The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:  

s038g11  Sunday 5  Amberley  6/2/2011

In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.   (Fr Jim Cotter

‘You are the salt of the earth’  Matthew 5.13

Salt, unlike other spices, isn’t used to add it’s own flavour to food; it is used to bring out the flavours already an integral part of the food.   One doesn’t eat a bowl-full of salt, a little enhances what is good in other things.   So similarly the task for ‘christians’ is to bring out the good in people other than ‘christians’.  Other people are already good, and we just make that good evident.

Similarly as ‘christians’ we are light to the world.   We make the world a cheery place, where people can be who they are and appreciated for who they are.

However often it seems the church wants to focus on how good it is and by contrast how bad the world is.  We want the world to become the bowl-full of salt, and no wonder the world protests.   So too with light.   Light needs real objects on which to shine.   If everyone were light, what would be seen?   Often it seems that the church wants to keep people back in the dark ages, believing in a three tiered universe because it is biblical, and hiding from others (and herself) the beauty of evolution, the magnificence of the stellar and the microscopic world.   I believe that this is sad, and in doing so unnecessary and in plain contradiction to our words from scripture today.

When I lived in Adelaide (on the West Island :-) the main road north passed by the salt fields of Dry Creek, and this has always been an image I have recalled when I hear some ‘christians’ talk as if everyone have got to become ‘christians’ like us.   Those salt fields are a horrid place, essentially uninhabitable.   People have used the phrase: ‘coming home from the salt mine’ meaning leaving the drudgery of the work-place to rest, relax and enjoy life.

And, of course, even the biblical imagery of salt is not always good.   We are told Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked backwards towards Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed.   Surely the Lord didn’t do this because she didn’t want to miss the fireworks!   She looked back because of the subtle desire for power (which lurks in all our psyches) - she was regretful to be fleeing.   If we too, as ‘christians’, want to exercise power over others, we too may suffer the same fate.

Salt, in moderation is good, and the food which flavour the salt enhances, in moderation, is good.   Light, in moderation, is good, and a world bathed in light, in moderation, is much better than a world groping around in darkness.

And this makes me reflect how religions often deny this goodness in the adherents as well as goodness in those who aren’t.  Why is it that so often encounters with the divine cause people to want to shrink away, and make this a pattern that others must also follow?

I suppose the classic example is the heavenly vision that the prophet Isaiah had: on seeing the vision of God he proclaims his sinfulness and insignificance.   God will have nothing of this.   Isaiah is lifted to his feet and told to go to the ancient people of God.   God isn’t interested in our sinfulness, God is interested in us getting on with life amongst people.

Again I am grateful to Brian who wrote recently: ‘One author has written “what would be the influence on a child’s life if the parents .. informed them daily that they were a
terrible person?   You are not even worthy to pick up the crumbs under (our)
table”.’   Rather worse than being told ‘children are to be seen and not heard’ - a very common expression when I grew up.

And why is it that we have taken on a religion which ever keeps us ‘on our toes’, fearful that we might overstep the boundaries, or be found that we have made a mistake!   Why is it that we have a religion that stifles creativity?   Why is it that we just assume that God has favourites, that we have to earn our way into heaven?

I spoke recently of St Paul, straight after his Damascus Road experience, going off to ‘Arabia and Damascus.   It took him three years to unlearn all the orthodoxy he had been taught.   He had had a gutful of others telling him what to believe, how he had to measure up and who he had to challenge, marginalise and alienate.’

I know how much of my life has been spent learning orthodoxy and then extricating myself from it.   Indeed it is the energy from continuing to find freedom from orthodoxy that enables me to prepare and preach sermons.   I continue to find that there is so much in the Bible written to free us from those thoughts.

After I had posted off my sermon last week, it came to me that even after Jesus gave the sermon on the mount when he said ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’, his disciples did not realise that Jesus words were primarily addressed to them.   ‘‘All they were doing was tagging along with Jesus, fighting over who was the greatest, giving Jesus good suggestions about what to do with the crowds who were following, protecting Jesus from children and generally telling Jesus how he should conduct his ministry ..’ even after his words.   So Jesus’ sermons didn’t make a lot of difference to the attitudes of the disciples - so perhaps I shouldn’t look for instant results either :-)   The beatitudes invited the disciples to see the good in the crowds who weren’t following Jesus, but seeking to live lives of integrity and charity.   They were to be salt and light to all around them.

I often speak about being gentle, on ourselves and on others, be they ‘christians’ or ‘calathumpians’, and I need to hear and head this as much myself as anyone else does.   And this attitude of being gentle is an acquired skill.   It takes learning and practice, like most things that are valuable.   It is addictions which subtly lure us - bypassing our better intentions.   But good things are those that build up our good intentions.  But it takes time and practice and a failure or three :-)

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees.   Now I would have a hard job competing with the scribes and Pharisees in terms of their devotion to God.   They were the orthodox, the devout, those who tithed.   But in all this is was and is selfish.   It is done to gain heavenly ‘brownie points’.   It is all about that person’s relationship with God.   So the man who prayed: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.   I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income' (Luke 18.11-12) was not lying.   In his estimation he was righteous.   But he was wrong.   Righteousness is not about being ‘not like other people’ it is about being ‘like other people’.   This is what the incarnation is all about.   Real righteousness cannot be alone, or even in a ‘holy huddle’ of like minded devotees.   Real righteousness is about being with other people and by definition, all other people.   And it is precisely when we become one with other people that we enter the kingdom in the here and now.   It is when we are open to be fed by people other than ‘christians’ and when we recognise and appreciate the reality of people other than ‘christians’, then we are being who we are called to be and we become a force for good in this world.   For God has no particular interest in my salvation: God is interested in the well-being of all, whatever name they might call the divine.   When the church is an instrument for the appreciation of the contribution of all rather than a cause of division and discrimination, then the church fulfils what God would have us do.

And again, it is our corporate theology that needs to reflect this.   Your efforts and my efforts in the world are in the long run good but if the church corporate is not accurately reflecting this, our individual efforts are for naught.  

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