacteria in order to preserve life. People who embody the letter of the law— committed to loving God and loving our neighbors- all of our neighbors— even when it isn’t ‘cool’ or a majority opinion….
How do they sustain in the face of hardship? How do they raise their voice when they know it will ‘rock the boat’…
There is a story that I have been repeating in my head in these days….
Story of the elephants and the stick….
These are days when we need something to hold onto. Something that will keep us focused on what is life-giving and good. Something that will help us endure the struggle, strife, and persecution of living into the Beatitudes world.
Hold onto me, and you can endure. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the refugee and the stranger— love one another- always—
Be like salt- preserve that which brings life.
Hold onto the law. Love God and love one another before all else—-
and let your light shine.
May it be so.