Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
As I talk too many of you throughout the course of the week. A similar theme comes up during the course of the week: your children. Your children who were baptized, confirmed, and married within a church yet want nothing to do with the church.
The reasons for this are often varied. The sermon for today is for those whose kids don’t go to church, for people who have sworn off the church, for those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. This is a sermon about “Why Christianity Matters” as you live it out in the world; this is not a sermon about church. This is a sermon about Christianity outside the church.
To begin with let me describe the typical human existence. People tend to go through life with a win at all costs mentality. It doesn’t matter if it’s relationships, finances, or just having to brag over coffee over how your kids are taller, smarter, and more athletic than the neighbor’s kids. We want to be able to end the day with one-upping others as a way to establish our self-worth.
Families don’t get along with each other, due to some alleged proverbial black sheep always being to blame. The problem might be a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a grandma, an aunt, or an uncle. All the time I hear stories about family members who refuse to speak to each other. Last week, I heard a story about a sister suing her brothers over trinkets that are relatively worthless in the grand scope of existence.
People will often make the claim they don’t need church. They search out different kinds of community at the local bar, online, or what-not. You log into something like Facebook, you see how nasty other people can be towards each other. You see how arrogant people can be as they try to have the answers to all of life’s problems.
People lash out at organized religion as only being about money, while they whine about how other people don’t deserve success at every turn. They assume just a bit more money will make them happier, only for the cycle to keep expanding with every dollar placed in their own bank account.
People can say they don’t need religion; they might have other coping mechanisms from alcohol and then more alcohol to casual sex to cutting yourself off to the world around you. Yet all these so-called coping mechanism keep cutting people’s wounds deeper and deeper.
If you don’t know anybody to whom these descriptions apply. I apologize in advance for my sermon this morning.
First story, a number of years ago there was a Saturday Night Live character named Stuart Smalley who was played by now Senator Al Franken. Smalley would appear on the screen with perfectly groomed hair, a buttoned up to the top (yellow shirt). Smalley’s whole claim to authority was all the previous problems he had in life from overeating, to being the son of alcoholic parents to dysfunctional past relationships. Smalley figured positive reinforcement was the key to turning around his messed up life.
So, Stuart Smalley first thing in the morning with look in the mirror saying “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, doggone it people like me.”
“The only problem with all this was Smalley would then spend every day making a complete fool of himself, bringing him back to the mirror the next morning”.
Smalley’s approach to life isn’t uncommon where kids are raised from their youngest of days to believe that everyone is equal, everyone’s a winner only for the world to present all sorts of evidence to the contrary leaving people with all sorts of questions regarding the meaning of it all.
This all brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from Matthew the 5th chapter. The second part of a sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount. Last’s week lesson dealt with the nature of God’s blessing for the mourning, the meek, and the poor in spirit. How the eventual Kingdom of God contrasts with the values of the kingdom of this world. Our second lesson for today deals with instructions for the Disciples to interact with the world around them.
The words we here today are amongst Jesus most famous: “You are the salt of the earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”.
Words meant to let the Disciples know that when the world around them is beginning to fall apart that their faith can be a beacon for the entire world to see.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that[b] they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”-Matthew 5:16
These verses though are often greatly misunderstood. We assume that these words are dealing with our own self-improvement, our own use of the Bible for daily living.
But note the words: “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world”. The Disciples aren’t told to become salt and light, the disciples are told they already are salt and light.
What this passage seeks to remind us is the goal in reaching more people isn’t to convince them that if they come with us to Church then their life will be wonderful, just as our life is wonderful. The truth is we cannot become “salt” and “light” on our own. Instead, it is because of what Christ does in us through the power of his life-giving word that we are made into salt and light.
This week, I came across a story that I found interesting. It has to do with Approval Ratings for the New Pope Francis. Pope Francis had a popularity rating of 88% among American Catholics with a favorability rating of ¾ Americans .
These numbers shocked me because such popularity would be unheard for an American President, let alone a religious leader who takes all sorts of hot-button stands on issues like: gay marriage, abortion, and even birth control.
