Thy Kingdom Come
We Are Kingdom BuildersMatthew 5:13-16 1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Father Thomas Philipee was a Dominican Priest and a theology teacher in Paris following the Second World War. … and while he was serving and teaching there he felt God press an idea into his heart. That idea grew to become a community called “Eau Vive” (which translates to Living Water). He filled this community with students who were from all over the globe and all different backgrounds. And their soul purpose for gathering together as a community was to seek after knowledge and seek after God. While they were there, students would attend area universities studying in various fields, and then they would come home to Eau Vive to learn about leadership and development, learn about Christian faith and theology… and all in all they sought to grow their minds while filling themselves with the love of God so that they could take all of that back home with them… wherever that was on the globe.
In 1951 this community, Eau Vive, attracted a new young student… named Jean Vanier. He came to this community to study with Father Thomas who he thought of as the master of Christian living. He thought, what better way to grow in intellect and heart than to shadow the man that embodies intellect and heart. He became his Spiritual apprentice. Vanier thrived in this community.
But one day, Father Thomas would receive a new call, away from Paris, away from university life, to serve the people of Trosly- Breuil, France. And while he was there, yet another concern and idea was pressed into his heart by God. … As the priest to the local institution for those with developmental, physical, and intellectually disabilities, a much different realm of ministry… he would witness the struggles of this group of people… but he would also see their profound and unique capacity for faith. So he went and got his old and faithful apprentice, Jean Vanier. And he took him back to Trosly- Breuil with him, and he told him all about the unique spiritual lives of these people and their need to be someplace and be cared for in a way… that understood it. He said, “Do something, Jean, do something for these people.”
So in 1964, Jean Vanier acted on his mentor’s request and he took two men with disabilities into his home. And he called his home, The Ark or L’Arche. But he didn’t do this just to please his old mentor… but he embraced this opportunity to yet again pioneer a new concept of community. He refused to simply welcome them in as his patients… he didn’t want to be their care giver… but what he wanted to acknowledge them as fellow human beings who shared care and need. In his words, he says, “L’Arche is truly odd- it refuses to do what society thinks it should.”
God took this- this willingness to do something and this desire to bring dignity and worth to someone that is typically marginalized- and God ran with it, so to speak!
This act of ‘welcoming in’, of acknowledging those with disabilities as his fellow human beings and people of faith… has become an entire movement… L’Arche is now an international organization operating in 40 countries on six continents.
Jean Vanier would tell us that “L’Arche is a sign of hope, and new possibilities, but above all it is a marker for truth of the Gospel; it is living proof that the story Christians bear is not fantasy or a collection of abstract principles but real and true and clear.”
Today, in homes all across the globe, people with disabilities and those that assist them live together in homes and apartments, sharing life, sharing their faith with one another. Because the truth of the Gospel is for everyone and to everyone.
This is the kind of community that is spoken about in our Scripture lesson today. Granted it is a bold one. But nevertheless it is a thriving example of what it is to live a life honoring to the light of the Gospel. A life that attests to the greatness of God and the fact that God’s love is for everyone. The city upon a hill, that calls to others to come in and be a part of something important. This is a salty lifestyle.
Last week, we looked at the Beatitudes, the first message of the Sermon on the Mount. And we talked about what it was to be a Kingdom person: to be drawn up from of the brokenness of the world, and blessed so that we may be a blessing to others.
That is the section that comes right before this one, another well-known passage. We know this as the “Salt and Light” passage.
But, before we dive into anything else, we need to reevaluate what we assume of this passage. We usually think of this section as having just two claims:
1) you (the kingdom people) are the salt of the earth.
2) that you are the light of the world. But there is a third claim in this passage that usually gets over looked. And that is this
3) that Kingdom people are the doers of good deeds.
If we don’t include that last claim, if we talk about Salt and Light and leave out the deeds part, the passage is a little self-serving, isn’t it? It is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would refer to as ‘cheap grace’ (or easy believin’) because it disregards any responsibility towards being a Kingdom person. But what the Sermon on the Mount tells us, is that the Christian way is a life of responsibility. Not just over ourselves as we pursue a rich relationship with Christ… but towards our neighbors. Fellow creations of a Great and Loving God.
Christ begins this passage with “You are the salt of the earth.”
What do we know of Salt?
It add flavor. Taking what is bland and making it powerful.
“You are the flavor of the earth.”
Salt is a preservative. Taking what is temporary and making it last.
“You are the preservative of the earth.”
Salt was a form of currency. Roman soldiers wages were paid in salt. That is where the phrase, “Any man worth their salt” comes from.
So we could say, “You are the riches of the earth.”
Salt is a symbol of God’s power. If you remember back to Genesis God turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt.
“You are the power of the earth.”
I could go on and on. The very term salt has a wealth of meanings. But when we read about salt next to a verse about the city set upon a hill. A different meaning comes to mind. And it is one that asks us to consider whose Gospel account this is: Matthew was a Jewish man. He expresses what Christ is saying from that point of view. It is also thought that his audience, the first to read these words, was the Jewish community as well. So he would have been very aware of the movements and trends in that group.
He would have known that they term ‘saltiness’ carried with it an important cultural reference.
