“All You Need”

February 9, 2014

 

Isaiah 58:1-12

Matthew 5:1-12

 

Tonight Iowans will remember that fifty years ago a song by the Iowa native and composer of the University of Iowa fight song, Meredith Wilson, was performed on The Ed Sullivan Show. Oh, I know, most of the nation will remember the song less than the group that sang it. But “Till There Was You” was the only Broadway show tune ever recorded by the Beatles.

Fifty years ago. For some it was the beginning of everything.

For others it was the beginning of the end.

CBS is calling it “The Night That Changed America” and if you remember the months before February 9, 1964, you might agree that some kind of change would have been welcomed. In June Medgar Evers was shot. In August four girls were killed in Birmingham when their church was bombed on Sunday morning. In November the president was assassinated.

The Beatles came to a weary nation that couldn’t begin to imagine the turmoil of the rest of the decade, let alone the changes of the next half century, even though less than a month earlier, Bob Dylan told anyone with ears to hear that the times were changing. Billy Graham never watched television on Sundays but he tuned in that night. And in some sense he was probably correct in his conclusion that the group’s performance showed “the uncertainties of the times and the confusion about us”—although I really can’t see how he came to that just from watching them play.

Also speaking in religious terms, Newsweek announced that the Beatles were “a band of evangelists” proclaiming the gospel of “fun.”

Now I have loved the Beatles from the time my older sister brought home that first album that politely invited us to “Meet the Beatles” until their penultimate and paradoxically final album encouraged us to “Let It Be.” All that music spanned just a few years’ time when a lot of us were growing up, and the changes in our nation and the world, in our culture and our lives were great.

But as much as I recognize the importance of this day, my calling is not to be an evangelist for those who announced a gospel of “fun,” but to proclaim the good news that we encounter in Jesus.

Still, I think we do get a little help from our friends in understanding some of what Isaiah and Jesus are talking about in the scripture lessons this morning.

That night fifty years ago—and in the years to follow—they told us that there was love all around , and that, love, indeed, was all that we needed. Even in the face of the alienation, isolation, and despair exemplified by Father Mckenzie and Eleanor Rigby, their music announced that a healing love was there if we would open our eyes and look. “I can show you,” they said.  And they begged those who didn’t know what they were missing to please listen.

Which brings me to those words of  Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Listen, Jesus says. Just look around you now and see what is. “You are the salt of the earth. . . .You are the light of the world.”

The words of Jesus are not necessarily what we would expect.

Religious people often are ready to set standards for other people to meet. They are ready to make sure everyone meets their criteria. They often want to require something of others. Liberal or conservative, they have standards of behavior that they expect others to meet if they are going to make the grade. 

But here Jesus tells us to simply be what we already are. No demands are made.

Jesus does not come bringing a new way for us to follow. He is the way.

Jesus does not come with a demand that we change.

Instead he tells us:

You are the salt of the earth. Now.

You are the light of the world. Now.

If we are to follow this One who is the Way, we will start simply where we are. We will start simply as we are. All we need is here for us. To follow, each of us need only be as we find ourselves before the living Christ.

Salt.

Light.

Now.

You know that salt has many uses. 

A little bit provides seasoning. A lot can preserve. Salt is used to heal. Thrown on ice salt will clear a path. Salt dissolves quickly in water and disappears. But even when it can't be seen it is still effective. 

This is one image of the church—unseen but effective. Unseen but bringing the transforming love of God to the world. Unseen but still healing, seasoning, preserving with the unique wisdom that we have. Still providing a safe path through treacherous places. For fifty years, that has been a predominant image for mainline Christians as we became less and less visible.

I want to say a little more about this in a minute, but for now let me just say that as congregations and as individual Christians we aren’t called to have all the answers. Nor are we called to straighten out all the problems of the world. 

