Good morning, Christ Church!
Before moving on to today’s reflection, I want to revisit a point made last week. Specifically, I would like to clarify the matter of using “purity” in describing one of the qualities of salt.
Sadly, that term has taken on some negative connotations in our era, and rightly so. There are individuals and groups who use “purity” as a way of defining in order to exclude others whom they believe are inferior and therefore unworthy. This definition necessarily leads to division, conflict, bigotry, and hate.
Let me be crystal clear. When Jesus calls his disciples to be the salt of the earth, the rejection of others on any basis is not what he has in mind. In my estimation, the Gospel is the antithesis to what we are now calling “the cancel culture.” He did not come to bolster and reinforce the status of the self-righteous. Instead, he came to love those who the self-righteous sought to demean and diminish by pushing them to the margins of society. In short, discipleship is about building up community. It is about inclusion, not exclusion, even if this means seeking to love those neighbors of ours that we don’t really like and would actually prefer to marginalize. (Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid…)
John Lewis understood this. He always stood up for what he knew to be the truth and fought for justice with every fiber in his being. But he always did so in love. Instead of seeking to cancel his opponents, he tried to help them see the light, and he did this with the utmost dignity and grace. When his opponents literally knocked him down, he got back up and patiently started again. Yes, the kingdom of God is at hand. No, we have not yet reached the promised land. John Lewis gave his life in order to help us along that way. He was the embodiment of what Jesus means when he calls his disciples to be “the salt of the earth.” Always seek the truth, but do so in love for the sake of others.
Which brings us back to the matter of “purity” when describing discipleship. When asked by the lawyer “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40) It seems to me that any definition of “purity” that is applicable to the Christian faith and life is rooted in the commitment to and practice of the same.
Now, we turn our attention to the other great metaphor found in this section of Matthew’s discourse on discipleship, for we are also called to be the light of the world.
Faithfully in Christ,
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)
Jesus once again begins with great emphasis: “YOU…”
We need to understand this. He is not addressing what follows to just the group in front of him on that day. Nor is he using the universal “you,” which we are tempted to generalize to the point that we are excused from inclusion! Instead, Jesus is speaking to every single person who has entered into relationship with him, and that includes each one of us: “You are the light of the world” and our mission is to let that light shine before others.
Where does this light come from? Well, I would respectfully suggest that it is not self-generated. In fact, it may be more accurate to describe discipleship as “the art of reflection.” Let’s remember these verses from the opening anthem of John’s Gospel: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:6-9)
In a very real sense, our lives are to be lived much like John’s. We are called to be witnesses to the light that is Jesus Christ. Our testimony, both in word and in deed, is to be a reflection of that light. Of course, the great advantage that we have over John is that we are not only called to announce the light. We have seen the light, revealed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And now it is up to us, in this moment, to shine in the world according to that light. That is our mission. That is what our ministry, both individually and as a congregation, is all about. In reflecting the light of Christ, we are called to illuminate the communities around us, helping others to discover God’s love for them and thereby the glory of God all around them. “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” Amen to that!
Jesus does offer us a caveat. Don’t try to hide this light. No matter what the motivation, whether out of laziness, greed, or fear, we are not permitted to hide it away from others. It is to be shared with the whole household of God. Furthermore, we live in a city built on a hill. What goes on here is virtually seen by the whole world, but it is hard to figure out what is going on because darkness often masquerades as light. (See 2 Corinthians 11:14-15)
How, then, do we shed light on these present circumstances? Specifically, in what ways are we here at Christ Church presently lighting up Capitol Hill with the love of Christ? In what ways can we possibly, with God’s help, intensify that illumination? I commend these questions to your thoughts and prayers as we prepare to welcome our next Rector.
Joe Citro and John Lewis, you were salt of the earth. You were light to our world. Rest now in power. Rest now in peace.