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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Dim and Unsalted

2014-02-09 Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20
Dim and Unsalted


Dim and Unsalted

Jesus said, 'You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. 'You are the light of the world.... No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.'

Last Sunday some of us tried to watch the Super Bowl. If you're a Seattle fan, I'm sure you thought it was the best ever. Couldn't be happier for you. But for those of us who were hoping Peyton could at least get as many rings as his little brother, it was almost unwatchable. Even the commercials seemed lame. OK, maybe not the one where the horse and puppy were best friends. Did not make me cry at all. Bruno *Mars* had more energy than the Denver offense. I'm no sports genius, but I just didn't get it. Here are the Broncos, with a Hall of Fame quarterback, maybe the best ever - with some of the surest receivers in the game - with an offensive line that could keep your grandmother safe - and they collectively looked like someone had let the air out of all four tires and a couple of spares. The only direction they could go was backwards. And they did, from the very first snap.

Now, it's easy to be a motivational expert when I'm sitting in a recliner with a bowl of Doritos and bean dip. It's a bit harder when you're fighting off 300-pound linemen and trying to outrun Richard Sherman. You'd have the wind knocked out of you, too. Maybe a few internal organs. It's just hard to understand when a team has so much going for it, how they could completely collapse. As Peyton said, it's, "disappointing." Not embarrassing. Just, disappointing.

A group of folks followed Jesus up a mountain to hear marvelous things. No doubt, they had a lot of potential. Jesus said so. He said, "You are the salt of the earth." That's good. But then he said, "But if the salt has lost its flavor, what good is it?" He said, "You are the light of the world." That's good, too. But then he said, "But no one lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket." The not-quite-spoken question is, "What's the matter with you people? Have you lost your flavor? Are you hiding under a basket? Have you had the air let out of you?"

No matter how Hall of Fame -ready we are, some days, the game just doesn't go our way. Sometimes, no matter how much potential we've got, we can't get past Go. We'd like to be the light of the world, but we're in an energy crisis. We'd like to be the salt of the earth, but we do tasteless things and they set us back. So much raw talent. So ready to go, fight, win. But life's recliners and the day's Doritos and a mood of drained exhaustion suck the wind out of us. Against our wishes and beneath our abilities, the world stays dim and unsalted. 

It's a big job, being the light of the whole world. It's a big job being the salt of the earth, whatever that means. I don't have that much light. I know I'm not worth that much salt. I'm not awful, I'm just not that bright and I'm not that seasoned. I trip over my own intentions and fall backward into places where there is no safety. 

How about you? 

Jesus's message is about so much more than having a bad day and how you get over it. That's the stuff of motivational coaches, and thank goodness for them. They do a good job pumping us up and getting us back out on the field. But that's not what this is about. This is about realizing that God calls people, dim and unsalted, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. And we can't do it. So God changes the game plan. 

God takes the empty and bland, and instead of refilling us with more of what we ran out of in the first place, God makes us new. God makes us different. God makes us born anew. That's the miracle of the cross. That's the grace of resurrection.


Work Smarter, Not Harder

Jesus said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

We've all heard the saying, "Work Smarter, Not Harder." Some of us have used it ourselves to motivate our children, to motivate ourselves. It's a good idea. If you've come up a way to get 'er done in half the time as your competitor, I mean, co-worker, I mean, big brother, good for you.

The problem is, how do you get smarter? By working harder. Algebra isn't going to learn itself, you know. You've gotta work harder at being smarter than those who just work harder and harder for their barter. You can't fix stupid, but you sure can dress it up smartly. And that takes hard work.

The scribes and pharisees were the bright lights of their world. They would have stood under the bright lights, if they had them. They worked harder at being smarter, and more righteous, than the less-smart and less hard-working. They feared the Lord and greatly delighted in his commandments. They let their light shine before others, so that the world might see their good works and give glory to their Father in heaven.

So why was Jesus always on their case? 

We've gotta be real careful with this answer. Because it's really easy to come off sounding smart. Like a humble person who works harder at being smarter by being better than the competition for God's attention. You can be just as self-righteous about your humility as your rewards.

The harder-smarter thing might work in school or in the workplace or around the house if you buy the quicker picker-upper. I highly recommend it. But it's the "-er" part that gets people in trouble with Jesus. Because with faith, it's different. 

Jesus said, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees...." But how can you ever be better than the guy who's got the ring and the trophy? When you're just a regular dim and unsalted person?


You're Not the Lamplighter and It's Not Your Light

Jesus said, "No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the 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."

The bright lights shine and the confetti pours down on the world champion. Many thank God for the victory, for giving them superior gifts, smarter coaches, and greater dedication to hard work. And that's fine.

But when the brightest light of the the world was raised up for all to see, it was on a cross. That was how God let his light shine before others. It's a different kind of light.

Three days later, God raised him up - new, resurrected, reborn. Still another kind of light.

You are the light of the world, but it's not your light. Your spirit might burn bright, but you're not the lamplighter. I firmly believe that God puts different kinds of light within us. Each of us shines like no other. So comparisons and "-ers" don't apply when you're talking faith. Compared to others, you might be brilliant and adorable. Compared to others you might be dim and tasteless. You might feel either way or the other about yourself. It really doesn't matter.

God, the Lamplighter, ignites the Spirit's flame and puts it to use as God sees fit. God, the Master Chef, minds the seasonings and seasons life, so that when it grows bland, the old can be thrown out, and new salt poured in to bring our days a different flavor.

God doesn't make us brighter. God doesn't make us saltier. God makes us new. We have confidence - not from our abilities - but from God. In God we find hope. In God we find new faith. The hope of the cross and the faith of resurrection is that the dim and dull in us gets thrown out and trampled under God's foot. And replaced. And put to use. To shine. So that others can see God's light.