Sunday, February 5, 2017

Sermon - February 5th 2017 ... To be salt and light ...

We began with excerpts from Maya Angelou's poem "Still I Rise"

It would be easy to preach on salt today … it is central to the reading from Matthew, and the theme – “be the salt of the earth” moves through Church circles and conversations with ease.
            There is no doubt salt is important – each of us carry about half a pound of salt in us every moment to ensure life … today the petro-chemical industry is entirely dependent upon salt … historically salt was central to society and culture – the Romans paid their soldiers in salt, giving rise to the term salary, and phrases like “worthy his salt” – even the term soldier derives from latin for salt …
            Our food is liberally sprinkled with salt – pardon the pun … from soya sauce (made from rotting soy beans mixed with salt and water) through to salt cod, and even salad – the word salad derives from the mixture of salt and water used as a dressing by the Romans.
            Political movements have been undertaken because of salt – much of the trade between the colonies in the new world and Europe depended upon salt – Gandhi used salt as a symbolic action in his march to freedom when he and hundreds of followers walked into the ocean to make salt and break the monopoly of the British Crown over a staple needed for life …
            So to preach on salt makes sense because as our Whole People of God curriculum notes: Salt was essential to living in the Ancient Near East. It was required for sacrifices (Leviticus 2:13), mixed with incense for the Temple (Exodus 30:35) and even rubbed on newborn babies (Ezekiel 16:4). Salt had to be mined and transported with considerable labor and expense. It was a sign of life; like blood, part of the fluid of birth. Salt symbolized both devastation and comfort. A covenant of salt signified a relationship secure from violence by either party. Salt symbolized the power of life and death, healing and judgment.
            But to preach only on the physical aspects of salt and its importance in human culture misses a bigger perhaps more important point that comes when one takes Jesus’ counsel to “be salt” and steps with it out in the world around us.
            The whole people of God curriculum floats this when it observes:
Like the disciples, we are also called to be salt. The purpose of salt is not to make the world like ourselves, but to help flavour the world to become what God has created it to be. As Gertrude Lebans writes in her book  Salted with Fire, “In the salty community, the least powerful are the most valued and protected; the earth is a gift and a test of our worthiness as caretakers; our goal is to heal, not to control; power is a charism [special spiritual gift] of creativity not domination; truth is something too wonderful for us, a holy question to be shared.”
            As I reflected on this, I was drawn to the writings and lives of the Theologians and activists who resisted the rise of National Socialism in the 1930’s in German … names like playwright Brecht and Theologians Bonhoeffer and Niemoller
            German Theologian Martin Niemoller is a voice we should hear into the tumult of today’s world. Born in 1890, in 1924 he was ordained a pastor in the Protestant Union Evangelical Church of Prussia which melded Lutheran and other Reformed protestant churches. Initially he was a supporter of the National Socialism movement under Hitler, but in the early 1930’s he began to speak out against the Nazis, and he became one of the signatories in the founding of the anti-nazi Confessing Church.
            In 1937, he was arrested and held until 1938 awaiting trail. In his trial his writings and sermons were noted as contrary to the state and he was sentenced to 7 months in prison. BUT, because he had been held for longer than 7 months awaiting trial he was released only to be immediately arrested by the Gestapo and sent from 1938 to 1945 into the Concentration Camp system until he was liberated by the Allied forces.
            Prior to his arrest, Niemoller ramped up his preaching with a very very strong anti-nazi tone that has some deep resonance to the situation we are experiencing today with the rise of the alt-right movement and the many fear based anti- movements we are witnessing … Many of us are familiar with Niemoller’s words and theology, even if we are unfamiliar with his name.
            It was in the shadow of his internment in Dachau that he wrote the words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

