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Knowing Our Place In the World

January 12, 2020

KNOWING OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD

©Wendell Griffen, 2020

January 12, 2020

New Millennium Church

Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Matthew 5:1-16

5When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

13 ‘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.

14 ‘You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.


Creator God, our soul's delight,
your voice thunders over the waters,
liberating the future from the past.
In the Spirit's power and the waters of rebirth,
Jesus was declared your blessed and beloved Son;
may we recall our baptism,
and be disciples of the Anointed One. Amen.


Although I usually follow the Revised Common Lectionary in my preaching, I am not preaching about the Baptism of Jesus today.  Over the past week I’ve been pondering what it means to be a follower of Jesus nowadays. 

 

What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus when the President of the United States can carry out a plot to kill one of the leading military officers of another country?  Last week, Major General Qassim Suliemani, one of the highest ranking officers in the Iranian military structure, was murdered by order of President Donald Trump.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo counseled and encouraged Trump to murder Suliemani.  Pompeo says that he is a follower of Jesus. 

 

Do you find it odd that a follower of Jesus would actively encourage someone to commit murder?  Jesus didn’t murder anyone.  Jesus was murdered – assassinated – by the Roman Empire at the behest of his enemies.  So what are people to think when Mike Pompeo (the most senior member of the U.S. Cabinet as Secretary of State), actively conspires with President Trump to murder people?

 

The excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t support murdering our enemies.  We don’t find “Blessed are the assassins” in the Beatitudes.  Instead, we find “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” 

 

The world didn’t become more peaceful after General Suliemani was assassinated.  It became more dangerous.   If you doubt that, remember the 180 people who died after the Ukrainian Airlines passenger jet they were on was shot down near Tehran, Iran by the Iranian military because the plane was mistakenly considered a hostile US war aircraft after Suliemani was murdered. 

 

What does it mean to be followers of Jesus when people like Mike Pompeo act as though following Jesus gives one a license to commit murder in the name of empire?  What does it mean to be followers of Jesus when people who say they follow Jesus behave in hateful ways towards political enemies?  What does it mean to be followers of Jesus when people who say they follow Jesus support discrimination?  What is our place in that kind of world?

 

Following Jesus is a call to radical living.  The Beatitudes point to a way of living that is fundamentally different.  Jesus called his followers to embrace humility, repentance, gentleness, compassion, zeal for justice, commitment to peacemaking, and unflinching devotion to living in harmony with God and the rest of Creation.

 

Humility (Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) is radical in an arrogant world.

 

Repentance (Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted) is radical in a world where people consider admitting error to be a mistake.

 

Gentleness (Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth) is radical in a vicious and violent world.

 

Zeal for justice (Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled) is radical in a world where people crave and grab power so they can oppress others.

 

Compassion (Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy) is radical in a world where caring for others who suffer is considered weakness.

 

Commitment to living in harmony with God and others (Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God) is radical in a world where success is defined by profit and private advantage rather than service.

 

Being people who nurture fellowship and support others (Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God) is radical in a world where differences are used as excuses for violence, fear, and deceit.

 

And being unfazed by unpopularity, persecution, and being defamed because we follow the radical call of Jesus (Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account) is radical in an opinion-poll obsessed world.   

 

Following Jesus is a call to radical and subversive living.  We do not accept “survival of the fittest” and dog-eat-dog thinking.  We are God’s agents of healing, compassion, justice, joy, and peace in a wounded and hurtful world.  We are people of hope in a world of despair. 

 

We are not in the world to blend in it.  We are here to stick out and challenge the world.  That’s what Jesus was teaching when he described his followers as “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world.” 

 

Salt only preserves fresh meat from rotting because of its salinity.  Salt cannot be salt otherwise, and if it isn’t salt, it is worthless as a preservative.  Salt can’t preserve meat from rotting if it is sugar, flour, or baking soda. 

 

Light works to illumine dark places because of its luminosity.  Our eyes are designed to operate based on light, so we are naturally attracted to light.  Darkness doesn’t guide people out of dark places.  Only light serves that purpose. 

 

According to Jesus, you and I are to function in the world the same way that salt preserves meat from rotting and light works to guide people in darkened spaces.  Salt and light stick out.  Salt and light challenge their environment.  Salt and light produce healthy and helpful results because they stick out and challenge. 

 

When people who profess to follow Jesus don’t live according to the characteristics mentioned in the Beatitudes we can’t be salt and light influences in the world because we are too much like the world to make a healthy and helpful difference.    We are too much like the meat and the darkness to preserve the world from becoming more vicious, more hateful, more arrogant, more oppressive, more violent, and more deceitful.  In the past week we’ve seen what happens when people who claim to follow Jesus aren’t salty and shroud the light of God’s love in their lives. 

 

Here’s what we can do to be God’s salt and light in the world. 


First, be bold!  Don’t be afraid to be God’s humble, repentant, gentle, justice-loving, compassionate, devout, peaceful, and radically subversive people.  Don’t be afraid to be salt and light.  Don’t be afraid to stick out, speak up, and act as if you know the dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest, and profit at any cost world is not the way people should live. 

 

We can be boldly humble people.  We can be boldly repentant people.  We can be boldly gentle people.  We can be bold about our love for justice and our opposition to oppression, bigotry, greed, and discrimination.  We can be bold about our commitment to help others.  We can be bold about our devotion to oneness with God, others, and the rest of creation.  We can be bold even when others hate us, mistreat us, and malign us.  Don’t be afraid to be bold.

 

Boldness is a moral and ethical choice you and I either make or duck.  We can either choose to stand up, speak up, and show up, or choose to blend in with the culture of greed, hate, fear, violence, and deceit around us.  We can boldly call hatefulness evil, and condemn misuse of power of we can timidly duck and try to fit in. 

 

Imagine what could have been possible if Mike Pompeo and others in President Trump’s inner circle had been bold voices of salt and light.  A working flashlight makes a big difference, whether one is in a darkened room, stadium, warehouse, or the White House.  Be a bold flashlight and strong salt. 

 

Next, let’s boldly and constantly practice God’s call to community.  Let’s boldly welcome immigrants and strangers.  Let’s boldly protect and befriend people who are targets of prejudice and bigotry.  Let’s use our moral authority to boldly shine light and truth on dreary situations where people are hurt, mistreated, and oppressed. 

 

God calls us to be bold people of salt and light.  You and I are part of God’s bold force for truth, justice, peace, joy, and hope.  God calls us to boldly live together by the power of the Holy Spirit so that we can light pathways to help people work together, walk together, love together, forgive together, heal together, and hope together. 

 

This is our place in the world.  This is our high calling.  God and the world are watching and waiting for us to embrace it.  Let’s boldly do so as followers of Jesus. 

 

Thank you, God, for calling us through Jesus to be your agents of salt and light.  Thank you for empowering us through the Holy Spirit to boldly live in the world for your glory.  Thank you for giving us opportunities to shine our light together, hope together, work together, and live for you together. 


We pray for your strength and wisdom to live out that calling.  Deliver us from the temptation to blend in with the status quo and “go along to get along.”  Help us know that darkness is never too much for your light in us, and to remember to let our light shine and keep it uncovered. This is our prayer so that we can glorify you and joyfully be salt and light people for you in the world in obedience to the example of Jesus. 


Amen.