A Salty Sermon
(Wanna listen to this one? Here’s a link)
So…. the 12-Step meeting I attend on Saturdays is literally next door to the Masterpiece Cake Shop (of supreme court level anti-gay fame) ….. and last week I was in “a mood”. So I Tweeted a picture of myself flipping that bakery off while also taking one of their prime parking spots all of which I considered an “act of resistance”.
For the past month, the Gospel readings on Sundays have all come from the Sermon on the Mount. Last week folks who went to church heard Jesus’ beatitudes – blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, and this week Jesus says you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
And as someone who did not particularly feel like something as purifying and essential as salt or as illuminating and luminescent as light this week, I started to wonder if Jesus maybe didn't really mean me. I mean, surely Jesus means people who don’t have drinking problems and who never post angry pictures on-line of them making obscene gestures at bakeries – fancying it to be “activism” – surely Jesus means that THEY are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
Surely those who Jesus would call the salt of the earth and the light of the world are a superior class of people nothing like me.
So, curious to know more, I went into the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew to try and discover what I could about who this special class of awesome, salty, light bearing people were.
Ok, this is where I offer an installment of:
Pastor Nadia’s Nerdy History of the Bible
This week’s topic, Chapters and Verses.
Now, while having the Bible broken into chapters and verses makes it easier to find things and reference them. The Bible didn’t like, come with them… as a matter of fact, there actually were no chapter numbers in the Bible until the 13th century and there were no verse numbers until the 16th century. In other words, Jesus never like, sat down and divided his sermons into verses. So, this means that, believe it or not, you totally have permission to ignore chapters and verses, because, those separations were added later hundreds of years later. I mention this because when I defiantly ignored the arbitrary separation between the 4th and 5th chapters of Matthew this week, it totally changed everything for me. Because honestly, some monk in the 13th century who was the guy to decide where Matthew chapter 4 ended, and where Matthew chapter 5 begins, is definitely not the boss of me.
I’ll show you what I mean: the last verses of what we now think of as chapter 4 say this: Jesus fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. Great crowds followed him from (a bunch of places I can't pronounce).
This is where chapter 4 ends, which I’m sorry, is super lame because the first verse of chapter 5 says: When Jesus saw the crowds, (meaning, when he saw the demoniacs and epileptics and people in pain) he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
See, here’s why sometimes it’s good to ignore the chapter and verse separations. Because it’s so easy for us to default to hearing Jesus’ sermon on the mount as pure exhortation. As though he is giving us a list of virtues we should try and adopt so that we too can be considered blessed – you know, be meeker, be poorer, and mournier and you too can meet the conditions of earning Jesus’ blessing. But the thing is, it’s hard to imagine Jesus exhorting a crowd of demoniacs and epileptics to be meeker. He wasn’t telling the sick and the lame what they should try and become.….he was telling them you are blessed and you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
What I am trying to say is that this was his “special class of people” to whom he was preaching.
I mean, perhaps there were people in the crowd who totally had their crap together. People who had solid relationships and had paid off their student loans and always backed up their hard drives. People who only bought books at Lifeway and who didn't have terrible secrets and who never posted angry things on Twitter. I mean, of course it’s possible those people were in the crowd, it’s just…. that’s not who we are told were coming to Jesus.
The ones we are told were coming to Jesus, the ones presumably to whom he was preaching, were described as the sick, those who were in pain, who fought with demons, who were broken and addicted and late on their back taxes. Those who have more than one ex-wife, and who watch too much Netflix and think that maybe just a tiny bit of heroin might be a good idea.
In other words, the salt of the earth and the light of the world are just the people who happen to be standing in the need of God. And standing in the need of God is standing in the way of blessedness in a way that having it all together never has been.
I thought that to be the light of the world, to “let my light so shine before men”, I have to be whole, and strong, and perfect. I’d have to be in that special class of people I’ll never belong to.
But when I listen closely I realize that nowhere in the sermon on the mount does Jesus say “here are the conditions you must meet in order to be the salt of the Earth.” He does not say here are the standards of wholeness you must fulfill in order to be light for the world. No. He simply looks out into the crowd of people in pain, people who have been broken open – who bear those spiritual cracks that let in and let out the Light, who have the salt of sweat and tears on their broken bodies, and says you ARE salt. You. You are light. You have that of God within you - the God whose light scatters the darkness. Your imperfect and beautiful bodies are made of chemicals with holiness shimmering in them…you are made of dirt and the very breath of God.
In other words, you are a broken jerk and Jesus trusts you. So don’t wait until you feel as though you have met the conditions of being holy. Trust that Jesus knows what he is doing. And that you already are salt and light and love and grace. Don't try and be it. Know that you already are it. And then, for the love of God, take that seriously. The world needs it.
(Sermon preached 6p Feb 9th, St John’s Cathedral in Denver)
Oh my gosh, I love my new website so much.
I simply couldn’t be happier with The Emery Agency. They designed the website, the header for this email and the art for my upcoming podcast. Total pros with lots of heart.
Where to find me:
Feb 21st - DENVER - preach at New Beginnings (inside Denver Women’s Correctional Facility)
March 1st - Detroit area - Christ Church Cranbrook
March 12th - MASDISON, WI - Bethel Lutheran
March 26th - KNOXVILLE, TN - Episcopal Church of the Ascension
March 29th - ATLANTA, GA - Spelman College - preaching at Sisters Chapel
What’s going on in The Corners
You’re invited to join my on-line publication and community, The Corners.
In the last few weeks, we have had an amazing conversation about compassion - with so many mind-blowing insights from the readers, like this one:
“Compassion for me is where the blaming stops: the point when I look at another human and just see their humanity, not coloured by the narrative I have built up about them and their actions. Compassion equals the playing field, allows us to be just regular messed up people together in struggle, not adversaries or opponents.”
I posted a spoken-word piece form 2011 titled Garrison Keillor Can Kiss My Ass, which ultimately is a confession of faith. Here’s a portion:
“I’m a preacher because I preach the gospel I need to hear.
I need to hear
Because in my spiritual amnesia I forget about grace
I forget I am a forgiven child of God
I forget that what God accomplished on the cross was for me and for all of creation and that this means both Martin Luther King Jr and Glenn Beck
And you know what? THAT’s what makes me an Evangelical Lutheran Garrison Keillor. And it has fuck-all to do with potlucks and Norwegians.”
And on Saturday I posted an essay about Love.
Coming up: book club for Dominion by Tom Holland, another Ask Me Anything Thread and an original essay.
Thank you to everyone who engages with and supports my work. I’m so grateful for you.
(reminder: we offer free subscriptions (hundreds so far!) for anyone who wants to participate but is financially strapped. Just email email@example.com and we will hook you up!)
Pop Culture Post-Script
Gorgeous, modern icons by the brilliant Father Bill McNichols can be found here
I just watched the Netflix documentary-series, Wild, Wild Country for the 2nd time - it’s a stunning portrait of how easily exploited people’s idealism can be. And also what happens when the ego and power of an Enneagram 8 goes entirely unchecked. (yikes!)
I had the joy of reading an advance copy Rev. Emily Scott’s debut memoir, For All Who Hunger. I devoured it in one day. It’s exquisitely written and available for pre-order.
I am a patron of and rely heavily on the Sleep With Me Podcast. It’s the only thing that helps my brain stop thinking about 100 things and playing a single line of a song over and over. If you have trouble sleeping, try it!
Be well, friends,