Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sermon Salt and Light

There is a children’s book called, “The Old Turtle and the Broken Truth.”  It is one of my favorite books.  The story is of a people who throughout their generations had held onto a piece of the truth which looked like half of a broken heart with writing on it.  They believed that with this truth came much happiness and power.  So they held it close and struggled not to lose it.  Over time wars were fought over this piece of the truth. People began to feel fear and anger towards others who did not possess the broken truth as they did.  Over time all of creation seemed to suffer as each peoples struggled to keep the truth for themselves. 

But one day a little girl came to the old turtle. She had traveled very far - she had crossed the Mountains of Imagining, and the River of Wondering Why, and had found her way through the Forrest of Finding Out. And when she had grown tired, she had ridden on the backs of animals or the wings of birds, and they had helped her find her way.

Finally they came to a great hill in the very center of the world. From there, the Little Girl thought that she had never seen so far, or seen so much beauty. With tears in her eyes this young girl approached the old wise turtle and asked why the earth was this way?  Why is it that the broken truth had caused the earth to be so bruised and the people to be suffering so?

The old turtle answered her by telling her that the truth that the people possess is only part of the broken truth.  It is because it is so close to the whole truth that it has such beauty.  And it is the lost portion of the truth that is needed to make us whole again.  He asked her to pay attention to the small truths that surround us every day.  They may be in a breeze and they are silent as a snow or as gentle as a rain.

As the old turtle sent her away old turtle said to her "Remember this also, Little One. The Broken Truth, and life itself, will be mended only when one person meets another - someone from a different place or with a different face or different ways - and sees and hears… herself. Only then will the people know that every person, every being, is important, and that the world was made for each of us."

As she went Old Turtle placed something in the Little Girl’s hand that had been saved for a very long time.  The Little Girl looked at what Old Turtle had given her. It was a kind of stone, a mysterious, beautiful stone. It was lovely to the touch, and it made her feel good just to hold it.

She squeezed it tightly, and then tucked it away for her journey. And as she traveled back through the Forest of Finding out and the Mountains of Imagining she thought about the people that she would be bringing this word of truth to.  But when she got home the people did not recognize her.  She spoke of this world of small and simple truths but the people did not understand her meaning.  She explained about the broken truth and the need to make it whole but the people did not believe her.

Then the girl knew what she must do.  She climbed to the heights of the tower where the broken truth was kept and she fit it together with the stone that the old turtle had given her.  It was a perfect fit and it read on the one half “You are loved,” and on the other, “and so are they.”
The people looked.
And looked.
And looked.
Some frowned.
Some smiled.
Some even laughed. 
And some cried.
And they began to understand.
And slowly, as the people met people different from themselves, they began to see…. themselves. 

Isn’t it funny how Christians go around claiming to be right?  One denomination always pointing to the sliver in another denomination’s eye while totally ignoring the log stuck in their own denomination’s eye.  We argue about who is in and who is out while Jesus is off in the corner reminding us in a still very small voice that he really does love all people.  No wonder that we get a reminder that salt can lose its saltiness.  After a while God’s unconditional love starts to look a little tattered with all of the conditions that WE attach to it.

We often forget that it is not our job to convert the whole of creation to our idea of Christianity.  Our call is to be generous with our lives.  We are the salt and light of the earth.  That we are Christian should be good news to the world regardless of our neighbor’s faith or creed.   We are to be no less generous with our lives if our neighbors are Christian, Jewish, atheist, addicts, Muslim, Buddhist, immigrants, agnostic or Baha’i.  We are simply meant to shine our light; the Holy Spirit does the rest.

Recently I was approached with a statement that began like this, “You Lutherans….”  You know something good is coming after you hear a pronouncement like this. “The problem with YOU Lutherans is that you have lost your spirituality.  You preach that you don’t have to live a Christian life and that everyone is going to heaven.”

That is quite a statement coming from someone who has never actually heard a Lutheran preacher.  But I actually learned something about myself by being confronted with that statement.  And it was not that I actually preach these things, because I would describe this as a blatant misinterpretation our spirituality and theological proclamation. 

But central to my own spirituality and proclamation is that first God loves us and then God goes to work in our lives.  Jesus says that one’s life is not to be determined by friend or foe but by God, who relates to all not on the basis of their behavior or attitude toward God but according to God’s own nature, which is love. God does not react, but acts out of love toward the just and unjust, the good and the evil. God is thus portrayed as perfect in relationships, that is, complete: not partial but impartial. God’s perfection in this context is, therefore, love offered without partiality.

I always think of the story of the prodigal son who had lived a life that was anything but holy where it says, while he was still far off, his father ran out to him, through his arms around him, and had a party.  God is always running to us, no matter where we are, how we are, what we have done, where we have gone, the just and the unjust alike, and throws his arms around us and loves us.  Then once we are in God’s grasp, that’s when God goes to work on us, making us into the people that he has created us to be.

God’s love is not conditional.  If you follow my commands, then I will love you unconditionally.  No, it is because I have love for you, I am making you over inside and out.  I am fashioning you into the person that you were made to be and my law is being written on your heart.  We are to be salt of the earth and a light to the world.  We are to go out there and love impartially.  We are to remember that we are loved, but so are they.  And as God’s light bearers we get to share this word. 

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