In the movie, Analyze This, there’s a line repeated again and again by the two main characters: “You are something!” “You are something!” I want to fill in the blanks of what that something is because you are something. Don’t take this the wrong way because this is not a group therapy session. I have zero interest in preaching that says, “You’re OK, I’m OK, and we’re OK.” We are definitely not OK. People have forgotten that we are not OK because they have been told for so many years that they are accepted and we don’t ever want to risk hurting someone’s feelings. This makes the Sermon on the Mount pretty hard to swallow. “You are accepted” is good Platonism, but it is not the grittiness of the gospel. “Grittiness means that the only way any of us will be part of God’s celebration of the kingdom is through God’s engrafting the Gentiles into that grace through Jesus of Nazareth. Grittiness means that salvation is now available to us through the people Jesus made possible. The name we give these gritty people is Church” (Stanley Hauerwas, Unleashing the Scripture, 80). Outside the Church we are not OK and we are not accepted. You can wander around rejoicing in your enlightened skepticism and agnosticism, glorying in your distaste for the church and your grand sense of worthiness, but that doesn’t make you OK.
We are something only because Jesus, who was rich, became poor for our sake. We are something because Jesus has made us something. Once we were nothing, now we are something. Once we were nobody, now we are somebody! We are only here because our Jesus has done battle with the powers that would rule our lives and has defeated them. It is a battle we continue to wage through being members of the Church. And the Church is essential to this battle. I’m insisting against all Baptist populism and individualism that being a member of the Church is part and parcel of what it means to be saved. I have lost my appetite for all forms of individual salvation considering the superficial forms it has taken and how in a culture where anything goes, people are convinced of salvation apart from Christian practices and apart from the church. The narcissism of this kind of salvation, this excessive and erotic interest in oneself, is disturbing. Even a cursory viewing of religious television and you sense the overweening influence of sexuality as an appeal and the constant appeal to people having personal, private needs met in a distorted salvation.
Our salvation depends upon there being a faithful body of people called out to be different from the world. The idea that the church is incidental to our salvation makes it hard for us to resist the powers that would rule our lives. We treat is as one of multiple options that we can take or leave at our personal discretion and tastes. That people have turned the church into just one more marketing tool is indicated by how the churches advertise that they are friendly, warm, caring places where needs can be met. I am well aware that my insistence that the Church is not incidental to God’s eternal purpose means that I am more Catholic than Baptist. And since I am now convinced that the Church is an integral part of the Gospel, I find myself turned off by Protestant churches that treat the gospel as if it were an afterthought. There’s just too much freedom in Baptist churches for us to be a disciplined, orderly community of apostolic faith, worship, and discipleship through time. If I must become a Catholic it will be for the sake of the Gospel, and the unity of the Church gathered by that Gospel.
I find that I have little patience left for those who keep up the constant refrain of what I must believe in order to be saved and be a good Christian. Most of my Christian life has been lived out in that nest of vipers. Well, the Sermon on the Mount is not that big on what we are supposed to believe. In fact, today’s text tells us plainly that Jesus believes in us. Jesus is determined to keep working with material as unpromising and fallible as we all are. Jesus believes that every last one of us is salvable by grace. So here is the truth about what Jesus believes about us:
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.
Salt and light constitutes everyday holiness, what might be called peasant holiness as contrasted to sophisticated, big-city holiness. I am interested in the holiness that is sustained by “peasants.” There is nothing wrong with being a peasant, that is, someone who works every day at those crafts necessary for us to eat, have shelter, sustain the having of children, and allow us to carry on the basic practices necessary to sustain communities. Peasants may not be intellectuals, but they have knowledge, common sense, that must be passed on from one generation to another. I contend that there is holiness in peasants who know it is enough to pray, obey, and pay. They understand that the salvation offered by the church is not dependent on her ecclesial representatives, but rather is to be found in sacrament and saint.
