February 9, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Salt. A pinch helps brighten flavor in food. A light dusting turns fries, chips, nuts into addictive habits. Salt by the cupful preserves meat during long summers and even longer sea voyages. Animals will traverse miles to find it, humans will die without it, but too much salt will leave us just as dead.
Light. The source of all life. In pure darkness the smallest light can be seen for miles but without it we’re lost. Psychologically, physically we begin to fail. But too much light leaves us blinded, confused, disoriented.
Salt. Light. I don’t know about you but I’m tired. I look at our country and sense an overall spirit of despair. I hear the same from those prone to melancholy and those who seem naturally happy. I hear the same from those who support President Trump and those who abhor him. Maybe its because its February, we’re in Ohio and we’ve barely seen the sun. But it seems bigger than that. Sometimes it seems like we’ve become trapped in a dark, tasteless world.
A colleague of mine, Rev. Stephanie Anthony, was invited by her congressional representative to attend last week’s National Prayer Breakfast. Organized by a bi-partisan Washington ministry committed to gathering high level government leaders around their shared faith in Jesus Christ, the Prayer Breakfast is designed to be salt and light in a community torn apart by political rancor and posturing. Its a time when those who normally compete for power and control can drop to their knees as sisters and brothers in faith and pray for the country they all love.
Rev. Anthony is far from a power broker. She’s just a writer, a mother of two and the pastor of a pretty ordinary suburban Presbyterian church. While the news outlets reported on the event’s politics, Rev. Anthony shared about the day’s spiritual energy. The first speaker, Professor Arthur C. Brooks, drew the audience into scripture, challenging those present to follow Jesus’ commandment to love their enemies and to pray for those they perceived to be persecuting them. Listening to him, Rev. Anthony felt challenged, convicted, called to respond as Christ would respond. She could feel those in the room react as the realities of their lives were held up to the standard of Jesus’ teachings. She could feel the energy change as Professor Brooks challenged them to love each other even in the giant, soul defeating cauldron of national power politics.
And then President Trump took the stage – and here I’m just going to quote Rev. Anthony:
There is no other way to say it other than the President completely shifted the feel of the whole event. [The event] was no longer an encouragement about loving others, especially enemies, and instead became a justification for division.
President Trump gave what was, for him, a fairly ordinary campaign-style speech. It’s what he does, he does it well and at the prayer breakfast he did it well. In some ways it wasn’t all that different from campaign speeches being given in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Yet the tone of the room shifted, Rev. Anthony reported, because instead of starting with scripture, Trump started with Trump. Instead of drawing those in the audience closer to the Word made Flesh, the President drew them away from holy commandments and toward partisan warfare. By leading the audience toward Jesus, Professor Brooks brought salt and light into the halls of power and hit the pause button on the politics of fear and hatred. By completely ignoring Jesus and scripture the President returned the room to politics as usual. The malaise returned.
Some days I feel like Washington has become a giant football game with so much cheating and foul play going on you feel sick even if your team is winning. I don’t reference the prayer breakfast to make a political point, to argue for one party over another or even to judge the President for being who he is and doing what he does so well. I reference the one incident to make a broader point. We’d like to be able to look to our national leaders for inspiration. We like to think of our nation as somehow God blessed, a shining city upon a hill whose light cannot be hid. Instead we turn on the news and its like Ohio in February. Cold. Cloudy. As tasteless as the Salisbury Steak in my school cafeteria growing up.
Salt. Light. “I am the light of the world, Jesus tells his disciples.” Once we pull away from Jesus we begin to lose God’s eternal, never ending, free for the taking light. Once we turn our back on the Word written and the Word made Flesh darkness begins to descend. Politics and power entices, even serves a purpose, but it is not light. Nationalism entices, even serves a purpose, but neither is it light. Hatred and fear entice like no other force, are used every day to manipulate us, and lead us into the deepest darkness of all.
Salt. Light. Just a little salt has the power to transform a dish of food. Love God, Jesus says. Love your neighbor, Jesus says. Love your enemy, Jesus says. Love each other, Jesus says. The most basic of commandments, the salt bringing out the flavor in a tasteless world. God’s love created the world and redeemed the world. Our living the life of love sustains our families, our communities, yes even our nation. Humanity dies without love.
To be salt. To be light. To, as Professor Brooks reminded those at the national prayer breakfast, to hue close to the Word written and the Word made flesh. To follow Jesus above all else and to be Christlike in our actions with our neighbors. To love through the differences. To love through the arguments. To love even when, especially when, hatred, fear and the darkness they bring reach out to us, seduce us, and call us by name. Each tiny action of love, each tiny moment of being Christ to those around us, tiny grains of salt returning flavor to God’s bounty, breaking apart the gloom so holy light may shine in.