Monday morning, one of the first things I read in my email, (after our Admin Assistant gave me her letter of resignation and we talked and hugged and were sad together) was the following message:
“I would like to offer abundant gratitude for the love your church offers to the community. As a Jew and lover of diversity, it thrills me every time I drive past your welcoming sign by your front door.I can’t express how wonderful you make me feel during these difficult times when we are at a terrifying “cross” roads. Thank you.”
I wrote back on behalf of Pastor Lyndon and I and the congregation, thanking them for their message, and the hope that together we were offering a different message and way of God’s love, and to stop in any time the door was open.
On Thursday, late afternoon, just as I was packing up in the office, the phone rang and I answered, and a person identifying themselves as someone who lives in the community, asked why we had all those rainbow flags around the church rather than a message about God’s love? I listened as they expanded more on their concern, and then I did get a chance to respond, saying that the flags are a message of God’s love! to LGBTQ2SIA+ people and their loved ones, and to many others, in contrast to the message of condemnation and even hate that the Christian church and many religions have and still are speaking to queer people. They said they had “no issue with LGBTQ people,” but thought a sign with a heart or saying “we’re praying for children” would be better. I stressed, sharing the love of God is expressed in many different ways in the whole life of the congregation and they are welcome to come anytime.
Welcome to a week of contrasts. And they are present, and we hear them within our congregation as well. “Too many rainbow flags,” and “thank you for the flags again this year” are words both Pastor Lyndon and I have heard. To my idea of name tags and indicating our preferred pronoun on Reconciling in Christ Sunday, some came with their name tag from school or work where it is now standard practise and others were happy to see us try it and did so themselves, while others were uncomfortable and found it imposing and strange. It reminded me of the first time we offered prayers and anointing for healing and the deep appreciation by some of this opportunity to experience a tangible sign of God’s loving touch and care for wholeness and healing in whatever our struggles, (for some who are transgendered a name tag with a pronoun can feel like that) and some who found prayers and anointing for healing strange and were uncomfortable with a potential message that those who were spiritual healers or spiritually healed were better than others who were not.
And we could recount other times and challenges and changes and differences between us. Or just say: welcome to being a community of God’s people together! to being the church together, with differing views and experiences in our life together, like the Corinthian community Paul writes to about God’s wisdom and life in the Spirit in the midst of their divisions. And what does Jesus call all of us as followers of Jesus? – salt of the earth, and light of the world! Jesus doesn’t say some of you are salt of the earth and light of the world and some of you are not. Jesus doesn’t invite us to be salt and light if we can measure up in some way. Jesus tells his followers, they are, you are, (the word “you” is plural) we are together, salt of the earth and light of the world. Isn’t that amazing!
Much could be said and has been written about the importance of salt and light in the ancient world. Salt was a commodity more precious than gold at times for all its uses, essential to life, and an important covenant symbol between God and God’s people. And light, fire, was also essential for life, and a rich and central metaphor for God and God’s people in the world. When Jesus calls his followers, calls us, salt of the earth and light of the world, Jesus lifts us all up as essential, precious, valuable, in God’s sight, for the sake of the world.
In the Gospel reading, these words, salt of the earth and light of the world, are connected to the law and the prophets – meaning the whole Hebrew Scriptures, that Jesus affirms when he says, he came not to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfill them. And not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass away until all is accomplished.
To be the salt of the earth and light of the world that Jesus tells us we are, is to live in fulfillment of the law and the prophets. When asked, what is the greatest commandment of the law, Jesus answered, to love God and neighbour with all we are and as ourselves. And Jesus’s own life and teaching is a fulfillment of the prophets’ words of justice and hope, living God’s righteousness – meaning in right relationship with all others and all creation, for Jesus, even to his death.
We hear these words of the law and the prophets in today’s reading from Isaiah that challenge the people’s fasting:
“Why do we fast but you do not see? Why humble ourselves but you do not notice?
Look, you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist…
Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself?
…Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to God? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly;
Would we want one letter, or even one stroke of a letter of these words of the law and prophets to pass, to be abolished rather than fulfilled as Jesus said?
To be salt of the earth and light of the world as Jesus tells us and all his followers we are, is to live loving God and our neighbours as ourselves, and to live in right relationship with one another, especially those Jesus blesses in words just before these from last Sunday: who are poor - and in spirit; in mourning; meek; hungering and thirsting- and for righteousness; the merciful; pure in heart; peacemakers; and persecuted, that God’s blessings be upon them and all of us together; And! to be salt of the earth and light of the world people in right relationship with the earth, its climate and all creation, for its wellbeing and sustaining all that depend on it for life.
The challenge and hope of Jesus’ calling has been right in front of us this week in the protest and political, legal, corporate and police response to the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and others with them in the struggle for territorial rights and jurisdiction over the building of an LNG pipeline on their lands, together with actions in response to the climate crisis.
As a congregation, after discussions by our Truth and Reconciliation Committee, we have endorsed the KAIROS statement concerning the Wet’suwet’en claim (that’s posted on our website). At the encouragement of our Committee’s action, and Pastor Lyndon who sits on the Synod’s reconciliation committee, the BC Synod has done the same. Bishop Susan tweeted on Friday: “I am just tired of Canada doing what it wants. If we say we are committed to living out the TRC and to the principles of free, prior and informed consent; What are we doing?” What are we doing? Some of you joined in the protests; we are sharing the message of standing with and praying for the Wet’suwet’en youth and elders and all involved; we are talking, questioning, being challenged and changed with others; - the message on our sign prompted someone to leave a message on the phone yesterday from the “extinction rebellion” saying they saw our sign the last few weeks and are wondering if there is something we could do together. Is this being the salt of the earth and light of the world, fulfilling the law and the prophets, that Jesus tells us we are? We pray and trust by God’s grace, yes. And more: salt and light are never for their own sake or purpose, but given, shared, sprinkled, poured, shining out, not flavourless or hidden, but flavouring and illuminating the world with God’s love, justice, hope, peace, joy, especially for the sake of the powerless, pure, persecuted. This is who we are together, yes, with our differences, salt of the earth and light of the world. by God’s grace, in all our relations, let it be so. Amen.