Worldly status is not required to be salt and light. Look at us. We are not famous and rich, but we are salt and light. Such a Christianity is not based on earned status or popularity polls, but bestowed by God in the act of baptism. Such a Christianity is not a set of beliefs or doctrines that you believe in order to be Christian, but rather Christianity is to be salt and light for the world. Think of it: Salt of the world! Say it with the same tone you would say “Heavyweight champion of the world!” Light of the world! Say it as you would say, “The world champions of baseball, the Chicago Cubs!” That’s some of what it means to be somebody!
This is irritating to many because no one believes they are peasants any longer. No one volunteers for peasant status in a world that honors and reveres and worships only the rich and the famous. These are descriptive of the life of those who follow Jesus. You can’t try to be salt or light in order to inherit the kingdom of God. You are salt and you are light.
If you can allow this single truth to rest in peace in your heart and mind – you are salt and light – you will be free from the self-imposed artificial guilt that the church tries to impose on you that somehow you don’t measure up and you are not good enough. Get this straight: YOU ARE SOMETHING! Get this straight and stop worrying about whether are not you have to do something.
You are the salt of the earth. Your are the light of the world. You are a member of God’s church. You belong. You are holy. Therefore you are something.
You are influencing the world. You are saving the earth. The short story, “It Had Wings,” ends with “She is guarding the world. Only, nobody knows.” The real challenge is getting you to actually embrace the wonder of this truth.
I know there are many people who have been hurt and demoralized by bad religion – the religion of intolerance and judgmentalism. They never knew they were God’s own people – holy, saved, redeemed. Over the years I have been privileged to be friends with people who were hurt, used, marred, and thrown away by the church. They have been people of wisdom, humility, and dignity. And it has been a privilege to share their tortured journey of faith. Among the reasons that I stay in the church, close to the top of the list is this one fact: I stay for my friends who were so harmed by the church. I stay for Dan Blake, told by his church that he was fired because he was an alcoholic, for Albert Moffett, a 340 pound criminal investigator, who cussed like a fleet of sailors, but had more theology in his little finger than most church people, for my graduate school office mate who flew helicopters in Vietnam and didn’t believe in God or humanity, for all those doubting, disgusted, end-of-the rope people that the church rejected. In my heart I have gathered them all in and they are the church for me. Even though they are all dead now, I still keep getting re-elected to represent them. With St. Paul I confess that I am the chief of sinners and I reside in the midst of the tribe of sinners and know they are salt and light. As long as I have breath my beaten-down, cast-off, cast of friends will be represented as salt and light of the world.
My friends represent the interesting people whose struggle to be faithful against all odds was never boring. My friends never wasted a moment praying over sins too small to be given the time of day. They were fighting “demons and dragons” in a desperate attempt do to give in to the powers that would rule our lives. I simply can’t understand how we, a people who worship a crucified God, have managed to make worship so boring. Salt is a seasoning and believe me there’s plenty of food that could use some extra seasoning. I once spent 29 days in Nebraska. The seasoning cabinet in restaurants and homes consisted of salt and pepper. I had to go to a Chinese restaurant to get food with any kick to it. Fortunately there was a Chinese restaurant in every small Nebraska town. In fact, I have concocted this theory about Chinese restaurants. Somewhere in China, there is a government agency responsible for helping Chinese families relocate to the USA. Each family is assigned a certain town until there is at least one Chinese restaurant in every town in America. So, North Platte, McCook, Hastings, and Grand Island, Nebraska all have at least one Chinese restaurant. That’s my theory.
We are also the light of the world. If you are not sure what it means for your light to shine, listen to the prophet Isaiah: “If we offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then our light shall rise in the darkness and our gloom be like the noonday.”
Some of you have felt awful and bad long enough. Let go of the anti-Christ of bad religion, that smug, moralistic, God-awful condemnation of people who have become so heavenly-minded as to be intolerable around plain humans like us. Don’t let people like that ruin the beauty, goodness, and joy of your life. I am only asking that you believe what Jesus says about you. Let me say it once more so it will stick in your bones from now on:
You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are something!