Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Isaiah 58:9b-12
Matthew 5:13-20

I want to begin again this morning by acknowledging the children in our church and the hopefulness of their presence.  It’s exciting to see this new generation being formed before our eyes.  When I arrived eight to ten years ago, the only children that are currently active were Jack and Elsa Tatara and perhaps a few others – certainly not this array singing before us, last Sunday reading the gospel, and helping to serve holy communion.  We are a blessed church in this way though not by accident.

So many of you have shared your own childhood memories of singing in the choir or being an acolyte.  If you are like me, someone took you to Sunday school, handed you a piece of paper, and did not ask you but told you to learn a speech for the Easter program or the Christmas pageant.  And more often than not, the speech was long, and you learned every word of it by heart.

I’m guessing that the reason some of us are here today is because someone loved us enough to tell us something about God and faith. Even if their theology was off or skewed, it was enough to anchor our souls and get us back to church someday.

Somewhere along the way, there was a place, a building to go to and people who taught us and showed us the way.   Those seeds planted early, before we were old enough to understand, were planted in good soil, and even through all of life’s ups and downs, those prayers, words of encouragement, and opportunities to serve have stayed with us.

That’s why we want to build the bathrooms, my friends, and why we have launched the capital campaign.  It’s why there is an urgency to do it now when churches are folding left and right and we want to secure the future of this place.

Now, I know that someone is likely sitting here thinking, “Well what about us now?”  Well,  what about us?  We are here today experiencing what we are, whether we give a little or a lot, whether we attend four Sundays a month or four Sundays a year, whether we offer our time on committees and service or not; we are here because those who came before thought the church was worth sacrificing for and holding for future generations.

It is also our moral obligation.  I believe that’s true, and I’m asking every member and every “regular” visitor, whether you have officially joined or not, to have some skin in this game.  Give something to this campaign.  No amount is too small.  Don’t let others do all the lifting.  Do your part whether you voted for the project or not, the church has decided.  Only you know what you can do, but please do something.  With so many things divided in our world, would it not be wonderful if we agreed together that the church is worth sacrificing for?

So many have already given or pledged.  Bless you for that many times over, and blessings to those yet to do so. We have almost reached the $62,000 goal that was needed when we launched last month. This is a multi-year project that will allow us to replenish our endowment and hopeful that there will be a significant increase of income as a result of this effort.

We’re not going to have a lot of fundraisers.  We won’t be asking anything for the church anniversary; we are not going to have concerts or bake sales or any of that.  And I’m not going to beg.  This is our church, and we can do this together.  And I believe we will.

We are blessed to be a blessing.  If the church means something to us, it can mean something to others.  Our individual and collective existence is to encourage, lift up, inspire, motivate, and transform.

Jesus said that even the most vulnerable are made better when we do our part: the poor in spirit are blessed.  Those who mourn are comforted.  The meek, the merciful, even those persecuted and cast down are built up. And why?  Because we are present; light shines in on their world through us.

Our vernacular around “blessed” and “blessings” is not used that much these days.  We are more apt to say “He’s just lucky” or “She works so hard.” All of that might be true.  But in Bible days the word blessing meant something else.

Theologian Fred Buechner says:

In the biblical sense, if you give me your blessing, you irreversibly convey into my life not just something of the beneficent power and vitality of who you are, but something also of the life-giving power of God, in whose name the blessing is given. Even after old, half-blind Isaac discovered that he had been hoodwinked into blessing the wrong twin, he could no more take the blessing back and give it to Esau than he could take the words of it out of the air and put them back into his mouth again.

Religious language has come to such a pass that perhaps “luck,” of all words, suggests the reality of this better than “blessing.” Everybody knows that luck has magic in it and that when you have it, you really have something. It may see you through hard times. It may win you the sweepstakes. A blessing, on the other hand, has come to seem something on the order of a Hallmark friendship card.[1]

But in the church, we get to use this word as a good word.  And we know it, too.  That’s why every now and then, someone will say, “Pastor, would you come bless our new home?    Bless the new business or venture.  Bless our marriage?  Bless our child.  Because we want to make sure that we have the favor of God at the center.”

Here Jesus strips away all delusion about what it means to follow him.  He strips it away and gets to the heart of the matter: be salt, be light, be a blessing.

In the Message Bible, Eugene Peterson puts it this way:

Let me tell you why you are here.  You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.  If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?  You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.  Here’s another way to put it,” he says, “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.  God is not a secret to be kept.  We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill.  If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you?  I’m putting you on a light stand.  Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!  Keep open house; be generous with your lives.  By opening up to others you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”[2]

I cannot think of a better time to be on a light stand shining for all to see.  Jesus loops these two metaphors together, salt and light, that are simple and easy to understand.  They are the most basic and natural of things.   Before we have so much refrigeration, salt was used not only as a seasoning but also a preservative.  It keeps, saves, and prevents from spoiling or going bad.

Imagine leaving your home in the morning thinking to yourself:  “Today I am going to be really good for something. I am going to be a necessary ingredient that makes someone’s life better.  I’m going to be salt; a seasoning; a preservative for good.  I am going to be light shining in on somebody; intentionally with great consciousness and awareness.  I am going to be that person who mends instead of tears down.  I will offer something of myself – an opportunity, grace, forgiveness, a compliment, kindness – and I may not get it back, especially right then, but that’s okay.”

Salt, light, good for something good. So many of you responded to my blog last Friday.  Believe in yourself.  Don’t ever let anybody tear you down to the ground.  You might make mistakes, you might get it wrong, but you’re in good company.

“Mistakes and shortcomings are not summaries of who we are but rather, signs of our humanity, imperfect as we all are.”

Most of you are 1000%+ – not just 100%.  Go forth and be you; don’t hold back afraid of getting it wrong, afraid to speak up, afraid of not being good enough.  You are.

Let your light shine – shine so brightly that others will see and be drawn to the light of God’s love through you.  I can’t think of anything better.

[2] Matthew 5:13-16