Isa 58:1-9a,(9b-12); Ps 112:1-9 (10); 1 Cor 2:1-12, (13-16); Matt 5:13-20
Some of things we hear and remember from the Bible are empty and powerless if we repeat them without understand or grasping the content in them. Even pithy, catchy, seriously theological statements may sound good and even offer a certain encouragement or comfort; “God is love” and “love one another”, or “the good shepherd”. However two strong examples come out the sermon on the mount, out of Jesus’ mouth; “you are the salt of the earth” and “you are the light of the world”. They both sound like a clarion cry to motivate and challenge us, with Jesus warning us not to lose our saltiness, and not to hide this light that we are. But really what do they mean – what salt, which light?
In anticipation of the coming of Messiah, Isaiah gives us a stunning answer to the question; what salt, which light? Isaiah starts with a stunning attack on the religious practices of the Hebrew people; they study, they fast and they worship as if they mean it, and yet God finds their practice lacking. It’s all futile, this religious performance, as a means to a Divine hearing and approval. Why should it alter God’s view, when in this case it effects no change in the unethical behaviour of the practitioners; when it’s first concern is themselves. They accuse God of not noticing. The trouble is that God notices all too well – that their unjust and oppressive relationships with the less advantaged is not affected by their religion. All they’re fasting from is from food they have no intention of sharing.
The fast God is looking for is the fast from self-interest, self-advancement; the kind of fast that effects a change in our attitudes towards the less privileged and those reluctantly dependant upon our generosity and compassion. God’s concern for the weak and vulnerable is the proper focus of our fasting.
My fasting ought to heighten my awareness and vulnerability of the poor and oppressed [the least of these]. There is a kind of worship of our good and gracious Lord that includes feeding, housing and clothing the needy. This is what God involves Himself in, this is where His presence is felt [Matt. 25]
So what does this salt look like? What is the effect of this light that we already are? This “loosing of the bonds of injustice and undoing of the thongs of the yoke”?
– feeding the hungry (whether the abjectly poor of Africa and Asia or the poor on our doorsteps…there’s no grades of poverty, just plain old lack)
– housing the homeless (radically in your own homes – or at least in some decent place they can relax and be at peace)
– clothing the naked (including those who live in the same shabby rags day-on-day, week-on-week with no means to add to or improve them)
These are not exclusive, in other words not just this, but emblematic of the kind of practical compassion true devotion to God results in. This what a deepening relationship God in Christ looks like when it encounters the world of need – this is what we see our heavenly Father and our servant King continually drawing our attention to – if only we give the time of day to show it to us.
The dawning of the light within us, comes when do these things. “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn…then you shall cal and the Lord will answer”. This is what true saltiness looks like; world-changing, life-transforming, heart-lifting, flavour giving; relieving the tedium and horror of dependant, crushing poverty. Preserving life, giving hope. This is when the lights go on for oppressed peoples – and for us. I have friends in a large church in Charlotte, NC who formulated a policy to help their people engage with least and the lost in their communities. They decided that every Life Group should spend a least eight sessions a year at one of a number of approved social outreaches, or social justice causes in the Charlotte area – whether it was Habitat for Humanity, or literacy programmes for homeless women, or refuge for the abused, or a church that fed homeless kids. They also did emergency relief in places like Haiti after the earthquake. The result is that people felt their faith come alive for them – they found their prayer lives enhanced – so lost their hearts to the various causes that they never returned to the parent church. For them the light shone bright and clear, and they saw the savour that their saltiness gave to the poor and depressed. The result for the church was growing community of excited and committed followers of Jesus Christ.
Our abiding concern is neither solely nor chiefly with this building and its rituals but with the world that exists beyond the Church driveway. We have all the light and salt that we could need to dispel the darkness and relieve the tedium of a Christ-less existence that the majority of our fellow citizens live through as a daily experience. Our religious duty, that is the outflow of our experience of the love and grace of God in Christ, is less in here than in the neighbourhoods and communities of Dargaville and the Kaipara District. We are in habited by enduring light and life preserving Salt-not for our own sake but precisely for those who are at the centre of Christ’s concern. Engage with Christ in order to engage the community.