When we baptized Devon a minute ago, we promised to love Devon and to help his dads nurture him into the Christian faith until he’s able to claim that faith for his own. What will that nurture look like? Yes, yes. I know. Holding him. Every chance we get we’ll teach him about God’s love by holding him.
How else? How will we teach Devon how to live as an authentic and faithful follower of Jesus in today’s world? A good place to begin—of course—is the Sermon on the Mount. Today we pick up where we left off last week, just after the Beatitudes. Now, Jesus says:
You are the light of the world! // You are the light of the world!
But if that light is under a bushel, // Brrr, it’s lost something kind of crucial
You got to stay bright to be the light of the world
You are the salt of the earth // You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost its flavor // It ain’t got much in its favor
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the earth!
So, salt is salt and light is light. If salt doesn’t flavor, it’s not salt. If light doesn’t shine, it’s not light. The same is true of Jesus’ disciples: like salt and light each have only one purpose— to salt and to shine—so do Jesus’ disciples have only one purpose. And that purpose is… what? It is to enter, which is to say create, the kindom of heaven. Our one job as disciples is to make God’s dreams for the world come true.
How do we do that? After talking about salt and light, Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them, that fulfilling the law and the prophets is the means by which we enter the kindom of heaven. But which part of the law and the prophets?
Perhaps a part like today’s lesson from Isaiah. Listen.
Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Day after day they seek me and delight (I imagine the prophet using “air commas” here) to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgements, they “delight” to draw near to God. ‘Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?’
Look, God says, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers. You fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
It seems the people were diligently engaging in religious rituals—in this case fasting—but had forgotten why they were engaging in them. The point of fasting isn’t going without food or trying to get God’s attention, God says. The point of fasting is to sharpen our spiritual vision so that we can see with greater clarity the work to which we are called in the world. God describes that work in these next verses.
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
You have to wonder if this Psalm was rolling around in Jesus’ head while he was talking to his disciples about “letting their light shine”…
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn and your healing shall spring up quickly; Then you shall call, and God will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.
So, our own healing happens when we help to heal others. As we act others into wellbeing, we act ourselves into wellbeing.
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. God will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
What one thing are followers of Jesus to do? We do whatever we can to make God’s dreams for the world come true. What does God dream for the world? God dreams of a world where no one is oppressed, where all people have enough food to eat, a roof over their head, and everything they need to live fully as the beautiful creatures God has created them to be.
And so, it is in serving others that we are healed. It is in loosing the bonds of injustice that we are salt and light in the world. It is by serving others and working for justice that others will know we’re followers of Jesus. They’ll know we are Christians by our love, right?
Mahatma Gandhi was not a Christian, but he did read the Sermon on the Mount every day. He said it almost convinced him to become a Christian…but then he met some Christians.
Just to be clear, he wasn’t talking about rank and file Christians who try to follow Jesus in caring for the least of these. Most of the Christians Gandhi encountered were part of the British colonial government, which had oppressed the Indian people for well over a century.
In 1757—a little more than 100 years before Gandhi was born in 1869—India became a colony of the British. More specifically, it came under the rule of a business, the British East India Company. After a century of exploitation, British coffers were overflowing, while the people of India were starving. “By British figures, 400,000 Indians died of starvation in the second quarter of the 19th century, 5 million in the third quarter, and an appalling 15 million between 1875 and 1900, the years in which Gandhi was coming of age.” (Eknath Easwaran in The Essential Gandhi)
Indians had from time to time attempted to re-gain their independence, but those efforts had been disorganized and, in some cases, violent.
Gandhi’s approach—largely in conversation with the Sermon on the Mount—was unique in its insistence on nonviolent resistance. He also called on the people of India to pull together to resist the oppressive colonial power. Pulling together, though, required Indians to reach across lines of class set by their rigid caste system.
Gandhi understood that India had been susceptible to colonization by an oppressive regime because Indians had been oppressing their own citizens. A person who lived through the times wrote: “By linking independence with the way we treated one another, Gandhi shook the country from top to bottom…He told us that all of us were one and that we would never have the unity to throw off foreign rule, or even be worthy of self-government, until we ceased exploiting our own people.” (Easwaran)
In 1930, a single event unified the people and set them on the course that eventually led to India’s independence—the Salt March.
“Britain’s Salt Acts prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt, a staple in the Indian diet. Citizens were forced to buy [it] from the British, who, in addition to exercising a monopoly over the manufacture and sale of salt, also exerted a heavy salt tax….Defying the Salt Acts, Gandhi reasoned, would be a simple way to break a British law nonviolently.” (http://www.history.com/topics/salt-march)
On March 12, 1930, Gandhi set out from his ashram with several dozen followers on a journey of 240 miles to the coastal town of Dandi on the Arabian Sea.
They planned to defy British policy by making salt from seawater. Along the way, Gandhi spoke to large crowds about what they were doing. Each day more and more people joined the march. By the time they reached Dandi on April 5th, the crowd numbered tens of thousands.
The morning of April 6th, Gandhi walked down to the sea, reached down and picked up a small lump of natural salt out of the mud, and in that simple act, defied British law. His action inspired tens of thousands of others across the country to do the same. When all was said and done, 60,000 Indians had been arrested. It took another 17 years, but the Salt March was the event that initiated the movement that eventually led to India’s gaining its independence.
Someone asked me this week about the relationship between the Sovereignty of God and our responsibility to take action in the world. Some will say that, if God is in control, we don’t have to do anything, just trust that God will make things right. Can you imagine what the world would be like if people of faith just sat back and watched things happen? We’d still have slavery. Women couldn’t vote. Michael and Matthew’s moms wouldn’t be married. And, as a woman, I wouldn’t be your pastor.
Reading the Gospels, I don’t see Jesus saying anywhere to sit back, get yourself some popcorn, and watch God work. Jesus calls all his disciples to get out there and live God’s love in the world. God’s will isn’t going to happen on earth as it is in heaven unless we work with God and each other to make it happen. As the song says, “I shook my fist at God and said, ‘Why don’t you do something?’ God said, ‘I did. I created you.’”
We are the light of the world. We are the salt of the earth. We are followers of Jesus. So, let’s get out there and do something…and in our doing, let us show Michael and Matthew and Devon and Maddy and all our children how to follow Jesus with faith and integrity. Let us all work together to make God’s dreams come true.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan ©2017