A few weeks ago, we remembered Jesus’ baptism and the truth we affirm at baptism. Which is that no matter what other labels might be assigned to us, none matters more than our identity as a beloved child of God. Simply put, each and every one of us, whether we like it or not is a beloved child of God. I imagine we are all pretty self-aware of our own imperfections, which is maybe why this truth is so beautiful and humbling. It might be difficult to swallow; to accept our belovedness in spite of our brokenness. Yet in the eyes of our God it is an unchangeable truth.
Which is all well and good, until Jesus starts giving his Sermon on the Mount. Where he has the audacity to tell us not only what we are to God, but who we are to one another and the world. Jesus tells us:
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
At this moment we are not just being told that we are loved; now we are being told our lives have a meaning and a purpose. “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot” (Matthew 5:13).
Salt is pretty important--it preserves, enhances, and flavors food. Similarly, light has a way of making a path clear for the one who holds the lamp and anyone nearby. Our salt and light is about being the unconditional love of God in the world.
If we lose our saltiness and light, if we forget we are beloved, how can we possibly fully convey the unconditional love of our God?
Sometimes, the stuff happening in our lives makes it hard to be the salt and light.
How can we be the light when we feel anger pulsating through our bodies?
How can we be the salt when our depression prevents us from being with people?
How are we supposed to be the salt and the light, when we feel rather like broken glass scattered all over the floor?
Sometimes it is not so much the stuff in our own lives, but the events in the wider community and world that make it difficult to be the salt and light. How can we be the light when there aren’t any safe spaces for a homeless couple to spend the night? How can we be the salt when our nation holds Latina women in a half time show to higher standards than the president?
I imagine this teaching makes at least a few of us squirm. Because Jesus is telling us to stay in touch with the truth at the core of our belovedness. When we know we are beloved, we will help spread that salt and light. We will want to help others feel the unconditional love and hope of God. In other words, knowing we are beloved will change the way we live our lives in the world. Whereas if we forget our saltiness or hide our light under a bushel basket, we are losing touch with the fact that we are beloved.
This teaching that Jesus is trying to convey to the crowd and to us, is the ultimate beauty of the parental love we receive from God. Just as we will always be beloved, we will always be the salt and the light at our core. There are days, or maybe weeks and years, when we are disconnected from the fullness of this truth--yet the truth endures.
Nadia Boltz-Weber in her book, Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, describes a moment when she was so angry on a Sunday morning, that she had to ask a kind, caring, and pregnant parishioner to pray for her before she could go and lead worship. It was the saltiness, the unconditional love, of this pregnant woman, as she prayed for Nadia, that helped her reconnect with her own saltiness.
Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your saltiness? One way to reconnect with our own saltiness is to share our hurts and troubles with one another. Whether it’s over a cup of coffee in the safety and warmth of a friend’s home, or at the healing prayer stations that are available on second Sundays after worship. Unburden yourself and be prayed for. It may just reconnect you with your own saltiness.
Last week, a couple of folks from James and Andrew shared that when they encounter grumpy and difficult people, they determine to make those people smile and laugh. Not necessarily in that one particular moment, this is a long haul endeavor. Taking this path, is a conscious choice on their part to be the light to others. And when they finally do make the grumpy person smile or laugh, they have helped that person reconnect with their own light.
Do you ever feel like you’ve lost touch with your light? What might it be like to be determined to make another smile or laugh, or to go out of your way to be kind to someone? Often in helping others to see the light within themselves, we reconnect with God’s light within us.
Jesus is turning our world upside down and right side up again because God wants us to understand that each and every person is beloved, salty, and full of light.
You are a beloved child of God.
You are the salt of the earth.
You are the light of the world.
And nothing can change that. Amen.
Luke recalls when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph travel to Jerusalem and enter the temple. The purpose of their family’s trip was to abide by two Jewish rituals, which their family would have wanted to fulfill, as they sought to live into the laws of their faith tradition. The first ritual relates to the purification of a woman after childbirth, and the second ritual relates to the presentation of a couple’s firstborn son. While in the temple, Jesus and his parents encounter Simeon, a holy man, and then Anna, a prophet. Simeon and Anna were both filled with joy and hope, that through this child all of God’s people would know the transformative and healing love of God. When they laid their eyes on Jesus, they knew, all of the laws and teachings of scripture were fulfilled. Jesus is God’s love made manifest, and it meant that everything was changing.
Yet there is something a bit peculiar about this story. As it only only occurs in Luke’s gospel. Luke primarily wrote to gentiles, or rather folks outside the Jewish community. So here you have Luke, who is quite possibly a gentile Christian, describing the fulfillment of Jewish ritual law, to an audience outside the Jewish faith tradition. What would gentiles have known about Jewish law, and why would it have mattered to them?
Luke frequently wrote in his gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles about the equality of all God’s people--Jewish and gentile. By explaining that Jewish law was fulfilled at Jesus’ birth, Luke can loudly proclaim to anyone paying the slightest attention that Jesus was here for everyone. In doing so, it put Jewish and gentile folks on equal footing, right from the get-go.
Yet this story is as much about ritual as anything else. The gentiles encountering Luke’s story would have been unfamiliar with Jewish ritual law, and generally speaking, so are we. Unless you happen to spend a lot of time unpacking the first five books of the Bible, where the law is revealed. Which most of us do not. Besides, we know God is still speaking, so let's drive in and take a closer look.
