A Sermon by Louise Westfall
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
February 6, 2011
Text:  Matthew 5:13-16

One of the reasons I preach from Biblical texts outlined in the 3-year cycle of the common lectionary is for the discipline it imposes.  Rather than choosing the texts that support what I want to say, having them organized on a weekly schedule means I have to let them speak on their own terms, free– or at least freer– from my personal agenda.  It was tempting to forsake that practice on these final two Sundays of my ministry with you, because actually I DO have an agenda! There are some things I want to tell you; gratitude I want to express, core values I want to lift up; some parting words to illumine the meaning of our time together and shine some light down future’s path.

Tempting as it was, however, I’m glad I didn’t.  The gospel reading from Jesus’ collected teachings known as “the sermon on the mount” offers more than enough insight and surprising blessing in its description of Jesus’ followers and their calling.  I can’t imagine a better text to remind us who we are and what we’re supposed to do, here in Cleveland and there in Denver and in fact everywhere.  (Next week, however, all bets are off; I chose the text!)

Listen for God’s Word to Fairmount Presbyterian Church in the reading from the gospel according to Matthew in the fifth chapter at the 13th verse.  [MATTHEW 5:13-16]

Salt and light. Two things that enhance their environment. Two metaphors Jesus used to describe his followers.   You are the ones to bring out the goodness of earth’s people; you are the ones to shine for others with hope and guidance.  He’s not really talking about faith electives; these are intrinsic to our very essence.    You are the salt. . . you are the light. . . Of course it’s possible for salt to lose its saltiness; you can hide your light.  But to do so is like trying to live without food or air to breathe—they are that basic to those who want to follow Jesus.

Another way to say it is “Be who you are.”  Be who we are: The church that adds zest to ordinary life; the people who flavor each day with mercy and caring.  Salt has a bite to it—a reminder that while sometimes the church’s task is to comfort the afflicted, sometime it is our call to afflict the comfortable, to serve as a moral barometer, awakening us to realities that need addressing. I like the way one writer put it:  “Almost anyone can be healed with salt water: by sweat, by tears, or by the sea.”   Salt functions effectively as a preservative –as any bacon lover will tell you.  In Cleveland winters, salt provides traction on icy roads and walkways. The church can offer stability during the perilous parts of our journeys, and persevere with one other through thick and thin.   You are the salt of the earth—let’s be who we are.

And let’s be the church that shines in the darkness; the people who nurture growth in one another, whose joy and sense of purpose help others discover or recover the light in their own lives.  Of all the metaphors Jesus used of himself—the bread of life, the door, the good shepherd—only one did he also use about his followers.  I am the light of the world. . . . and YOU are the light of the world.  Let’s be who we are.

Which means we’ll also do what we do.  Both salt and light become unmistakable when applied to their surroundings.  A Church built on a hill in the Heights should not be hidden.   Instead, we are to show Christ’s light in public, make it obvious in our City and neighborhoods,  at our jobs and schools, with friends and at home.   This week I read about a Christian group who were foiled in their efforts to do so.  FOX news rejected their 30-second spot that would have aired during the Super Bowl.   The evangelical Christian group which produced it said the inspiration came from the attention given to Super Bowl ads and the millions of dollars spent to sell viewers a beer or a Coke or an automobile.  The rejected ad revealed the meaning of the signs you always see at televised games of any kind—John 3:16—by directing viewers to a website where the whole verse is seen over an empty football stadium.   FOX explained they do not accept advertising from religious organizations for the purpose of “advancing particular beliefs or practices.”  Really?  Personally, I think FOX made a bad call.  But paid ads are not the only way to let our light shine.  The three- million- dollar cost to air the ad could build approximately 50 Habitat for Humanity homes; or fund the annual budget for Heights Youth Club. . .for ten years; or create an endowment for some of the nonprofits addressing our city’s critical needs; or underwrite health and medical ministries all over Ethiopia.  We can proclaim the good news that God loves the whole world and intends to redeem it with the words of sermons and prayers and songs and conversation among friends and dialogue with those with whom we differ, and maybe even Super Bowl ads. But we can also proclaim it through actions that heal and repair and reconcile.   Let your light shine:  friends, let’s do what we do.

Something Fairmount has done from the very beginning is cultivate a thinking faith and nurture that in succeeding generations.  You know our history:  how some women got together to organize a Sunday School for neighborhood children; within a year the church was chartered.  Ever since, we’ve focused a significant part of our ministries on education.  But times have changed; the pattern of holding Sunday school and worship simultaneously has had the unintended consequence of diminishing the impact of both.

Educators and theologians and parents alike have advocated for including all but the youngest children in worship in addition to church school for all ages (adults too!).  Fairmount’s Session approved a proposal from the Faith Formation Council to initiate the new practice in September this year.  (You can read the proposal as well as reasons for the change on our website, or get more information from associate pastor Eric Dillenbeck or Director of Children’s and Family Ministries, Betsy Wooster.   There will be many opportunities this Spring and Summer to discuss the proposal and see how it will work for the good of the whole congregation.)   We want the light to shine– not just away downstairs in the “children’s wing” but here, where it can give light to all in the house.

If hearing about this proposal makes you uneasy, or you’re fretting about the pastoral transition in general, take heart.  It’s not easy being salt and light.  Too much salt and you’ve got a problem with high blood pressure.  Not enough light and you can lose your way.  But that’s why we gather again and again at this table. Here we remember Jesus Christ, the Source of light.  It’s not something we have to generate ourselves; Christ blesses us by replenishing our supply continually.    Here the salt becomes an ingredient in the bread of life that nourishes as no other. Here we receive God’s gift of grace. And that, my friends, is all we need to be who we are and do what we do.   Amen.