Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Salt and Light

You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world. Jesus says that his followers are these things, seasoning the earth with taste; illuminating the glory of God in the world.

Today, we know salt to be the first thing you put on your food to season it, and it is often accompanied by its counterpart: pepper. But Jesus calls his disciples, his followers, and the people gathered on the mountainside to preach, salt. Why would he say that?

Salt has been used at least since 6000 BC.  Salt was so important that it was sometimes used as a medium of exchange, a kind of currency.  (Our word "salary" is derived from "salt.")  If someone traded salt for a poorly-performing slave, one might say the slave was "not worth his salt."

Some commentators will tell you that salt never loses its taste, but that is not quite true.  The chemical impurities of salt from the Dead Sea, the likely source for most salt in Galilee where Jesus spent most of his ministry, could cause it to decompose and, indeed, "lose its taste" (5:13). 

Jesus does not, you'll notice, state this in future tense.  It's not that the followers of Jesus will some day become the "salt of the land."  They are already that right now.  So what they say and do are are important.  They matter.  Like salt, the followers of Jesus do not necessarily draw attention to themselves so much as they "flavor" everything around them. 

Jesus also tells those gathered to hear him: "You are the light of the world."  Matthew had previously cited the prophet Isaiah to say that "the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light" (4:16). While that statement pointed to Jesus, this one refers to those who would follow him.

His mission is now their mission.  His words and deeds are their words and deeds.  Jesus has not yet gone into detail about the specifics of this mission, but the Sermon on the Mount (which goes from here until 7:28) will have ample opportunity to say what it is. 

This mission is public--it happens in the open, like a city set on a hill--and it benefits everyone.  Even its candlelight "beams brightly" to all in a house.  In fact, the only thing that can really mess it up is the active attempt to snuff it out.  Or, to put it a different way, the light can be extinguished only by ignoring the needs of others for "light" and insisting on one's own preference that everyone sit in the dark. 

In the time of Jesus, and before, the Torah was sometimes seen as "salt" for Israel.  Also, the rabbis and religious authorities were, themselves, sometimes referred to as the "lights" of Israel.  Now, Matthew tells us, through Jesus' sermon, that the followers of Jesus are "the salt of the earth" and "the light of the world."  For the Torah-minded Matthew, this is a stunning statement. 

You are the salt of the earth, so don't lose your taste. You are the light of the world, so don't hide. God has created each and every one of us, not to grow stale or be hidden, but to be known, to be loved, to be shared with the world. The world knows God because it knows the people of God. They will know God through people courageous enough to show themselves, and all their love, to them. 

And the world needs you. Desperately. The world needs to know God's love. So add your flavor to it; shine your light in it. 


There is no part of life
you do not touch, O God,
infusing your rich fragrance— gritty and real—
getting in underneath the surface,
drawing out and lifting up winding love around
until defenses are lowered, barriers broken down
and the power of your love reveals the beauty
you intended for all your children.

May our actions draw attention to you,
to the richness you bring to all life
and the abundance you share,
setting the scene for us to share too.

Help us to bring light
into all the darkness of life, spreading hope for a better world,
a world where justice is made real by your children living together
in harmony.
Help us to bring salt
into the blandness of life,
encouraging vitality and joy in living
in a world that dares to hope
for the future that you promise
where all your children will know themselves
loved and valued
and treasured,
created in your image,
bringing you glory forever.

(Thank you, and credit to, Rev Liz Crumlish of the Church of Scotland, for this prayer)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Epiphany: God Requires What?

One of our readings this week is Micah 6:1-8 (in addition to Psalm 15, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, and Matthew 5:1-12). This passage is easily a top 5 favorite of Christians. It sums up beautifully and succinctly what God wants us to do: "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God."

Life gives us many requirements: we have to pay our taxes, we have to pay money in exchange for goods and services, we have to get a passport if we are travelling to a different country, we have to follow the rules if we are to participate in a game or sport...the list goes on and on...

What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love kindness. And walk humbly with your God.

