Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Grace and peace be unto you from God who is our Creator and from Jesus Christ who is our Savior and our Friend. Amen.
Like most babies his age, one of Elijah’s favorite activities is dropping things on the floor. He likes dropping books, which make a satisfying thump, and he likes dropping food from his high chair onto the kitchen floor. Sometimes he flings it.
Now, I understand that this is normal baby development and that he is learning about cause and effect and gravity and all that, but still, Mommy would really like to teach him to not throw food on the floor. This is the moment where you all laugh and say, “Oh, good luck with that.”
Our strategy is positive reinforcement, so when Elijah throws food overboard, I say “no, food is for eating.” But when he puts a sliver of cheese or squishy piece of banana or a crunchy cheerio in his mouth then we give him a big smile and say, “Good job, Elijah.”
The first evening that Hans and I gave this method a try, we really did it up right. When Elijah put a cheerio in his mouth, we both clapped and said, “Wooo, yaaaay Elijah!”
What struck me was how happy our praise made him. He grinned and he glowed. He might not have known why exactly, but he knew that he was being cheered. He understood that he was the one at the center of our positive regard, and he was delighted. He laughed along with us.
Now, has he learned to not throw food on the floor? Let’s put it this way. He has learned that I don’t want him to. So now if he eats one cheerio and throws the second one on the floor, he looks at me and he grins.
Right now we are reading through the Sermon on the Mount as found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. We began last week with the beatitudes, and I focused on the first four: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
I suggested that maybe the way to hear this is not as an if-then equation, “if” you’re poor or meek or mourning or hungry, “then” God will bless you or make it up to you, but instead to simply hear Jesus saying, “blessed are you.” In whatever circumstance you find yourself. Why? Because Jesus is with you in that circumstance, and because his presence changes you, changes us.
And I said that, yes, also, the beatitudes are a promise to people who indeed were poor and meek and sorrowful and hungry that God would remember them and bring about a change in their physical circumstances.
After church a member came over and asked me, “So what does it mean to be blessed?” And I thought that that was a great question. I want to talk about that today, because our gospel lesson for this Sunday picks up last Sunday’s theme and goes further.
Today we hear Jesus continuing to deliver his Sermon on the Mount, and just now we heard him give his audience, and us, some pretty big compliments. He says, “"You are the salt of the earth.” He says, “"You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”
Again, just like last week, notice that he says, “you are.” Present tense. You are already these things, salt, and light, you are already blessed, but now he has something to add to that. “Act like it.” “You are already salt and light, now act like salt and light.”
“No one,” Jesus said, “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.”
You are already blessed. You are already, right now, just as you are, salt and light. Now act like it.
So let’s go back to that question. What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to have God’s blessing?
First of all, blessing means to have God’s favor. It means that God to be fundamentally for us, not against us. I began the sermon with the story of Elijah’s pleasure in receiving his parents’ praise because I think God’s blessing is something like that.
We are in our highchairs, our dining room chairs, our office chairs, our pew, and God stands there with a big handful of cheerios and grins and says to us, “Good job, baby. Good job, my child. With you I well pleased.” To be blessed is to have God’s favor.
Further, to be blessed means to live in Shalom, to live in peace. And yet the world is filled with conflict, isn’t it? How can we say that we already have shalom?
Well, we are blessed in the midst of chaos and God gives peace in a time of strife. This is true and it isn’t enough. God’s shalom can’t only be only internal. The hungry cannot stay hungry, the homeless stay cold, and call that shalom. No. As God’s blessing is fulfilled, as the Kingdom comes, the peace, the well-being, must increase, inside ourselves and also in people’s lives.
To be blessed means to be in a receiving position. To be blessed is to be given something that we could not have procured by ourselves. When someone says, “I’ve been blessed,” they mean that something outside of themselves has given them a good thing, a gift.
And that brings us round again to today’s gospel lesson in which Jesus not only says, “You’re already blessed. You are already salt and light,” but he also says, “Now act like it.”
Now you, my children, who have received my favor, my positive regard, who live in my shalom, it’s time for you to build the peace, and to pass it on. Who around you is poor? Who around you is meek? Who around you is in mourning? Who around you is hungry or thirsty? Be a blessing to them. Bring light into their lives.
One of the things that is happening around us that we cannot ignore is the increase in homelessness. Santa Rosa is experiencing a homelessness crisis that surpasses many other cities in California. The reasons for homelessness are complex, but in the end it comes down to not having a place to live.
A person can be addicted and still be housed. A person can be out of work and still be housed. A person can have PTSD and still be housed. But the people around us are not.
Further, as all of you are aware, the Joe Rodota trail was recently cleared of a mile-long homeless encampment. Although officially no one was supposed to lose their belongings, people did. And this has been a very cold winter. So all of a sudden we have people around us who are literally cold, maybe freezing, at night.
When someone is cold, what do you do? You give them a coat or a blanket or both. During the announcements/after the service Barbara Fogle/of Knox is going to tell us about the blanket collection we are doing for next Sunday. I expect this space here in front of the table/altar to be filled with blankets next Sunday.
If someone is cold, giving them a coat or a blanket is a good first step. What would be better would be to help them find a warm place to be, to live. That is much harder than providing a blanket.
At our last Church Life Gathering, attended by both Knox and TLC members, we hatched an idea. What if, with all the resources of two congregations, we could help one person, or one couple, or one parent with children, to get into housing and to receive the services they need? A few people volunteered to look into it, and that’s where we are now.
I hope you do it. I hope we do it. I cannot think of a more meaningful way to be salt and light, to let our light shine, than to house a person in need. I cannot think of something that is more timely and more urgent. I hope we will do it.
This past Thursday while I was here at the church there was a young man with a garbage bag here at our door. He definitely looked homeless. He asked if we had any cans or bottles he could have. He wanted to redeem them to gather some cash so he could buy a blanket at the Good Will.
I told him we were doing a blanket drive two Sundays from now and he laughed and said it would be cold tonight. I told him to wait for a minute, and I went back inside and got $20 and gave it to him. He looked at the amount and smiled, and said, “Hey, this is enough that I can help out a friend who also needs something warm.”
So this young man, homeless, seeking work he can do with his hands, in need of blanket to stay warm that night, when he received some cash, said that he would be a blessing to another.
That’s how it works. You are blessed. You are salt and light. God says to you, “Good job, baby. Good job, my child. With you I well pleased.” Now go be salt and light. Go bless someone else. Amen.