We are called to be salt: to live out of the wisdom that life is both good and possible because it is a gift from God; to live out of the wisdom that there is no wound so deep in any person or in the world that it cannot be healed by the God who gives life; to live out of the wisdom that there is nothing you have done—or failed to do—that God cannot forgive.

Salt that has lost its taste was a figure of speech for being foolish. But Jesus speaks the good news that we are truly wise in a foolish and dangerous world—the salt of the earth. Our wisdom is Christ crucified and risen. That is all we need.

To know Christ crucified is to confess that God is present in the depths of human suffering. It is to find that God is made known to us in weakness, anguish, and despair as much as—if not more than—in victory and strength. It is to have a confident faith—or a doubting, struggling faith—that God is making something new even in the midst of great suffering.

To know Christ risen is to sense that we are a part of God’s new creation. And because we are part of God’s new creation, the work that we do continues to matter. In the resurrection we come to see that, as it has been said, the arc of the universe is long but that it moves toward justice, even though this world can at times seem so obviously filled with such evil and injustice. We trust that the ultimate direction of creation is toward God’s good purposes for all of life.

We know Christ risen when we see by faith that even at the moment of great suffering and death, God was at work bringing life—and by that same faith claiming that God continues to do so today.

Without the wisdom of Christ crucified and resurrected—the only wisdom we have—the church is no longer good for anything. If our message is something other than the healing forgiveness  and new creation of God then we are no longer salt.

It is worth noting that Jesus calls his disciples the salt of the earth and not himself. The work of Christ on earth is entrusted to us.

We are called to be salt—wise because we know Christ crucified and risen. 

Still, a world in darkness needs illumination. And yes, you are the light of the world. Now. 

The One who also said of himself, “I am the light of the world,” now tells us “You are the light of the world.”

It is the property of light to shine. Once lit, a lamp just naturally sheds light. And like a lamp on a stand, like a city on a hill, we are a visible community. What we do needs to be seen.

As I said, there are those who would like to see the church become completely invisible, perhaps still at work in the world, but always unseen. A false modesty finds such an idea appealing. But it also means we would never have to say who we are and why we act as we do. 

Invisibility is not an option for the church. Even dissolved salt reappears when the water evaporates. So we shine in the world—not so that we might be seen, but our good works; we shine in the world—not so that God might be seen, but our good works which will lead others to an understanding of the God who forgives and makes life new once more. 

The unique light that we have—the love of God in Jesus Christ—is not to be hidden from those who are seeking it among the shadows.  A world in darkness still needs the light that Jesus says we are. 

You are the salt of the earth.

You are the light of the world.

At another time Jesus was asked about the commandments of God and which was the greatest. Remember what he said? "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your mind, and with all your strength." Then he added, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

We no longer need to come up with our own rules and regulations for what it means to follow Jesus. 

Love God with your whole being—not half‑heartedly.

Love your neighbor as if he or she were you.

All you need…

That's what Isaiah was getting at with all that talk about losing the bonds of wickedness and sharing your bread with the hungry. Remember the promise? "Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you." In other words, love and you will be the salt of the earth, the light of the world.

Of course, each of us can recall times when we have not been salt, when we have chosen darkness over light. And the church as a community of people stands under that judgment as well. For we are often foolish, clinging to old hatreds‑‑or finding new ones. We often go along with darkness instead of shining brightly enough that God is glorified. 

So, yes, our righteousness has not exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees. Our goodness is often far less than that of people who never darken the doors of a church. Left to ourselves we would certainly be called least in the kingdom of heaven that Jesus announces. 

But we have not been left to our own. The law of love is still binding. And we discover that Jesus brings that law to fulfillment. 

The One who holds out a greater righteousness as our calling also offers the mercy and forgiveness of God. The One who tells us that the law of love is binding for us is also the One who has fulfilled that law.

We don't have a corner on the righteousness market. All we have, all we need—and all we can offer to others—is the assurance that God still loves us and still makes it possible for us to love others.