So who was this prophet anyway? All we know about Micah is that he was from a small village, Moresheth, a prophet who spoke for the poor farm workers who were suffering at the hands of the powerful landlords. Micah was the voice of the worker and that of common everyday people. He saw the injustice that was going on in society, was quite willing to name them and felt called to address the ones in power and to speak against evils that were no longer tolerable.

Micah was not removed from the suffering of his people. Micah knew that justice would not come from the state or the power structure for most, if not all, of the leadership were preoccupied and caught up in matters of comfort, prosperity, and security. Justice, as history has shown, arises out of the people themselves, who having been alienated from what belongs to them, if not already taken away from them, either begin down a path of death, or somehow by God's grace, dare to envision change, new ways of doing things and different and dynamic alternatives to their current unjust conditions. What does the Lord require but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God? To do justice is not a romantic ideal nor an abstract concept. Justice asks of us as a people to work together, to truthfully critique the present unjust system and to find new alternatives to change the system. It also involves the wealthiest nation in the world to give back what never belonged to her. Justice is able to disrupt, dismantle, break down, disarm, and transform systems and people when we dare to see what is really happening here and around the world without growing cynical and closed off. Because we are able to come to an understanding that every human being matters, that God matters, which is why doing justice is so closely intertwined with loving kindness. We can see all kinds of injustices, tragedies, atrocities, but seeing it is not enough. For it is in seeing the injustice and being moved in doing something about it that we dare to change what is unjust.

The Good Samaritan who dares not pass by another human being, even when that other was considered an enemy (Luke 10:25-37). The father of the elder son in the prodigal son who did not choose one son over another but found his two arms wide enough to embrace both his sons (Luke 15: 11-32). Mary and the other women standing at the foot of the cross no matter how painful and frightening (John 19:25-30). Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah weeping together in their grief (Ruth 1:8-10) . The woman with her alabaster flask who broke it open and poured it out without holding back (Luke 7: 36-50), and Jesus who wept, prayed, broke bread, touched, and healed the people are real examples of loving kindness, loving tenderly, loving steadfastly.

And yet in our society, to love kindness does not come easily. Perhaps this is because loving tenderly involves one knowing confidently one is loved and is able to take the risk to be moved, to be vulnerable, and to be able to see another person's suffering as one's own.

For instance, to walk humbly is to neither to have your nose up in the air nor your shoulders slouched over your feet. To walk humbly is to not exalt yourself, to not worry or be bothered by other people's opinions of you. To walk humbly is not to be above someone or below someone, but rather with someone. It is not thinking you can do it all on your own, carrying the burdens upon your limited human shoulders. It is not forgetting you are human. It is not living without grace. It is not playing God. So maybe walking humbly with God is about paying attention, paying attention to who we are and what is around us, listening to the cries and the stories of other human beings as well as to our own stories waiting on God. It is as Micah said, "I will wait on God and God will hear me. Then when there are wars and bombings in Kosovo, Iraq, in the Middle East, human beings will gather around the world, talking with one another, having discussions, getting to know each other, praying together, and standing up to say, "No more! No More!"

Following God has these life-giving, bondage-breaking, justice-making requirements. We are called to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I am in debt to the words of Angela Ying on http://day1.org/722-god_requires_what

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Epiphany: Follow Me

Sixteen years ago, at Warren Willis Youth Camp, on a Friday night that summer, I approached the altar with dozens of other young people, and prayed to God: "I don't know what this really means, but I want to follow Jesus. I have no clue where this will take me or what I am really doing, but I know that you love me, and I love you back." 

Our gospel reading this week is Matthew 4: 12-23. Take a moment to read it.

As much as I would love to fully relate to Simon and Andrew, I have come to appreciate their story too much. 16 years ago, I went up to an altar with dozens of other kids my age, with the support of several camp counselors, worship music, and the expectation that something would come out of that week at camp. Simon and Andrew, however, initially decided to follow Jesus while they were working. It's not like they were fishing for fun, either. That was their family trade, their family business. They left it all, everything they knew, to follow Jesus. 

I love that moment I had at camp 16 years ago---it has led to where I am today, and there are so many experiences I have had because I follow Jesus. It was that moment that I remembered when I decided to go to seminary, and then to pursue full time vocational ministry. I wonder if Simon and Andrew ever recollected that moment when they were following Jesus, even in the hardest times. 

