Dear Working Preacher,
Lately it’s occurred to me that I’ve been living something of a performative contradiction. It all started, I think, in seminary. This is where I learned that, because we are justified by grace through faith, we should stress always what God has done and be careful about talking about what we should do lest people think they can justify themselves by their deeds. Fair enough. We want to stress in our sermons God’s action and activity and don’t want people to leave the service burdened by the law. I couldn’t agree more.
Since then, however, I’ve learned that when people are invited to contribute something of themselves to a venture, their enjoyment of and commitment to that venture increases dramatically. You’ve probably seen -- and for that matter experienced -- something quite similar. When you’re invited to contribute -- and I don’t mean nominally, like “please do this meaningless task because we need someone to get it done” -- but when you’re actually invited to use your gifts to make a difference, you feel so much more a part of the organization in question.
And therein lies the problem: I know that people actually want to contribute, to make a difference, to share what they’ve been given as a meaningful gift, and yet I’ve spent a lot of my ministry trying not to ask them to do that in case they think they are somehow contributing to their salvation. I know that sounds a bit batty when I say it -- I mean, there are all kinds of things we can do that have nothing to do with our salvation! -- but there it is, I’m a slow learner.
All of which brings me to this week’s passage from our ongoing time with Jesus and the disciples on the mountain. Notice, for instance, that Jesus doesn’t give the disciples instructions on how to become salt and light. Rather, he just plain tells them that that’s what they are. “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” Goodness, he doesn’t even say that they’re “little lights” that they should let shine. Rather, he says they are the light of the world -- sheer promise and declaration.
Think creatively about how to match up the gifts of the congregation with the needs of your community.
And yet he also commissions them -- not commands, I think, but commissions them -- actually to be salt and light, to be the persons they’ve been called to be. To season and preserve the world, to let their light shine so that others will see their good works -- yes, good works! -- and glorify God. Jesus isn’t asking them to earn their salvation, of course, but to live out the salvation and discipleship that has been given them as a gift.
Could we do the same? Ask people what's burning inside them that they want to share, what gift they’ve been given that might contribute to the welfare of this congregation, community, and world. Then take the next step: find ways to connect the gifts and passions of our people to the needs of the congregation and community.
Three years ago when this passage came up, I invited you to send your people out looking for the good things they are already doing and email you about it, in this way starting a “salt and light log” that you could list in the newsletter or print out and put around the church walls. From the email and comments I received, I gather that this was a powerful exercise.
This time, I’d also invite you and your congregation to think creatively about how to connect people with each other, how to match up the gifts of the congregation with its needs, and even more with those of the larger community:
- Who might be a good tutor at the local school?
- What group might use the church building during the week?
- Who has extra time to work on a Habitat project?
- What members -- of all ages -- can help the local community preschool with its website?
- And who can extend Christian care to those inside and outside the congregation who need someone to listen to, care for, and love them?
Jesus called us Salt and Light. And that’s what we are. Give us a chance to be that, Working Preacher, by encouraging us, commissioning us, and connecting us with each other. You’ll not be disappointed.
Blessings on your good work this week and always, Working Preacher. For you, too, are the salt of the earth and light of the world and your sermons spread that salt and light among your congregation week in and week out. Thank you.
Yours in Christ,