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Holy Possibilities

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Jesus says, “You are….”

But before we delve fully into Jesus’ “you are…” this morning, I want to take some time to remind you how we got HERE. So here is your brief, cliff notes version of the Bible readings from the last 2 Sundays. The author of Matthew tells us that:

  • John the Baptist has been arrested.
  • Which prompted Jesus to “pick up where John left off” (Matt. 4:17, The Message), and Jesus takes his ministry on the road.
  • Then last Sunday, we dug into just a very first part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We heard Jesus rattle off the Beatitudes… the Blessed are’s…
    • Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, are meek, people who are after righteousness, mercy, and righteousness.
    • We then expanded on the Blessed are’s…. with our own, 2020, list of Beatitudes.
  • Blessed are you who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, transgender, queer, you are made in the image of God.
  • Blessed are you who sit with anxiety. Know that you are enough even when you feel you aren’t.
  • Blessed are you who suffer with depression, those who are lonely, and those who mourn. Know that you are God’s beloved.
  • Blessed are you who are the supporters, the huggers, and the criers. God listens and is compassionate.

Our list went on. If you would like to read our entire list of Beatitudes for 2020, you can find them on Memorial’s website (on the home page click on “Beatitudes Retold”).

Thus, right before we get to today’s “salt” and “light,” Jesus has given us Holy Blessings. Blessed are…

Immediately after the blessings, Jesus points out… you are…

You… whomever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey…

you are…right now…

The salt of the earth.

The light of the world.

Not at some time in the future. But now. Look around. YOU are a part of the movement. The shift to God’s Holy Possibilities. For you are. And God IS.

As Isaiah says, shout THAT out! Do not hold back.

YOU… at this very moment…

Now remember, as Matt Skinner points out, the people who were listening to Jesus that day were… just… ordinary people. “In fact, if we take Matthew 5:11-12 as our cue, Jesus is speaking to people who are (or who are about to be) ‘reviled’ and ‘persecuted.’ Singling out that category of people as ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world’ seems absurd. But so too were the Beatitudes at the beginning of (Jesus’) sermon.”[1]

I invite you to take a moment. Look around the room. Do you realize what… or who… you are looking at? The person sitting right next to you is one of those to whom Jesus is referring. So is the person behind you. The person to your left, and to your right. Before you, and behind you. This folks, is it. YOU ARE. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

This means that HERE, and NOW, there are Holy Possibilities.

Are you ready to say “yes” to them?

February is designated as Black History month. I stand in this pulpit as a white preacher of a historically white church, having grown up in a small rural city in Wisconsin whose population in 2017 was 96.9% white.[2] I now live in Dane County, which the Race to Equity Report says “is often considered one of the best places to live and raise a family in America… (but despite this)… Dane County repeatedly ranks near the bottom in national studies on the extent of racial disparities in economic status, health, education, justice and child welfare for African Americans as well as for Hispanics and Asians.”[3] Immersed in those realities, I having been thinking about Jesus’ comments regarding salt, light, and God’s description of “fasting” in Isaiah all week.

So… are you ready for a story? A movement? Good. Because I have one for you:

In response to this week’s Bible readings, I’ve been pondering salt, and the ways in which salt… is… salt. I began to think about the Holy Possibilities of emulating salt, grain by grain. Staying salty. Of the ways in which we can be “worth our weight in salt” as followers of Jesus. I pondered, how I can be THAT grain of salt? What about this church? What might the Holy Possibilities be if we were to pool our collective grains of salt? How might we contribute to the current movement to shift the weight of racism which continues in our country?

For I alone, am just one grain, or two… or maybe on my best day a handful of salt. If I personally do one thing, one small action, it adds a positive, but minuscule amount of weight to the movement, but as I do another action event… and another…

And then as a few of you join in, doing additional actions together we contribute more weight to the shift to overcome racism and white supremacy…

And then, in the words of Memorial’s mission statement, as we “reach out in ever-widening circles” the momentum grows. Suddenly there are more and more of us, young and old, contributing to a growing number of salt grains in local, transformative efforts….

Reaching out to the community, as a faith community we connect with coalition partners: the Madison Area Urban Ministry, MOSES (which works to reform Wisconsin’s criminal justice system), Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice, and others… Together we become… we are… the salt of the earth. And there is no holding us back.

This is the relational, branching out, of God’s active, living “fast.” This is the fast which loosens bonds of injustice, creating a world in which no one faces food insecurity and no one is hungry. A community in which everyone has affordable housing. A place where everyone is welcome.

Beloved, are we ready for that? Today? This month? Are we ready to “salt forth” God’s transformative love?

If your answer, our answer, is “yes” here are a few simple steps that we can take as individuals, families, and as a community:

  • Read a book written by an author who is black this month. Or consider reading one book a month for the entire year. Grab books to share with your kids and grandkids!
  • Watch a movie, such as Just Mercy which is in theaters now (and many thanks to Rebecca who organized the group outing to Just Mercy for us this past Friday!).
  • Google “Black History Month” Dane County and locate an event (or 2 or 3) you would like to attend. For example, there will be a Black History Open House on Friday, February 21, at the Wisconsin Historical Society, and a Black Artists and Authors Expo at the Badger Rock Neighborhood Center on Sunday, February 23. I will include these events in next week’s eNews and bulletin.
  • Finally, I am going to take a little bit of a risk with this suggestion. While I love having you all in worship today, I encourage you to consider attending one of the historically black churches in the area sometime soon. The faith communities of Mt. Zion and Fountain of Life are nearby. And, if you haven’t heard, there is a wonderful story which has arisen at Lake Edge UCC, our sister church on the eastside of Madison. You might have heard that as Lake Edge prayerfully listened to God’s call to “fast”, as their membership declined and the community around them changed. Over the past two years Lake Edge and Christ the Solid Rock (a historically black, Baptist church) participated in a Holy Conversation. This led to the decision last fall between the two faith communities to enter into covenant. This commitment binds the “two churches from different faith traditions and ethnic cultures.”[4] Both congregations now share the same church building on Buckeye road and engage in collaborating on developing ministries, including Sunday School. THAT ministry is full of Holy Possibilities!
Interfaith Martin Luther King, Jr, service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison January 17, 2020

Holy Possibilities. Be salt. Light. Prayerfully, may we discern the “fasts” God is calling us to. What ministry would you do in the church, or in the world, if resources weren’t a factor? Maybe it is a ministry Memorial is already doing. Maybe, there is a new community “covenant” that needs to shine forth.

Know that now, you are…

You are the salt of the earth.

The light of the world.

Not at some time in the future. But now. Look around. YOU are a part of the movement. The shift to God’s Holy Possibilities. For you are. And God IS.

Shout THAT out!

~ Pastor Kris

Reflection on Isaiah 58:1-9a and Matthew 5:13-20 offered February 9, 2020

[1] Skinner, Matt. “Shine On, You Working Preachers by Matt Skinner – Craft of Preaching – Working Preacher.” Shine On, You Working Preachers by Matt Skinner – Craft of Preaching – Working Preacher, February 2, 2020. https://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5411.

[2] “Dodgeville, WI.” Data USA. Accessed February 8, 2020. https://datausa.io/profile/geo/dodgeville-wi.

[3] “About Us.” Race to Equity. Accessed February 8, 2020. https://racetoequity.net/about-us/.

[4] “Alliance.” LAKE EDGE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST. Accessed February 8, 2020. http://www.lakeedge.org/alliance.html.