Salt-Seasoning and Light-Bringing (2/5/2017)

A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Texts:  Isaiah 58:1-12; Matthew 5:13-18 (The Message)

There are two texts for this morning’s sermon – one from Isaiah and one from Matthew. Earlier I read the second part of Isaiah’s proclamation to his people as today’s Words of Assurance. But to put those words in context, hear the first part of what the prophet had to say:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob, Leah and Rachel their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest 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. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Holy One? 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?

In this text from third Isaiah, the people had returned from exile in Babylon, but everything was not turning out as they had hoped. There was hard work to do and they were not sure God was with them in their efforts. In fact, they were rather discouraged and there was a tendency to blame God for abandoning them. At least that’s how the prophet saw it. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” It appears that they had hopes that exercising the right rituals would bring God near. “Look God! We’re gathering for worship and praying and singing and reading our Bibles and fasting and sacrificing. Why don’t things get better?”

In some ways, the answer was a harsh one. “Look, you serve your own interest 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. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” It is certainly a challenging response because it questions all their traditions, beliefs and expectations. It threatens to upset their whole way of life if the old practices cannot keep God on their side.

“Look folks, here’s the way it is,” God challenges. “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?” The truth is that the words of assurance come for those who see the light and walk in God’s way. If you follow God’s way, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of God shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Holy One will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’”

Remember last week when we sang Fred Kaan’s words, “O judge us, God, and in your judgment free us”? I was struck by how much we don’t like to be judged and don’t really want that to be part of our faith tradition, but then came the ironic thought that God’s judgment might actually liberate. Is that what the prophet is saying here? In commenting on this text, Amy Oden, points out that “Isaiah’s ‘if-then’ language serves to include the people as actual moral agents in their relationship with God. The consequences of their moral choices affect this God. God is not a lone ranger, acting in isolation. No. This God expects a partnership with restored and restorative people. The people are participants in God’s life, agents in God’s desires for them.”

She continues, “The people, individually and corporately, cannot have a full relationship with God without a just relationship with each other. One’s piety is not disconnected from the rest of everyday life. When right relationship is pursued, God is among the people –‘Here I am’” (Amy Oden, “Commentary on Isaiah 58:1-9a [9b-12], February 6, 2011,” workingpreacher.org).  We cannot be the beings we were created to be until we are in right relationship with God. So, God’s word of judgment actually frees us to be our truest selves. It is a challenge to exercise compassion for others, to give ourselves over to working for peace and justice and economic equity for others, to make room for and share our resources with others, in short, to love others as we love ourselves. Still, this is a liberating word, the good news!

Jesus settles in on the hillside. He has told the crowd how blessed those are who walk in God’s way of humility, who lament all that is lacking in this world, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who make peace, who show mercy, who hold a pure heart, who endure disdain and slander for the sake of the gospel. God sees and understands and blesses. Now he has a couple of descriptive images for those who would follow him. I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases the ancient text, “You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.” “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” You are blessed to be salt-seasoning and light bringing.

Those are pretty cool images, aren’t they? Not common table salt, but salt that “brings out the God flavors of this earth.” Not any old light, but “light, bringing out the God colors in this world.” Close your eyes for just a moment to see if you can picture God flavors and God colors in your own lives and in the world around you. As the psalmist says, “O taste and see how gracious our God is;” as Cindy Lauper sings, “see your true colors coming through.” But here’s the catch, someone’s got shake the shaker for the salt-seasoning to come out. There’s got be a “crack in everything” for the light to get in.

I imagine that I am as lost and confused, as shocked and disheartened as the rest of you in terms of what is going on in this country right now. Life is being upended, justice mocked, economic equity undone, the Constitution shredded, religious liberty attacked, and separation of church and state dumped. Leaders are unworthy, unprepared, and uncaring for the responsibilities with which they are charged. Honesty in discourse, let alone civility, has disappeared; hate speech runs rampant. I’m not sure how those ancient children of Israel felt when they cried out to God for redress, but it must of have felt as bleak as today. Where was salt-seasoning to bring out the God- flavors? Where was the light-bringing of God colors?

Then Isaiah spelled it out for them. Is this not the salt-seasoning and light-bringing that God chooses: “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? If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” Not easy, not what we’re used to, perhaps, but so potentially liberating.

What were they expecting? What did they hope to hear when they joined Jesus on the hillside? ”Our situation is pretty rotten, Jesus. What can you do to fix it?” “No, it doesn’t work that way, friends. I didn’t come to fix it. I came to show you the way, to roll up my sleeves and work with you. We’ve got to do this together, spread the salt seasoning and create the cracks where the light gets in.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are reviled and persecuted for righteousness, for those folk are in right relationship to the Holy One. Again, not easy, not what we’re used to, but offering a clear road to freedom, freedom to be the beings that God made us to be.

It’s a long road to freedom, to the liberation offered in and through God’s beloved community. Here’s the challenging good news, to get there we have to be – no, we get to be – salt-seasoning and light-bringing people. Remember, “God is not a lone ranger, acting in isolation…God expects a partnership with restored and restorative people. The people are participants in God’s life, agents in God’s desires for them.” “You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth.” “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” We are blessed to be salt-seasoning and light bringing, in service of and partnership with the Source of Life and Creator of the Universe, the One who called it all good and blesses it to be all that it can be. May we serve well, working together to bring out all the God-flavors and God-colors available in every corner of the earth and beyond. Amen.

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fbcpaloalto

We are a progressive Baptist Church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA. We have been in Palo Alto since 1893. We celebrate our Baptist heritage. We affirm the historic Baptist tenets of: Bible Freedom, Soul Freedom, Church Freedom, Religious Freedom

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