“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
We are surrounded by choices. Every day is filled with them. Some are more important than others. This past Tuesday voters agonized over who to vote for in the New Hampshire primary. It was reported that they were so conflicted that many couldn’t make up their minds until they finally walked into the voting booth.
Other choices are not as consequential. One would be where we do our grocery shopping. Last Sunday after church, Sharon and I went into Northampton to return a few unused items that had been purchased for the Youth Group Spaghetti Supper. I go up to the Courtesy Counter at Big Y to return a couple of jars of Parmesan Cheese.
This is when the lady behind the Courtesy Counter was very courteous to me. She had a bit of a smirk on her face, but other than the quite understandable smirk, she was very understanding when she informed me that the Parmesan Cheese that I was trying to return to Big Y, was actually the generic Stop and Shop brand that I had purchased at, logically, Stop and Shop.
I was embarrassed and apologized, but she took it in stride. I don’t think the choice of grocery stores was a life-defining choice even for the Big Y employee.
Another choice that lies in-between the level of importance of these two examples is the choice to save … that is to save your work on the computer. I’m home typing today’s sermon. Not very far along. My needy dog gets off the couch and comes over for some attention. I pet him for a bit and then I turn back to the computer.
Mason, my dog, was not satisfied. He tried to stand-up and lean on my lap, but my lap was covered by the computer’s keyboard. I don’t know what the beast hit on the keyboard, but he hit something that closed down Microsoft Word. When I brought it back up again, maybe the last two or three sentences I had typed were gone.
So, talking about the choice to save, let’s move on to this morning’s readings, which are about a more significant kind of saving. The selection that Wunderly read for us from the Book of Deuteronomy is a closing statement at the end of the books of Law.
There are five books of Torah, Jewish Law, that stand at the beginning of the Bible. There are the first four, and then the fifth is a retelling of the Law. That’s where the word Deuteronomy comes from. It’s the second telling of Torah. And today’s selection is at the end of the Law and the re-telling of the Law.
This is the context for Moses’ statement when he testifies to the whole people of God: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life …”
This is a stark declaration. God has endowed us with the ability to think for ourselves and to choose for ourselves. We have the capability to over-ride our instincts and to choose how we will live.
I accept the science of evolution. I accept survival of the fittest as the best explanation for the diversity of creation that we witness. I believe this process continues even today.
But I also believe that we have the God-given blessing of choice, that we can think beyond our survival instinct and that we can imagine a better alternative, that we can choose morality, that, in Moses’ words, we can “choose life.”
Morality is the counter-intuitive notion that we should act for the good and benefit of the many, possibly even the all, rather than just for myself. To choose morality over instinct raises us up and helps us walk that path that leads to higher truths, but it also leads to blessings here and now. Morality lets us choose life.
When I first moved back to Western Massachusetts in 1988, I left the city of Scranton, Pennsylvania. I remember talking to a woman from Montague at the time. I don’t remember the context of our conversation, but she told me that she never locked her house. The door was always left unlocked. If she went out, when she went to bed for the night, the door was never locked.
You wouldn’t do this in Scranton, and I remember being surprised by her never locking the house. But in Montague, she felt safe enough to not have to worry about someone entering her home to do anything bad.
When enough people in society choose morality, it changes life. When enough people would never dare imagine walking into someone else’s home without permission, our lifestyle is so much healthier than when we must enforce morality with more police or more guns or whatever.
When we choose morality, we choose life – not only eternal life, but the life we lead right now. Morality is a blessing. It transforms life. It repairs our broken world. It makes us kinder.
Morality can’t be enforced anywhere near as well as it can be embraced. This is part of what Jesus is getting at in this morning’s passage from the Gospel as we continue to read the Sermon on the Mount. The Torah, the Law, is explicit in its treatment of acts of violence such as murder or rape. And I use the word rape intentionally because often times in the ancient world, and sadly too often today, adultery was often just rape with the blame thrown on the woman as well.
But Jesus pushes morality beyond just what we do. He digs deeper. Jesus goes to the root of what may eventually lead to violent actions.
This is why Jesus talks about the sin of anger and the sin of lust, even when they only lurk in our thoughts and have not yet broken out as actions.
Jesus is trying to convert us from the inside out. He’s trying to help us choose morality, to choose life, not as something imposed, but as a choice embraced.
We have choices to make every day. Some important. Others not so much. But church is a choice that helps us choose life. Church can help save us from ourselves. Church preaches morality, and morality moves us beyond instinct, and morality lets us work for a greater and shared good.
It is such a blessing to choose life. It frees us from the meanness and selfishness of the world. It gives us hope that we can repair the world and make it kinder.
So like Moses said thousands of years ago, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life …”
May we seek more than survival. May we choose life. And may our shared faith as this church community help us nurture the awesome privilege of our freedom to choose, and our freedom to choose kindness. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
As I have said before, I’m not a football fan. I don’t usually watch the Super Bowl, and that’s even when the Patriots were in it year after year. But last Sunday evening, Super Bowl Sunday, I went down to my Masonic Lodge in Amherst because we just purchased an 85” television. Some of the guys got together to watch the game and I figured I’d go over for a while.