In the 1st century there was an intense argument that raged within the Jewish population about the requirements of morality under the covenant. Upholding the laws of the Old Testament. Especially within this region, that was occupied by Roman law. They had the difficult task of trying to maintain their beliefs in a world that was growing more and more culturally Roman… So the moral practices of the day would have been a common talking point for Jewish leaders. From their standpoint the moral practices or the era ranged from the profound corruption and worldliness found within the courts of the Roman leaders… to the compromised morality taught by the Sadducees, to the seriously flawed efforts of the Pharisees to try and uphold every law without wondering about the greater purpose… all the way down to the pious and drastic efforts of the separatist movement. This was a vast discussion!
Now this separatist movement was a community called the Qumran or the Dead Sea community. You may have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls… They were so troubled by the moral practices of the day that they tried to get away from it all. They withdrew from that life and tucked themselves into villages along the Dead Sea well away from the influences of the Romans… They were a really radical group of purest… and they were referred to as “Salty” people. They were called that because they were literally salty… as residence of the Dead Sea area… and because they lived in a way very different from the world.
So when we hear Christ say, “You are the Salt of the earth…” we are getting an earful. There is so much that could be drawn out of this term.
But one thing is for sure, no matter what interpretation of ‘salt’ you lean towards- to lose you saltiness means to lose your identity. You lose your flavor, value, preserving way, your power, your different way of living. You would lose your identity as something that marks you as different from the world.
You would be just another pebble or bland grain of sand to be trampled underfoot, as Matthew says. To be salty, is to be special.
Now, as we read along, when Christ says, “You are the light of the world, a city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” The meaning is far more clear. Throughout Scripture, light is used as a symbol for divine presence and salvation. It means that as those who have received the gift of salvation we bear that as we walk into the world. With every step that we take we are ablaze with the light of God’s salvation, presence, justice, and peace! That light is a beacon to the city upon the hill.
Christ goes on to say that if you are alight you don’t hide that light. As all of us live in a post-Edison era, we don’t have to worry about not having enough light. We just flip on the light switch. But form the perspective of a disciple sitting on a hill listening to Christ speak in the 1st century light would have been a far more appreciated quality. There is only so many hours of light in the day. The glow of a fire only reaches so far.
To be light, is to invite others close to you. Whether you are the sun in the sky that invite people outside, or you are a candle light or fire light that draws people close to it. Disciples of Christ are only a ‘city upon a hill’ when they draw people up the hill, through the gates and into the community of lit up people. The Kingdom’s people.
As much as a neon sign on a hotel draws in weary travelers- so is our light to be an invitation.
Christ warns us against hiding our light under a bushel basket.
If you will remember back to what I was saying about the Dead Sea community,the separatist that withdrew from society to live out their life and their faith away from the world.
This withdrawal strategy by definition makes for a hiding rather than a displaying of the light.
This has big implications for us!
If we are the light of the world, and told not to hid, tuck away, or cover that light. That means we must hold it out for all to see.
As Christian people, we tend to only share our faith with other Christian people. We tend to reserve our most loving behavior for Sunday or for when the pastor’s nearby throughout the week…
We tend to close ourselves off a bit, don’t we? But to be the bearers of the light. To hold it out for the world to see. That means we need to behave like Kingdom people even in trying moments.
When that telemarketers calls you for the fifth time… remember you are light.
In moments when you are weary and stressed… remember that you are light.
In moments when you are asked to give your money, your resources… or worst yet your time… remember that you are light.
Note that Christ isn’t saying: “You will be salt… you will be light.” But that you already are those things! Not in some distant future. But now.
Now, as I said earlier to mention salt and light- without talking about deeds would be to tilt the passage away from its intention.
Doing good deeds is the work of salty and bright people. It is what keeps the salt salty, and the light bright. It is the powerful extension of the invitation to the ‘city upon the hill.’ It is how we build the Kingdom of God. Being a disciple of Christ, being a Kingdom person, is to is to bear witness to the love of God by caring for all persons, especially society’s broken, needy, and outcast.
Christ has told us to not hide away our light. But to let it shine bright as we wade into this world. As messy and as broken as it is sometimes.
In Paul’s ministry, he didn’t start his journey with profound words or wisdom. But his ministry was through demonstrations of the Spirit and of power. His works, his deeds, paved the way for the Spirit’s work.
We are not going to get this discipleship thing right every time. Some days we are not going to life up to our calling to be Kingdom people. But there is hope and joy to be found in the fact that the Sprit can and will work through what we put out there into the world. The deeds that we do.
Paul says, “I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom…”
Yet God was still able to use Paul as the greatest evangelist ever. Through the testimony of his deeds.
God has called us to build up the Kingdom of God. God has called us to invite people towards that ‘City upon a hill.’ And although we might approach this task with weakness and fear like Paul, God has redeeming ways.
I told you about Jean Vanier, and his ministry with L’Arche. This was a salty ministry that did big and bold things to say that the Gospel message was for everyone.
Now we probably aren’t going to do something that makes that kind of an impact on the global landscape. But this congregation can still make a profound statement in the light that we bear to this city. In the work that we do. We can help usher in the work of the Spirit!
As Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message translation of Matthew 5:15-16, “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.” So live the tasty, lit-up life!”
Let’s close our time of message in prayer.
Creator God, help us to be salty people. To be bright people. To be brave in out deeds and in our loving acts. Strengthen us for Your work of building Your Kingdom. Guide us to places that need Your light. In Christ’s name. Amen.
 Vanier, Jean & Stanley Hauwerwas. Living Gently in a Violent World.