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Salt and Light

Salt and Light

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“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt… You’re here to be light… God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. (So) stand—shine! …be generous with your lives. (For) by opening up to others, you’ll prompt others to open up with God…” ~ The Message

Salt! Light! Stand! Shine! Generosity! Openness!

Oh my goodness, First Churches, today we’re going to be talking about stewardship and evangelism. Yay! Maybe? Maybe not? I don’t know? I mean, I know that the only two things progressive Christians are more uncomfortable talking about then stewardship and evangelism are…well…nothing. Actually I think those might be the two things we’re more uncomfortable talking about. Am I right?

But you know what?

I actually love that about us.

I do, because I think at the heart of that discomfort is the fact that we are not a coercive type of people.

We’re just not. And let me tell you, it is not because we are embarrassed to talk about our faith or money. It’s not because we’re ashamed or lack the courage of our convictions.

We’re not a coercive type of people because in our heart of hearts, we don’t believe that God is a coercive type of God.

Here at First Churches, we’re not ruled by fear or guilt. (Possibly still some what motivated - old habits die hard - but not ruled.) Because the gospel, at least as we understand it, is an invitation not a threat.

By which I mean that we’re here in church this morning because we want to be, not because we’re afraid God would be mad at us if we went to brunch instead. We give regularly and generously because we want to bless others, not because we’re afraid God won’t bless us if we hold back.

Faith, for us, is not a quid pro quo. We don’t subscribe to the idea that you have to do certain things or believe certain things in order to be a certain thing - like loved by God - or get certain things - like eternal salvation.

Because here at First Churches, we believe in a God who loves us just as we are. Period. Full stop. We believe in a God who loves us just as we are forever and for always and we believe in a God who can use us for good just as we are, right here, right now.  Not because we are perfect. We’re not and we can always do better. I present to you exhibit A (pointing to myself).

We’re not perfect, but we believe in a God who is; a God who is perfectly, wholly, and completely in love with us. And once you get that, really get that, it sets you free:

free to love others the way God loves you,

free to forgive others the way God forgives you,

free to bless others the way God blesses you.

We’ve tapped into something powerful here, so the first thing I want to say to you all this morning is this: First Churches, you shine! Already.

You are salt.

You are light.

You’ve already found the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price. You are generous with your time and your money. You are courageous and compassionate, open minded and open hearted. You are committed and creative. You are a gentle and curious people….and I love you for it. When people come here or encounter our people out there, they can taste and see that God is good.

As we move through our stewardship season you are going to hear more and more stories like the ones you heard today during our Be The Change moment; stories about all the good work being done here at our church and through our church, but what I love most about these stories is that behind them all is a desire to bless others with what you have found here, bless others the way God has blessed you.

Last week Patti spoke with such joy about being part of an open and affirming church. She’s leading our efforts to be a big presence at Pride because she wants every last queer person to experience the love and welcome and affirmation she and her wife Jenna have found here.

Then Rebekah, spoke about meeting the award winning trans playwright Jo Clifford while on pilgrimage to the island of Iona. When Rebekah witnessed Jo’s play, “The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven,” she was deeply moved.

But when she heard Jo speak about the hate and violence she experienced when she first came out as a woman and how she prayed and reached out to God and then felt that play come through her as a way of growing love in the world, Rebekah didn’t just feel moved, she felt called to bring that love and light here.

When she returned home, Rebekah knew enough about First Churches to take a chance on asking us if we had the courage and the openness to host this production and I am so glad that our answer was, “YES!”

I am so thankful that we are a church that can receive and magnify the gift of light God gave to Jo rather than spend months in the weeds arguing about whether welcoming her is the “right thing to do” or might offend someone.

I love that a new member of the church has already reached out with the offer to host Jo while she is here. That sort of extravagant hospitality is what we mean when we say that “we welcome all into joyful christian community.”

After that Be The Change moment, we heard a fabulous sermon from Bekah Maren Andersen, a young preacher in the UCC who is blind, queer, polyamorous, a faithful Christian, an brilliant theologian, and the sort of person most churches will never hear from because they wouldn’t let her in the door let alone up to the pulpit. But what a blessing she was as she brought a powerful word to us about burn out and our mutual call to care for one another.

And then, right after church last Sunday, I went down to Longmeadow to be a part of the installation for their new pastor. Some of you know this, but Longmeadow and Edwards Church have partnered with us for years to support the CONASPEH mission in Haiti.