Well, I talked more than watched, but I also ate. They had every kind of junk food imaginable: pizza, hot dogs wrapped in some sort of pastry puff, chips and sandwiches. One conscientious soul brought a vegetable platter. It sat in the middle of our circle and I mean it just sat there. I think most of the vegetables went home at the end of the night. Most everything we did eat was not on any hospital menu. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the stuff that sends you to the hospital.
I do remember an unopened bag of Doritos that I asked a friend to bring over to the couch we were sitting on. I don’t know how many Doritos he ate, but by the time we left, the bag was empty. I don’t eat like that too often. Sharon and I are pretty good. But I think I ate most of a whole bag of Doritos.
When I got home and then throughout the night, I was parched. I kept drinking water. Even after I went to bed, I had to drink more water. My body was not prepared for all the salt I had eaten at the Lodge. The salt wasn’t saltier. I just consumed a whole lot more of it than usual.
I share this story with you because of Jesus’ warning in today’s Gospel that unsalty salt is useless and thrown away. But salt doesn’t lose its saltiness. Salt is a chemically stable compound. This is true now and it was just as true 2,000 years ago. The chemistry hasn’t changed.
Salt can, however, become diluted and lose its saltiness that way.
Jesus’ warning to us is about diluting our faith and the way we live our faith. We are the “salt of the earth,” He says. Salt was used in Jesus’ day primarily as a preservative. It kept people healthy because it kept food healthy. What Jesus is asking us to do when He says we are the salt of the earth is to help keep the world healthy.
What does that mean, that grand statement that we are called upon to keep the world healthy?
Today’s Gospel passage continues with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. He has just finished offering the Beatitudes. That was the passage we read last Sunday.
It began with blessed are the poor in spirit, which means blessed are those dependent upon God. It means we realize we can’t do it all on our own. It’s a blessing to realize we need God in our lives.
Blessed are those who mourn is a statement about empathy, which is the truth that we also need each other.
This leads logically to the Beatitude that blessed are the meek. This is a pronouncement against self-pride, the belief that we don’t need anything from anyone, and even if that’s true or believed to be true, it can then give rise to the callousness that no one should expect anything from us. (Rugged individuals)
The opposite of this sort of selfishness is blessed instead are those who are not only righteous, but who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who need it as much as they need food and drink.
Blessed are the merciful, says Jesus, because then others will hopefully do the same, and the world changes person by person.
Blessed are the pure in heart, or put another way, blessed are the single-minded whose center is God, who don’t push faith to the sidelines, who don’t sacrifice what is right when a difficult choice needs to be made, who are willing to face the consequences rather than ignore their conscience.
Blessed are the peace-makers in a world filled with war mongering. These brave and often ridiculed souls are called the “children of God” by Jesus. Remember last week’s story about Jonah? He was the prophet who relished judgment and destruction and thought these were the marks of God. And remember also that instead God was compassionate and forgiving. This is why the peace-makers are named the children of God.
And then the Beatitudes come to their end and Jesus warns, “‘Blessed are you” for you will be persecuted if you live like this. In a world filled with insult, intimidation and violence, we will be blessed by God if we choose to live differently, to live deliberately as Christians, to live like Jesus’ Beatitudes expect. This is what it means to be “the salt of the earth” and to help preserve the earth.
(Not like JBap. Not retreat from society, but make a difference in society.)
Think back to the reading Maureen shared with us. Paul enters the city of Corinth, a prosperous, commercial hub of all kinds of activity. It’s a city that lived by trade. There was a lot of money to be made in ancient Corinth, if you played by the rules, and if you were more than a bit ruthless.
Paul enters the city and preaches Jesus, and Paul doesn’t dilute Jesus or His gospel. He comes right out and reminds them in today’s Epistle that he didn’t preach with words that would be hailed as wise and learned. Instead, says Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” And the faith took root and it grew and it literally changed the world.
That’s what being the “salt of the earth” is all about. It’s about keeping the world healthy in a sense, and to do that we can’t allow our faith and our faith-lives to become diluted with so many other things that they lose their saltiness, that being a Christian isn’t all that different from the world.
When it comes to my diet, too much salt is not a good thing, but when it comes to Jesus’ imagery that we are “the salt of the earth,” it is a very good thing.
Let us choose in turbulent times to be steady in our witness to Jesus. Let us challenge ourselves to live the Beatitudes and know them as blessings not sacrifices. Let us encourage each other because what we are called to do and to be is hard, but let us also be optimistic because we don’t ever act alone. Jesus is always with us.
May we truly be the “salt of the earth,” and may we be as salty as the snacks at a Super Bowl party. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sermon Title: Kobe Bryant
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