Sunday, February 9, 2020
How do you know if someone is a Christian? I mean, if you were to walk into this church building on a Sunday morning like today, you’d probably assume most people here are Christians. But just walking down the street, unless someone happens to be wearing a t-shirt with a Christian message, or a cross necklace, or reading a Bible or other religious material, it is not immediately obvious.
This week in the news we’ve heard people on the left and on the right talk about being Christian, and then not behaving like Christians at all. The political divisiveness in our country has come to the point that we question others’ faith – who’s praying for whom, who’s making the right decisions based on their faith, etc. It’s a hard truth that we all know people who are Christian, or who say they are Christian, who do not behave or talk like we think Christians should act and speak. One of the saddest examples I’ve heard is a survey that showed that Christians generally give lower tips at restaurants than nonreligious people. All of us can probably think of our own embarrassing personal experience of being rude to someone or angry or unkind and being recognized as a churchgoing Christian. That’s when we’re poor witness to Christ and to the life he has called us to live. How timely then that Jesus reminds us that we are salt and light – we are called to bear witness to the good news of Jesus in a world full of name calling and false judgments and political messiness. “Be who you are!” Jesus says. You are salt and light. Through the gift of baptism, you have been given faith in Christ, and Christ has given you his light, his salt to share with the world. You are a salty, light-filled Christian! Our challenge is to not allow the world and sin to dilute or mask our light and salt. And when we fail to live up to the expectations of that name, Christian (and we all do at some time or another), Christ calls us to ask for his forgiveness and strength to let his light shine through us more brightly again.
Over the years, I have visited several parishioners in the hospital for having low sodium in their blood. Before I became a pastor, I had no idea that this is a pretty common condition, often in older people who are having kidney function or water retention issues. I have family members and friends who try to watch their salt intake and reduce salt in their diets – I thought that too much salt as usually the problem! Turns out, while too much salt isn’t good for us, we need salt to survive. We need water and light to survive, too. Jesus uses very basic elements that are needed for life to exist in his sermon on the mount. Just like we need salt, water, air, and light to survive, we need the light, salt, water, air of Christ to nourish and sustain our spiritual lives. And with Christ living in us, we are able to be “salt of the earth” and let our lights shine to nourish and sustain others’ lives, too. That salt helps others “taste and see that the Lord is good”: that we are Christians and our lives are better because of Christ in our lives.
Right after his exhortation to us to be salt and light in others’ lives for the sake of the gospel, Jesus tells us about the foundation that he bases his ministry on: the law and the prophets. He has come to fulfill the law and the prophets, not abolish them, he tells his listeners. The basics of our faith – the ten commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s prayer, Holy Communion, Holy Baptism, are what we rest our foundation on as Christians – they are God’s salt and light living in us.
It is refreshing to have Aidan’s confirmation this morning as a reminder to us that God has created us to be salt and light for the world, and that we continue to build our lives on the foundations of faith. If you were able to read Aidan’s reflection on his confirmation class experience in our church newsletter, he shared with us that his most memorable time was studying the Apostles’ Creed, because it’s about what we believe. “It’s pretty straightforward!” he told me! We instruct our confirmands for two years on the basics of faith, the “law and the prophets,” as Jesus calls them, so that they know what it means to be a Christian. My hope is that confirmation is not just a time to know with our heads what Christians believe, but also with our hearts that being a Christian is also about learning to love God with all our hearts, soul, and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. It is about being a part of a faith community of support who will pray for you when you are in trouble or ill, who will bring you hot meals if you need them or celebrate with you with cake and flowers on happy occasions like birthdays, weddings, baptisms and anniversaries. This is the life of the church and of a Christian that Aidan has just taken on for his own this morning. And I think the Holy Spirit has been at work because he selected the “golden rule” for his confirmation verse, which is another part of Jesus’ sermon on the mount in Matthew that directly connects to Jesus’ message to us today to remember who we are – we are salt and light, created by God to worship God and love one another as best we can.
The thing is, chemically, salt cannot lose its saltiness– Sodium Chloride can’t stop being Sodium Chloride unless there is a chemical reaction and it is combined with another chemical, diluted or mixed with another substance like Jesus describes. Light can’t stop being light, it can only be dimmed or hidden under a basket like Jesus describes. As we affirmed our baptism, our faith today alongside Aidan, we went back to the basics to remember that we are salt and light as Christians. We can’t stop being those things, it’s who God created us to be as children of God, children of the light. We can hide our lights or dilute our salt in terms of not sharing our faith, not loving others as we ought, not seeking Christ’s forgiveness or coming to worship or being connected to other Christians…the list could go on. Today, we hear Christ calling us back to be who we are. I want to close today with that baptismal reminder we give the newly baptized with their baptismal candle. This is a reminder for all of us today from Jesus himself: “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Amen