What is a moment you can remember that helps you follow Jesus? What memory, or memories, can you go back to that remind you of your call to follow Jesus? This life of discipleship is not easy; we need these memories in order to remember why we do it in the first place. Perhaps your moment is one like mine, or one where you were keenly aware of God at work in the world, even your own life. Whatever these memories are, there are reasons you have decided to follow Jesus.

Or maybe you are unsure of this whole "I want to follow Jesus" thing. It seems like a lot of work...What difference does it make?...It seems risky....

I have my doubts too. I am unsure. I am afraid of the risks. I don't know what it will mean. I don't know if it is worth it all the time. And that's OK. Jesus himself once asked God if God was sure about sending him to be arrested and killed (Matthew 26: 36-39). 

I need this reminder to follow Jesus. It is not a one time decision, but a life-long process. Walking with God happens every day. Just like it is hard to get out of bed some mornings, following Jesus is not easy. Nothing worth while is ever easy, though, is it?

Prayer: For Holiness of Heart by Howard Thurman

Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart
Here is the citadel of all my desiring,
where my hopes are born
and all the deep resolutions of my spirit take wings.
In this center, my fears are nourished,
and all my hates are nurtured.
Here my loves are cherished,
and all the deep hungers of my spirit are honored
without quivering and without shock.
In my heart, above all else,
let love and integrity envelope me
until my love is perfected and the last vestige
of my desiring is no longer in conflict with Thy Spirit.
Lord, I want to be more holy in my heart.


In Christ, 


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Baptism of our Lord

In seeking the Lord in church and receiving the word, we often feel transformed or reinvigorated with the Spirit during each encounter.  Sometimes the experience is miraculous and profound, other times it is subtle with a humble thought, processing what we have just learned and how we can apply it to our lives. 

Then life happens….

In our daily lives, it can be hard to remember what we have vowed to do on Sunday.  Some Christians may have a better grasp on fighting temptation, may have a calm and forgiving manner, and their actions speak of God’s love and kindness.  They have an inner peace and confidence that allows them to choose their battles wisely.  Often, they have the ambition to pick up the word of God, when they feel they do not exhibit these characteristics. 

Then there are the rest of us.  The imperfect person that has been born again a couple of times but feel distant from our promise of baptism.  We make mistakes, speak harsh or profane words, commit a sin, experience heartbreak, anger, loss of temper, doubt our faith, experience illness and death of a loved one and all the weakness and madness that comes from it; our behavior is altered.  We forget what God calls us to do.  We forget what we promised to do in the midst of our painful dysfunction in the moment.

In our United Methodist tradition our source for understanding what baptism means for us comes from John Wesley, who “taught that in baptism a child was cleansed of the guilt of original sin, initiated into the covenant with God, admitted into the church, made an heir of the divine kingdom, and spiritually born anew. He said that while baptism was neither essential to nor sufficient for salvation, it was the "ordinary means" that God designated for applying the benefits of the work of Christ in human lives” (By Water and the Spirit: A United Methodist Understanding of Baptism).

As you can see, baptism is a powerful and meaningful practice for Christians.  The beauty of the Lord is that he does not expect us to be perfect and his love offers us grace and forgiveness.  We are invited to remember our baptism and become renewed in the Spirit. Our daily struggle is whether we live according to our baptism or apart from it.  Although, it may seem easy for some, it takes effort and work for others to breathe this renewed remembrance in our daily lives and actions. Take a moment and replenish your mind with the Word, pray, forgive others, forgive yourself, and move forward remembering and applying the benefits of the work of Christ in your life.
When you are faced with difficulty and trial, my prayer is that you will lean on the Lord’s calling to remember your baptism, to live your vow through action, maintain a loving temperament, and live your life according to God’s will.  Our walk with God is a constant action; begin again.


Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan, you proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with your Holy Spirit. 
Help us, your people keep the covenant that we have made with you and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior.  Help us to live our lives according to your will and in remembrance of our faith and our baptism.  Amen.


Dawn Adams