Salt & Light (Mother’s Day 2016)

BLESSINGS on the hand of women!
       Angels guard its strength and grace.
     In the palace, cottage, hovel,
         Oh, no matter where the place;
     Would that never storms assailed it,
         Rainbows ever gently curled,
     For the hand that rocks the cradle
         Is the hand that rules the world.  
William Ross Wallace, (pub. 1865)  

One hundred years before I was born, William Ross Wallace published a poem about the far reaching influence of Mothers.  We may find his poem a bit rigid or lacking artistic flare — we may even find the words dated and expressing a patriarchal view from a previous age  — nevertheless, there is a truth to fact that no single group of people have done so much sacrificially for others as mothers.

Ironically, the christian Church has a mission that seeks to balance that with godly men who serve their families and share the responsibility of parenting with time and with tenderness —  being a present reality in their children’s lives.  Thankfully, in this room, that is what I see time and time again.  Moms and Dads  working together.  Of course, generally though, there is still much to be done in the church in this regard..

At this stage in my life, I don’t presume to know much that would be helpful to tell mothers beyond what a good friend and mentor told me and my wife years ago  —  “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8, NRSV).

I guess telling people to have constant love for another is always good advice but for parents who love their children more than life itself, it is freeing to understand that as long as that is present in their child’s life, whatever imperfections exist things will work out.  With love, we can overcome the systems we were born into and can truly grow in family relationships in a positive direction.

Today, I will not be handing out advice to moms or to dads.  In fact, I want to speak to something that affects us all — and is at the heart of what Wallace was saying.  I want to speak a little about having a Vision for Influencing our world.

Jesus told his disciples very clearly that they were to be an influence in the world for good.  Let’s listen to Jesus.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one 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.” (Matthew 5:13–16, NRSV)  

If you have gone to church for any length of time, you will have heard lots of factoids about salt — I have in the past — unfortunately — inflicted that upon my listeners but I’m not going to do that today.  All you need to know about salt in the ancient world is this: It was valuable.  Roman soldiers received special wages to pay for salt and from that we have our word “salary”.  Today salt is a couple of dollars for box, but in the ancient world you needed a special allowance in your wages to cover the expense.  Salt was important and valuable.

When Jesus speaks of salt and light in the world, he is ultimately speaking about influence in the world.  An influence that will demonstrate the love, grace, compassion and justice of God. The goal is not that we get a pat on the back or even that we successfully change the world to usher in an age of peace — the goal is this:

to bring glory to God through concrete actions in the world
that are rooted in the supernatural worldview that Jesus himself believed, taught and lived.  

So often Christians try not to get involved in the world.  Anabaptists have a special place in the history of giving up on this larger influence.  Regardless of the theology that props up such ideas, Jesus words are quite clear that if we segregate ourselves from the world or simply do not join in public discourse at all — we have simply put a basket over our lamp so no light can escape.

This week, Russell Moore, a Southern Baptist scholar and cultural critic wrote these words in a NY Times op-ed

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech did not envision that more than 50 years later “Go back to Africa” would be screamed at black protesters or that a major presidential candidate would tweet racially charged comments. Some American Christians may be tempted to ignore these issues, hoping they are just a wave of “political incorrectness” that will ebb in due time. That sort of moral silence shortchanges both our gospel and our future. 1

While Moore is speaking to his white evangelical constituency, his words are important regardless of context.  When we care only about those who look like us, act like us, and think like us — we are not living out the gospel as Jesus intended us to live it.  In fact, Moore ends his piece with these words:

The man on the throne in heaven is a dark-skinned, Aramaic-speaking “foreigner” who is probably not all that impressed by chants of “Make America great again.” 2

His goal in his context is to convince Evangelical Christians to speak out against Trump.  To choose Jesus over a political partisanship and to actually be an influence in the world.  He is right to do so in his context.

The fact is that we all must look our contexts and ask ourselves the same question.  What must we do to be salt and light in this world.  What will future generations look back and see as the glaring moral deficiency in the church in this generation.  We may not be able to address that completely or even see it clearly now — but we can do ask the question and seek wisdom from God. We can have hearts that are willing to go to the uncomfortable places where we can be salt and light in the situations that we do see.  We can speak up instead of being silent.  We can voice another opinion — one marked by something different than the rabidity that exists in our current culture.  We can do what we can to show the world that God exists, that his love and grace still impacts lives, and that there is hope and acceptance in Him.

The big question is as it always has been:

Will I do it?  Will you and I live as salt and light in this world? And then, how will we influence the world in the ways of Jesus?  

But on this mother’s day, with the focus on family and children and of course, motherhood.  Perhaps the greater question for we parents is simply this:

How  will our example inspire and encourage
children of the next generations
to become Salt and Light in the world?

Will they see something in us that is worthy of imitation.  May they see in us something positive — something valuable — that we chose to follow Jesus as salt and light in the world.  That we were people with a vision to influence the world.

2 Ibid.