The Promise and Purpose of Discipleship

Sunday, July 31, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Matthew 5:13-20

Grace and peace to you from Jesus our Christ, the One who calls us salt and light and who turns the world right side up. Amen.

I saw the musical Wicked the other night. If you’re not familiar, it’s a takeoff from the Wizard of Oz. The show provides a backstory of the relationship between Glinda the Good Witch and Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West. It turns out that Elphaba, the Wicked Witch, is long misunderstood. She looks different – she’s green after all. She’s ridiculed and ostracized in school. Traumas have happened in her life that were beyond her control. She’s not so wicked at all. But she is distinctive. The choreography of the show often physically separates her from the rest of the cast. Glinda, the popular one – always surrounded by the ensemble, always setting the trends for the crowds – tries to help her fit in. But what works for Glinda, looks ridiculous on Elphaba. It is Elphaba’s distinctiveness, her willingness to be true to who she is made to be, and to stick up for what she believes that makes much of her story so compelling. Her distinctiveness is also what changes people around her for the better.

We’re continuing our way through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this week. Last week, we heard those familiar blessings of the beatitudes and considered how we might count our own blessings based on who Jesus blesses – the meek, the humble, the grieving, those seeking to make the world right, the peacemakers, the merciful, and the persecuted. In many ways, these are distinctive features too, in a world that often celebrates the opposite. These blessings show us more clearly where God’s blessings are in our own lives, and in those who are experiencing them around us. This week Jesus gives us a couple of very familiar images and tells us that we are those images. He says, YOU are the salt of the earth. YOU are the light of the world.

Do you hear that? No qualifiers. No conditions. You who put your faith in Jesus ARE salt and light. It’s both a promise of who God makes us and a purpose for how we are to live our lives in relation to others. When we follow Jesus, it makes us distinctive, something that we weren’t before. It’s like the day you start your first career. Before that day you weren’t a teacher or a business owner or an IT specialist or a nurse, and then you start and all of a sudden – you are! Or it’s like becoming a parent for the first time.

I remember the day Erica and I brought Ellie home from the hospital when she was born. I had pulled the car up to the main entrance of the hospital. A nurse was waiting there with Erica and Ellie. We opened the back door of the car and with all the caution in the world, both holding our breath, we strapped her in the car seat and got in the car. We looked at each other and said, “Are we sure we can do this? Who thought this was a good idea to send this tiny, fragile, most precious thing home with us today?” Then, I pulled onto the street and drove about 15 miles an hour all the way home, fearful she would break.

We had been preparing for that moment for almost a year, but now it was real. We were parents. There was so much joy and so much responsibility!  We realized as we pulled away from the hospital that we were forever bound to this child AND that there could be serious consequences if we forgot who we were for just one moment.

Jesus is forming a picture for us in this sermon of the promise and the purpose of being disciples. It’s a promise that in baptism we are forever bound to a God who loves us. And because of God’s abundant love for us there is purpose to our lives.  We an active part of God’s plans to bring the kingdom of heaven here. There’s great joy and responsibility. Following Jesus is not a spectator sport. He’s saying you’ve got to get into the game – be who I have made you to be. Nothing less than the kingdom of heaven is at stake. But lest we think we have to go out with all the gusto and enthusiasm of a religious fanatic, let’s take a closer look at why Jesus might have used images of salt and light as images of discipleship.

Salt and light are distinctive. But they can overpowering on their own. Anyone who has a saltshaker with too many holes in it knows this. Too much salt and the food is spoiled. And if we take our light out into the world with high beams always blazing, we might just blind those around us rather than help them see the good works that God is doing through us.

The distinctiveness of salt and light enhances the things around them. They don’t drown them out. Why do we add salt to cookie recipes? Not because we like salty cookies, but because the salt actually enhances the sweetness of the sugar. In the same way, when light is pointed in the right direction it enhances shapes, colors, and contours of the things that it shines on. Ever tried looking for something in the dark? The lost is rarely found unless you shed some light on it. Light helps us see things in their true form.

Here’s the thing though, the world doesn’t always want light to shine in places in their lives. Darkness hides truths that we’d rather not expose. Sometimes it’s more comfortable not knowing what’s lurking under the surface than expose it. A lot of time, energy, and money goes into keeping things “in the dark” in our world. Sometimes following Jesus and being salt and light in the world is difficult. Jesus calls us to be distinctive in a culture that loves conformity. And let’s be honest – it’s easier to conform, especially when it makes us comfortable. It’s easier to hide the light that is in us when we’re not sure what it will lead to. But you were made to shine your light. You were made to be an instrument of God’s promise and purpose. We worship to be reminded of who we are in Christ, to be fed and nourished by God’s Word of grace and forgiveness. Then, we are sent from here to share what we have experienced, to spread salt and light wherever we go.

Many of you know about our Community Meal we started serving this spring. A lively crew of volunteers cook, box, run, and distribute these meals as cars pull-through our parking lot every Thursday afternoon. The spirit in the parking lot is joyful and grace filled. Guests tell volunteers how much it means to them. We don’t ask questions or have any qualifiers. If you’re hungry, we’ll serve you. In the first few months, we have quickly grown to serve 300 meals a week. Families who are working multiple jobs are coming with their kids. Seniors are coming and picking up meals for neighbors who don’t drive. It’s a little salt and light in an otherwise challenging and sometimes dark world for those just trying to make it through the week.  There are voices in our culture and maybe even some in our own minds that might question why we’re doing this or doubt the sincerity or the integrity of people we’re serving. But those questions don’t necessarily arise out of faith. They’re questions based on a sense of conforming to norms that some people simply don’t have access. To be Jesus’ salt and light means building relationships with those we do not understand and using what God has given us to enhance the gifts and humanity of others.

Last week, I got an email from one of the volunteers telling me what a joy it was to serve at the Community Meals. She told me that she invited many of the people to join us for worship and told them about drive-in worship. “I told them they could wear their jammies and bring their dogs!” she said. That simple invitation to be part of community maybe exactly what someone needed in order to experience salt and light in their lives that day.

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It would be easy to say, “No, no, that’s not right. I’m not a good enough Christian to be salt or light. I don’t know the Bible well enough or pray enough to be used by Jesus to make the world a better place, let alone help usher in the kingdom of heaven. That sounds hard or risky or I just thought that was for pastors and missionaries.” But there’s no getting around it, friends. This is for everyone. If you’re baptized, you’re salt and light. The church has used this verse in the baptism liturgy for years, “Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” In the original Greek, the “you” is plural – “you all” are the salt of the earth. You all are the light of the world. So, we do this together. This is the work of the body of Christ, not just in the church when we gather here, but as we live our lives throughout the week. So, spice up the world and shed your light. Amen.

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