People that don’t even agree with Francis on a host of issues tend to be drawn to him. What this poll seems to indicate is that people are out there searching for something that often times they can’t quite say what it is. But they are intrigued by a new religious leader who is different from the old religious leaders.
What I wonder about is if the greatest issue that Christianity faces is one of marketing. Pope Francis seems to recognize this.
Robert Farar Capon described our Gospel lesson for today the best when he said:
“Yes, I know. The church is indeed to be the salt of an otherwise bland earth. But that doesn’t mean that the church itself is supposed to be all salt or that it is supposed to turn the world into nothing but salt. Therefore, when it represents itself to the world, it probably should not first of all be seen as salt. That’s misleading advertising. You don’t put doughnuts in the window of a shoe store: that only confuses the public about your real business. Likewise you don’t turn the church into a sodality (fellowship) that consists only of bright, white Anglo-Saxons who are happily married, have 1.8 children, and never get drunk. Instead, you just let it be what it in fact already is: a random sampling of the broken, sinful, half-cocked world that God in Christ loves–dampened by the waters of baptism but in no way necessarily turned into perfect peaches by them.”
A while back, I was at a Silver Bay High School Basketball game. It wasn’t a good afternoon for the good guys in blue; they had lost by more than 40 points. It was the type of game that was tough on players, tough on coaches, and tough on fans. They had lost plenty of other games recently in such a fashion. As I’m leaving the gym, someone says to me “You don’t’ have to be here, so why do you come and watch this?”
My answer was simple because the last thing I want to do is only support people when they are at their best. Champions don’t have a hard time attracting fans, beautiful woman don’t have a hard time attracting suitors, and the extraordinarily gifted don’t have trouble finding people to tell them how wonderful they are. Where people need support the most is when the world feels like it’s crashing down on their shoulders. Where Christianity comes into one’s life is at these moments. Christianity says what we see today doesn’t define your self-worth.
Jesus doesn’t seek to instruct the Disciples within Today’s Gospel lesson. Jesus seeks to comfort the disciples through a word of promise. Jesus sets to let the Disciples know that they are forgiven, and they have been set free. With this promise comes a radical change in how they see the world as “salt” and “light”. The Disciples are being told that they no longer need to refer to anyone “from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16), but rather refer to everyone they encounter as the one for whom Christ will die.
What if the typical human existence was different then it is today?
Whether instead of going through life at a win at all costs mentality, we see that we are free from spiritual bookkeeping, free from having to live for ourselves, but instead seek to live for the world around us.
What if instead of holding grudges with family and neighbors, we were able to take the first step towards them, because we know that Christ holds them dearly in all their black sheep ways, no differently then he holds the white sheep in his arms in the famous Sunday School painting.
What if people came to realize this church exists, not because we’re perfect, but rather because we’re imperfect. What if people saw the church as the place that would take them in and call them a friend when the rest of the world seems to be against them? What if people saw the church as a vessel then would stand beside them when they are at their lowest.
What if the people of Silver Bay saw that the Christian Life goes beyond not swearing, not drinking too much, not engaging in casual sex, and attending church on a regular basis? What if people came to instead recognize that Christianity matters because it is a radically different, a grace-centered, forgiveness oriented way of responding to the broken world around you.
How Christianity is a religion for the helpless, a religion for the guilty, a religion for outcasts, a religion for sinners. So, that when we look at the mirror every day we no longer need to be crushed, but instead see a Child of God claimed on a Cross.
“You are the salt of the Earth”, “You are the light of the world”, and “You are the city on the hill that cannot be hidden”. Amen
 This description of Stuart Smalley is taken from a sermon given by the Rev. Frank Limehouse at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, AL as referenced by Zahl, John in “Take Heed! (A sermon from Frank Limehouse). Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 20.Mar.2010. Web. Feb.5.2014
 Matthew 5:13-14
 These results are taken from a CNN/ORC International Poll released on December 24th ,2013.
 Richardson, Ethan. “Robert Farrar Capon on Church Saltiness”. Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church. Charlottesville, VA. 10.Oct.2011. Web. Feb.8.2014