Sermon for January 24, 2016

Verlee A. Copeland, Preaching

Matthew 5:1-16

                                    Pass the Salt Please

Names matter. Imagine this, Juliet leans from her balcony in the second act of a certain famous Shakespearean Play, tormented by the discovery that her beloved Romeo is of the house of Montague, the name of a sworn enemy to her Capulet family.

Juliet pines:

O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet.


[Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

Juliet continues:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself.

Romeo desperately wants a new name and claims it for the sake of his beloved:

“I take thee at thy word:

Call me but Love, and I'll be new baptized;

Henceforth I never will be Romeo.”

In the past two weeks we’ve discussed the importance of names, our formal names, those bestowed upon us by those who loved us into being, the very name written on the certificate of our birth. Then we talked about the names given by God, as when Jesus rose up dripping wet and newborn as a baby, a voice from heaven was heard to say, “This is my Beloved.” And God called Jesus Beloved. God claimed him and named him as God who knows us by heart calls us too.

Some of us grew up with other names, nicknames, like Ace or in the case of one of our sons, Squirt, even though he grew to be 6’2”. Perhaps we’ve been on the receiving end of playground taunts. A favorite among the boys in my neighborhood was to call one another Dumb Dumb Dodo Head. Don’t ask me why. Other names are terms of endearment, like Sweetheart and Honey and Sunshine.

         Whatever our birth name or our playground name or our term of endearment, Jesus gives us new names in today’s scripture. When we join the generations of people before us who gather in the imagination of our hearts to hear him preach on the side of the Mount above the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls us “Salt” and “Light”.

         Listen again,“You are the salt of the earth…

  “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

         You are salt, given by God to enhance the world. You are the salt of the earth, the kind of person who will give away whatever you have if someone needs it. You are gutsy. When the situation requires it, you try to do the right thing.

         You are light, given by God to illumine the world. Your positive spirit radiates hope to others when they are discouraged. You look on the bright side of things, expecting to see the ways God is already at work in every situation for good, even when the current moment seems bleak.

         Salt and Light are big boy names, big girl names, the kind of names we want to live up to. But notice that Jesus isn’t setting the bar high and urging us to reach for it or to grow into it. Jesus says, “You, yes you. You already ARE the salt of the earth. You already ARE the light of the world.” You aren’t some holy fixer upper project. There’s nothing wrong with you. You are whole and perfect and beautiful and beloved and salty and light just the way God made you, just the way you are.

         My God, what a relief, if only we believed it. Isn’t it interesting though, that this claiming us and naming us as Salt as Light, is preceded by Jesus’ recognition of our vulnerability, our humility, and our humanity? “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those that mourn, those that hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the pure in heart, the merciful, the peacemakers.

         Jesus’ tongue in cheek humor once again peeks through. He calls us blessed in our capacity for mercy, our yearning for peace, so inherent in the character of a person of faith that we can no more separate ourselves from these qualities than salt can be extracted easily from sea water, or light really hidden under a basket. Anyone who owns a wicker basket knows that no matter how tightly you set it down upon the light, that light is going to shine through.

         Here Jesus is acting a little like the psychologist who understands that you have to say a whole lot of positive things to a child for them to consistently behave in certain ways. He’s reinforcing our saltiness, our desire to be righteous and faithful and worthy of the trust God places in us to be the right people who do the right thing.

         Jesus is blessing us for who we are, not trying to make of us something that we are not. Jesus is commissioning us. You’re salt, flavor the world, You’re light, shine. That’s the way it is. You can be no other. Period.

         Throughout history, it has always been ordinary people who have embodied God’s Salt and God’s Light.  

Consider a man named Jorge Mario Bergolio, who worked briefly as a chemical technologist and nightclub bouncer before going to seminary. Becoming a Jesuit Priest, he was called a number of new names over time: Superior, Archbishop, and Cardinal. Since February 2013, Jorge Mario Bergolio has received a new name, Pope Francis, the people’s Pope. He is known for his humility, his emphasis on God’s mercy, concern for the poor and interfaith dialogue. Not everybody gets to be the Pope, but that’s beside the point isn’t it? God used a nightclub bouncer named Jorge to bring Salt and Light to the bland and darkened places of our world.

Consider another ordinary man, Nicholas Winton, who more than 75 years ago responded to a situation that deeply troubled him. This is his story of Salt and Light.

Winton was born in England in 1909, and baptized in the Anglican Church by grandparents of German Jewish decent. He grew up to be a stockbroker in London. In 1938 his friend asked Winton to forgo a ski vacation and visit Czechoslovakia as part of a British Committee for Refugees to Czechoslovakia.

As part of his trip he toured refugee camps. Winton was concerned that war was imminent and worried about the increasing violence against the Jewish community. He was made aware of a Jewish agency in Britain, which helped rescue 10,000 Jewish children.

         Winton decided to start a relief effort of his own which would require raising 50 pounds per child to be paid to the British government just for transport. He also worked to raise other necessary funds and find foster homes for each child, placing ads in local newspapers. Nicholas's team persuaded British custom officials to allow all the children in despite incomplete documentation

Through it all he kept his job as a stockbroker by day, and worked on his relief efforts by night.

In total it is believed that he saved 669 children. Winton never spoke a word about his efforts. It wasn’t until his wife found a scrapbook in the attic 50 years later that he began to speak publicly about his story.

Knighted Sir Nicholas Winton by the Queen of England in March of 2003, he died last year at the age of 106 after reuniting with some of the more than 6,000 members of his “extended family. In an emotional tribute, a former elected Labor Party member Lord Dubs described what it was like to be one of the children who was put on that train out of Czechoslovakia. "His legacy is that when there is a need for you to do something for your fellow human beings, you have got to do it,"

How will God use your Salt and Light to flavor the world? You may not think you are good enough or worthy enough or gifted enough or lovable enough to make a meaningful impact. God thinks otherwise. Take a few moments today before spending time with people known by other names like Bronco and Patriot to recall examples of how God has worked through you to help someone else. This may seem difficult at first.

Call to mind just one time when you have been worthy of your name, Salt or Light. Then imagine our stories as a whole people, collected one story by one story, by one hundred stories at a time. We can then see how God works through each one of us and all of us together in Christ to change the world.

If you imagine for a moment that your Salt and Light don’t matter, consider this. For one single week, between yesterday and this coming Friday morning, Our First Parish Church of Jesus’ Salt and Light will serve about 860 people. You do the math: About 125 people were fed through the Winter Farmer’s Market here yesterday; 160 men, women and children were nourished today through worship and Sunday School; 200 people will receive encouragement and joy through the Seacoast Community Chorus Concert this afternoon; 150 people will be comforted in their grief at a funeral for Betty McGuire on Tuesday morning; 75 men and women will be satisfied through their Tuesday evening dinner at Table of Plenty; 60 people will be encouraged in faith through book and Bible studies; 50 boys and girls will grow in leadership through scouting programs, 30 people will continue to recover through AA programs, 40 people will be strengthened through Fit for Life early morning classes all by Friday. God will be busy this week serving 860 people through this First Parish Church of Jesus’ Amazing Salt and Light and Remarkable, Beloved You. Thank you God. Thank you Jesus. Pass the Salt, Please.