This sermon was prepared for Chapel at the United Theological College / La Seminaire Unie for February 1st, 2017 (based on the following Sunday’s lectionary, Epiphany 5). This was the Wednesday following the shooting at le Centre Culturel Islamique du Québec on January 29th, 2017, in Québec.
I had another sermon prepared, that is, until 10pm Sunday night. I had another service prepared until Zack called to me down the hall.
After I had heard about the events at the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec, I laid awake in bed, knowing it was my turn to lead chapel on Wednesday. And, I thought to myself, there was no way I could lead you in the songs and prayers I had planned. Then, I asked myself: If I change the songs, and the prayers, should I also change the scripture reading? Does this reading, from Matthew, speak to the tragic loss of life, perpetuated by fear, ignorance, and hatred?
And, the next morning, I turned back to the passage and asked: Where is God in this? Where was God on Sunday night, when God’s children knelt in prayer?
I thought about how today is the first day of Black History month. I thought about Christianity’s bloody history of discrimination and exploitation against Muslims and People of Colour.
I read and reread the Gospel passage, and this is what I heard…
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.
And, I wonder, have we lost our taste? As a Christianized nation, a nation built on Biblical ideas, for better or worse. Have we, as a society, lost our saltiness? Have we shrouded our city on the hill? Have we hidden our light?
And I was overwhelmed by grief because the answer seemed so clearly to be yes, and the passage seemed to say that our saltiness could never be restored.
If we are the “light of the world,” and we have been called to “let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works and give glory to God,” how do we undo what has been done? How do we rewrite the horrific Gospel we have been proclaiming?
But, salt doesn’t lose its taste. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. And, light leaks through the cracks.
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
Last week, when we heard Jesus say: blessed are the poor, the meek, the marginalized… We imagined that he was speaking to the people in front of him: trades people, parents, widowers, orphans, slaves, and all those others who gathered on the hillside.
To these people, Matthew’s Jesus proceeds to say “you”. You, who are blessed and marginalized, are salt and light.
You are salt. You are light.
He calls these blessed people to live their lives as a testament to God’s work, a universal work of love that we see lived out in Jesus.
When the world seems to lose its taste, when it overwhelms us, we look for those “salt of the earth” people. Folks whose words and actions flicker like a light in the darkness. These people quietly and loudly proclaim the Gospel message. They act out their testimony to the Living Word, the Gospel message of Jesus.
Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
People like Mohamed Belkhadir, a 29-year-old engineering student at Université Laval. Who, when hearing gunfire, returned to the mosque he had just left. Who provided First Aid to a friend who was shot. Who fled when he saw a man with a gun, thinking it was the shooter, not the police. Who said, “I understand, I respect, that they caught me. They saw me flee, they thought I was suspicious, that’s normal. For them, someone who flees is a suspect.”
Where were you God, on Sunday night? In the hands and feet of people who reached out against fear, ignorance, and hatred in acts of love.
In the following weeks we will hear the continuation of this sermon, and the instructions Jesus gives on how to shape our lives to be an inward reflection of a God-inspired ethic. Thereby shaping our actions to be an outward reflection of this same God.
This is a crash course in being salty and bright; in being a “salt of the earth” kind of people.
And, we will hear more about how being salt and light is a call to live a revolutionary life, a radical life of justice and of love–a call to demonstrate the Gospel message.
But for now? We mourn, we respond, and we care for one another. For now? We look for the helpers and hope to find that we, too, are one.