September 16, 2007

"Flat Tasting Food"
Scripture: Matthew 5:13-20
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  When I ponder the mystery of what draws me to Jesus, I look back on those times when my parents put up with the insanity of packing the six of their kids into one car along with suitcases and a cooler, to head for the beaches of Florida. What possessed them to get us all up at 3:00 in the morning to start our journey. We all had to put up with endless arguments about who was looking at who, who was taking up too much space, who was car sick, who needed to go to the bathroom, who got to sit by the window, etc. I wondered what it was that made me look forward to those trips in spite of the cramped quarters and being under the critical eye of my mother for three straight days on the journey to the St. Petersburg area. It was not the journey that excited me, but what I found when we got there that drew me to be able to put up with the journey. Not even waiting to unpack or claim my bed (I knew I wouldn’t get the one I wanted anyway) I flew out of the car and down to the beach. There, before my eyes was the ocean and the sound of waves crashing to the shore. I always felt home when I stood at the edge of that great expanse of constantly moving water. The mysteries of where that ocean stretched to and what secrets its depths held drew me to its shoreline. I beheld something much bigger than I could imagine or take in. I remember the time I saw a small child trying to scoop up water in her arms. Over and over she repeated her scooping motion. When her mother asked her what she was trying to do, the little girl replied, “I want to hug the ocean!” Perhaps it was that impossibility that attracted me to the ocean. I was simply too big to contain.

  I feel the same way about the stars. I wondered what caused me to pause at 4:30 this morning and gaze for awhile at the countless stars above me. Perhaps it was the incredible sense of my finiteness in the face of what seems to be the endless expanse of space. It was far beyond my ability to take it all in. Yet with both the ocean and the stars we can stand at their edges and experience what they give us in beauty and the sense of what is beyond and bigger than us.   Then I pondered what it was that attracted me to our Creator. What is it that makes me read and pray daily and look forward to worship on Sunday mornings? What is it that draws me to try to understand this mystery we call faith and what is it that makes me want to speak passionately about it? And what is it that drew me back into relationship with God after abandoning my faith for so long?

  I believe there is in all of us an innate longing to know the unknowable, to find out as much as we can about the depths and heights and content of the deepest mysteries of life. And one of those mysteries is about the God who created us. We have an innate longing to stand on the shore of the mystery of God and find out who this God is and what this God does and who we are in relationship to our God. We don’t often think about this innate longing until someone or something awakens that curiosity in us. Most often it will be someone who already had established a deep relationship with God and guides others by their behavior and words into seeing that they have this longing too. The Israelites were a people shaped by God to be a light or a beacon to others so that all people of the earth could explore the mystery of their Creator and develop a relationship with God that would satisfy their longing for something bigger, deeper and quite beyond their ability to hug and contain. They were to be salt and light to their world, drawing all peoples to the shores of the mystery of God, the knowable and the unknowable. They had the basic laws that would do that, laws that showed the love of God and the ways people were meant to live with each other. Those commandments were ones that showed people how to love one another. If we look at the 10 commandments, they are designed to teach us to avoid those harmful behaviors that destroy relationships.

  In Jesus’ time, those laws had become something different. They had become interpreted in ways that distorted God’s intentions for them. The interpretation of the laws had actually created barriers that excluded and distracted people from right relationship with God. So Jesus came to start a revolution, not to abolish the law, which was good and right, but to fulfill the law, to show what its original intention was. Jesus came to put the love back into the law and show people the way to God, so that they could be salt and light to others, so that they could put flavor back into the law that should have been illuminating the world.

  What drew me back to God was the strong need for God I had experienced as a young person through the love and support of some very faithful Christians who embraced me with the love that they experienced from God. These people couldn’t scoop up the ocean we call the mystery of God, but they could hug and embrace in very loving ways the very people who were part of that mystery. These people were and are the ones who catch God’s dream of the life he created and spread that dream in their witnessing through their actions in the everydayness of life. These are the people who love us in spite of us. These are the people who don’t see us as enemy or those who should be avoided. These are the people who embrace us with the love of Christ and in that embracing open our hearts to new possibilities in our own relationship with God.

  And we are all called to be those people. Just as much as the early disciples were called by Jesus to be salt and light, so are we called. We are not called to give new laws for people to live by, but to be a beacon to people who are stumbling around in the dark. We are called to be examples to those who are longing for something bigger than themselves, for something about God they can scoop up and embrace in small doses until their relationship is deeper and wider.

  We cannot be those people without digging in deeper into that relationship ourselves through our relationship with Christ. That deeper relationship comes in praying and reading scripture, study with others, and reading and talking about God. We have an incredible number of writers of our times who have shared what they know about God in books, magazine articles and on line. The more we come to know others’ stories and thoughts about God, the more we come to know God. And the more we share about our own stories, the more we come to let others know about God. Then we are truly salt and light. The spiritual food that we provide through our witness becomes truly tasty and filled with life for those who live in a flat tasting, dark world.

  Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly, not just to us, but to the whole world. Jesus was the salt and light of this world. He was set on tope of a hill, crucified for all the world to see, becoming a beacon of love, hope and new life beyond what most of us can imagine. Jesus draws people to worship his Father and embody the way of self-giving love which fills our deepest longing. And we as followers are called to offer that salt and light to the world, so that God’s own self-giving love can be offered to the world through Jesus acting in us. Jesus embodied the way of self-giving love that countered the ways of his time. He gave people insight into how to live in this world in a different way, a way that does not hurt and destroy others, but builds them up and draws them in to this different way of living as well. And we can offer that love to counter the ways of our time. How many of us complain about the ways of the world? We do it when we criticize people from the president to the people around us. We complain about the rise in crime rates, the violence of television programs, the corruption in politics and business, lack of morals in some of our young people. We are called to do something about the ways of this world. We are called to live our lives as if our faith really mattered. We are called to go from this place and proclaim Jesus Christ through our actions and words, so that others will see something different and be drawn to it. Do others know us by our love, the love of God we come to have through our following Jesus? Jesus is the salt that flavors life with God’s love and Jesus is the beacon that draws all people into filling that deep longing for God that is innate in them. We are the people through whom that beacon must shine to draw the world into right and fulfilling relationship with God. As we draw on the life of Jesus as the source for our own living, how does that affect the people around us? Where does the world need salt and light now, and how can we, through following Jesus provide it?