The first ritual law that today’s gospel responds to is the purification of Mary. After the birth of a son, the mother was ceremonially unclean for seven days, and underwent purification for thirty-three days (Leviticus 12:1-8). For a total of forty days a woman primarily kept to the home, not allowed in the temple or to touch holy objects (Leviticus 12:1-8). If the mother gave birth to a daughter, the purification period doubled (Leviticus 12:1-8). This period of time allowed her body to rest after the ordeal of childbirth, and her body would be restored to good health and its natural cycles.
This law might seem sexist at first glance, especially when you consider that the period doubles if she gives birth to a daughter. Yet the heart of this purification period has to do with the blood of childbirth, her menstruation cycles, and the Jewish belief that life comes from blood. The blood of life indicated the ability to create and bare children, which is why the purification period doubled when a woman gave birth to a daughter. One day, that infant daughter would have the lifeblood course through her as well. The reality of this purification ritual is that it uplifts the sacredness of life, and a woman’s ability to give life. After this ritual period, the mother would go to the temple and offer a lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. If she could not afford a lamb, she could offer two turtledoves or pigeons instead. The fact that Mary offers two turtledoves indicates that their family was poor.
The second ritual law relates to the presentation of Jesus at the temple. It was expected that a couple would offer their first son to God, as the first fruits of their marriage. A promise that their son would serve God, often as a priest. It was also a reminder of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, when the firstborn sons of the Egyptians died, and those of Israel were spared. (Exodus 13:2; 22:29)
Ritual laws were both a way of life and a form of praising God in all things. Mary and Joseph did not make a purification offertory or present Jesus simply because the law required it. They did so because it was a way to praise God for their abundant blessings. It was not simply a checklist, but rather a way to show God their pure hearts and love for God.
Long after Jesus died and rose again, Jewish Christians continued to keep many rituals primarily because it was a way to continue practicing their faith and praising God. While the law was no longer required, the daily rituals brought them closer to God.
Any ritual that does not harm or exclude others, and draws us closer to God, is a ritual worth keeping. While ritual laws may no longer be part of our tradition, at our core, we still need ritual. Rituals have a way of planting our feet firmly on the ground. So no matter how we might be feeling about the impeachment trials, the public health crisis of gun violence, or the brokenness within ourselves or our relationships with others, we can turn to rituals as a way to ground us in God.
Which is why I come to church each Sunday. It’s not actually because I’m a priest. I am here, week in and out, because I need the ritual of breaking bread together as community. I need communion to remember that I am a child of God, and no matter how broken I may feel, or the brokenness I must face in the world when I walk out these doors, we are all beloved and we are better when we see that beloved-ness in one another and the world.
What daily rituals bring you closer to God? Which ones ground you and renew you, week after week? Do you study scripture? Do you pray on your own, with friends, or family during the week? Do you mediate? Walk in the woods? Light a candle? How do you find yourself praising God in all things?
God is everywhere, in the most extraordinary and ordinary of things, people, places, and relationships. How do you recognize the sacredness of life and the presence of God in your life? Or maybe, what ritual are your yearning to begin? What would that look like? May we praise God in all we think, say, and do. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm
As we continue through the Epiphany season, we are remembering the call of the disciples. Last Sunday we heard John relate one recollection of the moments when the first disciples began to follow Jesus. This morning we’ve listened to what Matthew has to tell us about how the first disciples came to form the community traveling with and learning from Jesus.
Matthew’s account, which is much like Mark’s and Luke’s, takes place after Jesus has been baptized, has spent time in the wilderness enduring temptation by Satan, and has made a home in Capernaum in Galilee.
And now it seems that he is ready to begin the ministry to which he is called. He begins by repeating the same proclamation we’ve heard from the Baptizer: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.
And Jesus takes a stroll by the Sea of Galilee and observes two groups of fishermen – Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, and brothers James and John, sons of Zebedee.
Seemingly without knowing anything of the four apart from their occupation - though some scholars observe that there’s nothing in the story that precludes an already-established relationship between Jesus and the fishermen – Jesus summons them to take on the activity of “catching people”.
We have a lot to get to this morning, and I promised to be brief! Let me suggest a couple of observations about the call of the disciples and then, an observation about how that call is connected to our business, this morning, in our Annual Meeting, as we take stock and inform ourselves about our life as the parish of James and Andrew.
Regardless, Jesus brings a message about a different kind of human community that reflects what Michael Curry calls “God’s dream” for humankind; Jesus envisions a community in which we all recognize ourselves and every other person as beloved by God, and we work together to care for one another, and to build a world characterized by peace and justice.
Jesus cannot do the work alone, and so he specifically recruits folks who can help him in the work of “catching people”. Jesus doesn’t go to the Temple to get priests onto the team, or to the palaces to summon the powerful, or to the academies to recruit the best educated. He wants the fishermen.
Like the Good Shepherd of a later parable, Jesus is out to save the lost. It is the fisherman, rather than the priests or the powerful, or the well-educated who can best help him do it.
But we also need to remember that Jesus’ call to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John came because he had a job for them to do. He didn’t say “Follow me and you’ll find comfort.” In fact it was quite the opposite.
We are called too, however we may experience that call.
We’re called to share the news that the kingdom of heaven has come near, and to help bring that kingdom into being.
We’re called to be the community that proclaims and enacts God’s Love, that works so that God’s dream may become reality –
kind word by kind word
meal by meal fed
forgiveness by forgiveness offered
sharing by sharing
Pray that we may hear the call and follow.
Thanks be to God.
Meet our preachers
Lay Preacher, Faith Community Nurse
The Rev. Jane R. Dunning, Priest Associate
Coffee with Clergy
Do you want to get together to talk about your spiritual life or learn more about our community? Contact us and we will find time to get together.