When I saw Mary - who is basically their version of Pauline - at the installation, she came running over and I knew why. “$10,000,” I whispered as we wrapped our arms around each other. “I don’t know how, but we raised $10,000 for the kids in Haiti.” And with tears of joy she whispered back, “I know. It’s amazing! Thank you!”

And friends, that was just last Sunday. I could tell you equally beautiful stories of salt and light that happened the week before when we celebrated the Dorcas Society and hosted a memorial for Lesley’s husband. And I will have equally beautiful stories to share about all that has happened here this week at Common Ground, at Paula Woodesome’s memorial, at this service where we have dedicated her baby Luisa to God and baptized little Nathaniel.

Extravagant welcome. Amplifying the voices of those on the margins. Giving with a spirit of joy and gratitude and wonder.  Investing in the children of Haiti and the children of Northampton. Hosting Community Action and Cathedral in the Night so they can offer hot meals and a welcoming place for our unhoused neighbors to gather. Filling backpacks and pantry shelves with food for the hungry. Holding space for “Standing Together” to call for the return of hostages and a ceasefire in Gaza. Circles of care that surround refugee families with the support they need to make a new start.

That is what it is to be salt.

That is what it is to be light.

And I haven’t even touched on all the ways we tend to the light within one another as we pray and study together, all the ways we take joy in each other’s joy and mourn with those who are weeping when we show up for each other.

There is so much more to be said about our efforts to learn and grow in our faith as adults and our vision for how we can nurture the spark of faith that already exists in our children. But that’s for next week and the week after. So stay tuned. There’s much more good to come.

I guess what I want to say this morning is that I don’t want you to give to the stewardship campaign so that we can become a people who are pleasing to God or get out there and proselytize so that others will come to believe exactly what we believe and thereby be accepted by God.

I want you to keep sharing your gifts with this church and sharing your experience here with others because I want more people to know and experience the God we have found here….the God who believes in us already, believes in our worth, in our potential, and is here to transform us into people who can transform this world.

Friends, I really just want you to keep on being you.

Sometimes, especially here in the progressive wing of the church, we shy away from talking about stewardship and evangelism because of all the ways we’ve seen such things used and abused. We don’t want to get up in people’s faces or scare them or manipulate them into doing or believing what we do. And that’s okay, because the good news is that Jesus doesn’t want us to do that either.  I think his choice of metaphor here is spot on because here is the things with salt and light: a little goes a long way. 

You don’t need to pour it on thick when it comes to talking about your faith, any more than you would want to pour salt on your food.

And the same goes for light. Light is good. In fact our whole existence depends upon it.  But too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

When it comes to sharing your faith, you don’t want to go into full on interrogation mode and rip someone else’s world view apart with your words, any more than you’d ever want to be stuck in an interrogation room with a detective shining a light right in your eyes trying to trip you up with question after question.

Too much light can easily overwhelm, even harm us, but just the right amount of light brings life, warmth, understanding, even joy.  

As it is with salt and light, says Jesus, so it is with your religion. You can use it to do great harm or you can use your faith to do great good, so choose wisely and tread carefully.  Your faith should enhance the lives of those around you. It should brighten not burn, make the existence of others better, not bitter.  It should call people into the warmth of community, not cast them out into the dark and the cold.

Allow me one quick example, and then I’ll wrap up. Years ago the local preforming arts high school put on a queer friendly play about the Bible at the Academy of Music that predictably drew out some angry protesters. They came with all sorts of anti LGBTQ signs about what the Bible condemns.

As a show of support for the students, and maybe, just maybe, hoping to break through to the people on the other side, a bunch of local clergy came out with our own signs about what the Bible affirms. Mine said, “God loves LGBTQ people.” Real creative, I know. But my favorite sign by far was the one my colleague Tadd made which simply said: “God loves Plays.”

It was so cheeky and disarming - just a wee bit salty - and I think Jesus would have loved it.

So First Churches, hear me when I say: the world doesn’t need us to be anything other than what we already are. We don’t need to be just as loud or as brash as the people we disagree with. We aren’t called to fight fire with fire.

And we never want to use guilt or fear to manipulate or force people to believe what we believe or do what we want them to do…even if we think we’re right.

There is another way to be in this world and it’s the way of salt, the way of light, gently seasoning and illumining, drawing out and affirming the good in one another, seeing people in their best light in order to bring out the best in them because God loves them too.

And so I ask you to give as you are able so we can continue to show the world how a just and generous community of Christians can be a blessing not just for our people, but for all people.

That’s why we’re here. To be salt. To be light.

To stand and shine and be generous with our lives. (For) by opening up to others, we’ll help others open up to God. Amen.

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