When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
These are the words we need to lean into, because they hold truth for our lives. These words are just before what we heard today in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount. We need to hear these words again: Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
We call these words “The Beatitudes”, and I’m sure you’ve heard them before. Jesus spoke these words on the mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where I was blessed enough to take the eucharist. Matthew makes these words real by drawing the disciples intimately into them by the opening words of his sermon by saying: YOU ARE. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. Jesus is saying that we are already in the heart-stance –already in the mindset to be all that he calls us into. It is important to note that Jesus does not say, “You will become the salt of the earth”, but YOU ARE. Jesus does not say, “You may yearn to be, but aren’t ready yet” “You are not worthy yet” or “You must earn your way through good works to be given the opportunity … to be the salt of the earth or the light of the earth”. No, Jesus says, “You ARE. You, who are mixed-up, vulnerable, incompetent, sometimes sad, sometimes self-absorbed, always anxious, and stingy with our offerings – You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. This is a powerful affirmation of something within us, that often we may not even imagine or know to be true, but Jesus believes it to be. Perhaps that’s the walk of faith, to grow into what Jesus saw in his disciples. Or what the Christ already and always knows about us, but we have been afraid to own. Our text today asks us the two basic questions in life: “Who are we?” And “What are we to be doing?” Jesus tells us we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. What does he mean? What part of us, that Christ already affirms within us, needs to be revealed—for the building up of the Kingdom and for God’s glory.
Jesus’ sermon is a challenge to Israel to be Israel—to be the light to the nations. Jesus rejected the Zealots, for enemies were not to be hated and fought, but rather loved, prayed for, and met with generosity. Jesus also considered the Pharisees to be unfruitful, hiding away and sticking to an outdated interpretation of the Torah. The Pharisees assumed the Kingdom of Heaven was yet to come, that God’s reign had not yet begun, but Jesus knew differently – that the Kingdom of Heaven was here with his presence. And the Jewish people, the disciples were – YOU ARE – WE ALL ARE – the salt of the earth and the light of the world, here and now, called to be what we may only aspire or even fail to dream to become. Jesus’ message to the nation of Israel was to be the nation you are called to be – be a light to the whole world, and take the light into the darkness you find yourself enveloped within – the oppression of those who hold power over you and let your light shine brightly, to change the world, to be the Kingdom.
I am reminded of the plaque at Holy Cross Monastery which says, “Love must act, as fire must burn, and light must shine.” Our light must shine. According to the Daily Dig, a blog post from Plough Magazine, “the church is called to move God – yes, God himself, to act. This does not mean that God cannot or will not act unless we ask God, but rather that God waits for people to believe in God and expect God’s intervention. For God acts among us only to the extent we ask for God’s action and accept it with our hearts and lives. This is the secret of God’s intervention in history. This is a call to Christian discipleship which stirs us to repentance and renewal, which manifests in our shining our light. We shine our light and we pray with the expectation that God will intervene.
In order to shine our light, we need to know the true light within us: not the glitter or the surface apparition, but the true light and to allow it to be our identity – to allow it to answer the first question our text invites us into today – “Who are we?”.
I am reminded of the scene in the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe. You might remember when, at the stone altar, Aslan, the loving lion, is bound, humiliated and tortured as he takes the place of one of the children, Eustice who betrayed the force of goodness by abiding with the White Witch. We turn through the pages as and read in horror the account of the binding of Aslan. We all thought the Deep Magic that demanded this violent death was the deepest of truths known through all eternity. But then, there was a deeper patter which conquered all the hate and trickery known to that world. And it was love. The sacrificial love for someone close to you, for something bigger than you, for something that can change the world. It was a light that shone from a place deep within Aslan. And which shines within us. We are called to dig deep, to find the light within, our ability to love, to be vulnerable, and to sacrifice for the good of others, to know how the light of Christ is manifested in our lives – and to let that light shine.
One interpretation of Jesus’ sermon on the mount is that the Kingdom is real – AND that the Kingdom has been joined with you. It’s not about you – not even about the good you will do or the truth you will bring – but it is all about drawing all of us together to give God glory through the light we can shine in our lives and community.
I would ask you to consider – just as the sun bursts through our altar window and bathes us in the light of Christ at the altar rail, I believe we literally become light; the light that emanates from our church building, within our own hearts, but equally important, we become givers of hope to others around us. Whether it is through our warm welcome to all that walk through our doors, or our prayerful presence within the community through our daily prayers for Brian, or through our warm home-cooked meals to are guests on Monday evenings, I believe our light shines in the form of hope we live into and offer to others.
Now the thing about light is that light carries a greater presence, when different fragments or strands are placed together. Someone told me this week that white light contains all colors. That’s fascinating to me. So, I was imagining our parish as different fragments of light. Some gathered together in a small group, some connected to others, some on the fringe, some not sure if they want to come in closer, some wishing for what was – but the question for the church, our church and the broader church, is how can we be who we are called to be – how can we find a way to come together. How do we embrace all people here within our walls and beyond so the light of Christ can burn more brightly than we can ask or imagine? I believe we found a portal into this path through Brian’s injury and recovery. We are deeper in our prayer, more connected in our hearts, more focused on reaching into the lives of others, into the heart of God with the expectation of God’s healing intervention – and in that we have found a deep identity of faithful people. My invitation is to faithfulness, to put this church and our world together, to find, deepen, to bring our individual candles to form one bring light, and offer a bond formed from a place of love, vulnerability and sacrifice, so we can be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. For that is what is needed for us to be the church we are called into being. If we call ourselves Christians, that is what is essential.
So the interesting thing to me was my remembrance of that Eucharist on the mount where this sermon was preached, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Gathered in a sacred circle, with the elements on a stone altar settled beneath a tree, in this incredibly deep and holy space, reflecting upon the importance of what we were experiencing in this particular spot, and all of a sudden there was this group of young people, speaking a different language, dancing down the hill, giggling and laughing and completely disrupting our still and holy time. At first I was offended, actually insulted, for their behavior seemed so disrespectful of what we were yearning to experience. And then the light broke through my darkness. And I saw the situation with clarity. I suddenly wished I was the celebrant of the Eucharist for I would have invited this rowdy group to join us – for that’s what the kingdom looks like – all of us gathered together, those of us who think or speak differently, and enter into the experience of Christ’s holiness with a zeal expressed in a way unlike mine – just as the scene of the kingdom would have been on that afternoon with the bright blue sky and the sun shining brightly, as children played on the hill, and some women sat hanging on every word of Jesus, while others were preoccupied with fixing the afternoon meal, while men gathered in conversation, and others were sitting at the feet of Jesus. The light, just like white light brings all the colors together, the Light of Christ, brings all of us together to make something radiant and true.