            I’ve been drawn since the fall to the writings of Bertholt Brecht, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller. In the hours after the shootings in Quebec I found myself reading Niemoller’s words from 1937 when he preached on the passage from Matthew we shared today …
            Niemoller observed that ‘the problem with which we have to deal is how to save the Christian Community at this moment from the danger of being thrown into the same pot as the world: that is to say: it must keep itself distinct from the rest of the world by virtue of its ‘saltness’ How does Christ’s community differ from the world?’
            In the face of isms and phobias and openly expressed fear and hatred by leaders and neighbours, how do we differ from the world?
            In the face of walls and barriers and bans against those we’ve labelled ‘others’ how do we as Christ’s community differ from the world?
            In the face of violence and hate that would kill and maim people gathered to pray, how do we – how WILL we, as Christ’s community chose to be different from the world around us?
            Niemoller challenged his listeners 80 years ago to remember that “The Gospel must remain the Gospel, the church must remain the church, the creed must remain the creed, Christians MUST remain Christians and we must not – for heaven’s sake – make a German Gosple out of the Gospel – we must not make a German Church out of Christ’s church; we must not for God’s sake make Germna (or American) Christians out of the Christians.”
            He goes on to counsel that our responsibility is to be the salt of the earth – and that if we remain salt and trust in God, we will become a blessing in the face of events and happenings around us.
            Niemoller expands his view of our role to be salt in the world by picking up the light being held forth in the darkness. He acknowledges that often we have the desire to hide our light away and protect it from the winds and storms we may encounter – we are afraid, as the childrens’ hymn says someone or something is going to ‘wwwhhhffff!!” it out … we cover it, hide and protect it when in fact we are being CALLED – called by God to hold it high and to boldly let it shine!!
            In the face of persecution and his pending arrest, Niemoller said with great faith – “It is only during these days that I have realized – the I have understood – what the Lord means when He says: “Do not take up the bushel! I have not lit the candle for you to put it under the bushel, in order to protect it from the wind.             Away with the bushel!
            The light should be placed on a candlestick!
            It is not your business to worry about whether the light is extinguished or not by the draft.”
            We are not to worry whether the light is extinguished or not – that is God’s concern. We are only to see that the light is not hidden away – hidden away perhaps with a noble intent, so that we may bring it out again in calmer times! NO – let your light shine before all !!!!
            We are the salt of the earth – we are the light of the earth … we are to be salt in the world and to let our light shine and leave the rest up to God … silence and inaction are not options for Christ’s community that is the church. Niemoller pulls no punches when he proclaims from his pulpit:
            Brothers and sisters, … it has come to this: we are being accosted on all sides, by statesmen as well as by the man in the street, who tell us: “For God’s sake do not speak so loudly or you will land in prison. Pray do not speak so plainly: surely you can also say all that in a more obscure fashion! Brothers and sisters we are NOT ALLOWED TO PUT OUR LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL: if we do so, we are disobedient; but we have received our commission from Him Who is the light of the world. He does not need us as wicks, He can take other wicks as well, others on whom he can set up His Light as on a candle stick … THAT is our service, but it is no business of ours whether the church continues to live and is not put to death, or whether the light is blown out or not. The community of Christ is called to be consumed in its service to God – salt disappears when sprinkled on something, but enacts a change … the candle burns down as it sheds its light and pushes back the darkness … but the essence of the salt and the light remains … the effect lingers …
            We differ from the world BECAUSE we are called to be the City of God, present in the world, and showing the world a different way … Niemoller ends his sermon noting “the city of God cannot remain hidden. Brothers and sisters, the city of God will not be blown down by the storm. It will not be conquered even though the enemy may take its outer walls. The city of God will stand, because its strength comes from on high, because the Lamb is with it, and so it will remain firmly established. … heaven and earth may pass away, but the Word of God endures …
            Trumps and O’Leary’s and Leitches and others who are not about bringing the human family to gether will rise and fall, but Christ’s community – the very city of God will remain …
            Walls and barriers and divisions will be built and will fall, but the Church, the very word of God incarnate in the world to seek kindness to love justice and walk humbly with our God will endure …
            Violence and suffering will come … but in the face of isms and phobias and fears, Christ’s community – you and I and all who are called by faith – will not only endure, we will have the courage and the faith to confront those expressions and forms of hate with our faith, our compassion, our care and OUR LOVE …
            If the events of this past week have taught us nothing else, they have taught us that people of faith – those who are part of Christ’s community – can not remain silent and inactive in the face of bigotry, fear and hate … we must use our voices, our hearts, our words and OUR ACTIONS to speak up and speak out … today we stand in a world where once again we face a choice … it is not the socialists, the trade unionists, and the jews THEY (whoever THEY are) are coming for … today it is the refugees, the immigrants, the Muslims and those who have been conveniently ‘othered’ by our leaders who chose to pander to ignorance and fear …

            Niemoller spent much of his life following world war two warning others of the complicity that comes through the silence of the society that then allowed for the imprisonment, persecution and murder of millions of people simply because they were othered by the political leaders of their day … history speaks to us – as people of faith, do we dare not listen?
            Today we, as Christ’s community – as people of the resurrection – as people of faith, are called to rise and change the world … we are salt and light, and we will rise …
            May it be so – thanks be to God …

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