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Feb 09, 2020

The Point (begins at 31:58)

The Point (begins at 31:58)

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Series: February 2020

Category: Faith

Audio of 2nd scripture reading, Matthew 5:13-20, followed by the sermon begins at 31:58.

Matthew 5:13-20

13“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.

14“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In 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.

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

“The Point”

          If you wanted to avoid exhibiting your faith, where would you go?  To work?  We know not to bring that into the workplace.  Polite company perhaps?  School?  No prayer there except during exams or just before you ask someone to the dance.  How about the sideline of your kid or grandkid’s soccer game?  No, that would detract from the yelling.  The Tiburon Ferry?  It’s not exactly fair to a captive audience.  Can you imagine?  “Hey, would you like to talk about Jesus?” 

          “No thanks!” the other shouts while jumping overboard, “I think I’ll just swim the rest of the way.”

          What if I told you one of the best places to avoid your faith is church?  Richard Rohr, the great Franciscan author once said religion is “one of the safest places to hide from God.”[1]  What?  Rohr’s point is that if we’re not careful, the way we practice our religion actually keeps us from living it out.  If we can just have enough meetings, even perform enough rituals, we don’t have to commit to the kind of transformation all if it is designed to foster.  Coming to church isn’t the point.  It’s where we come to be reoriented toward the point, strengthened in heart and soul, and in body, to strive toward the point in our lives and our collective life together. 

          Do you know what the first thing people say to me when they see me in public?  Almost without exception it’s, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry I haven’t been to church.”  That’s not an indictment of you.  It’s an indictment of the message on we in the church who’ve clearly taught you that is the point.  Matthew Fox, the great theologian and mystic talks about how we divert our attention away from what’s important by making our entire lives about trying to please some kind of grand scorekeeper.  When we’re little it’s about about pleasing mommy or daddy.  That has its place when we are young, but hopefully we outgrow it.  Some never do and spend their lives chasing that affirmation.  Some others simply replace the need to please mommy and daddy with a need to please God. 

          I say those things in compassion, in solidarity, because I’m a pleaser.  But, if we think faith is about racking up points with God, we’ve missed the point.  God doesn’t care…about that.  According to Jesus, God cares about how we live with respect to our neighbor.  Most notably in the Gospel of Matthew, he speaks of accountability based on who we treat those in need, equating that to caring for God God’s self.  If there is accountability it will be around that, not some perfect attendance sheet, particularly if the lessons didn’t take root in your life. 

          I am not saying your presence here is unimportant.  Your Christian formation is vital, central.  What I am saying is church is not the end; it’s the beginning.  It’s the pathway to a new world and a new life.  Church isn’t the destination; it’s a wisdom center, a healing ground, a beloved community of relationships, a place to learn about and practice the deeper ways of life.  It’s a place where we reconnect to our deep ancestral roots that we might understand how we fit in the cosmos so that we might move about it more intentionally, reverently, joyfully, and justly.

          That’s the point of our readings today.  Did you hear what Isaiah says? 

3   “Why do we fast (a religious ritual), but you do not see? 

          Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” 

     Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, 

          and oppress all your workers. 

 (This is not about your personal piety, this is about fair treatment and fair pay, this is about a just society.)

 4   Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight 

          and to strike with a wicked fist. 

 6   Is not this the fast that I choose: 

          to loose the bonds of injustice, 

          to undo the thongs of the yoke, 

     to let the oppressed go free, 

          and to break every yoke? 

7   Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 

          and bring the homeless poor into your house; 

     when you see the naked, to cover them, 

          and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 

 (again, not much about personal piety and devotion, not much about temple attendance, not much about private religion.  This is our public as well as personal life.)

 10  if you offer your food to the hungry 

          and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 

     then your light shall rise in the darkness 

          and your gloom be like the noonday. 

 (Notice, the result is not that you earn a sticker, or you’ll be spared from hell, or you’ll be relieved having completed a miserable assignment.  The result, the reward is joy!  Remember that?  Your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom will be like the noonday.  This isn’t the pathway to obligation, but to true freedom.  Joy not just for you, but for all; that’s another definition of justice, the access of joy for everyone.)

 12  Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; 

          you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; 

     you shall be called the repairer of the breach, 

          the restorer of streets to live in (Is. 58, selected verses). 

 (The result is that our community and our communities will be healed, will flourish, will endure for generations, and you will be remembered as the ones who repaired the breach).

           Rohr, a priest, says religion can be the worst thing in the world, because it can become an exercise in missing the point.  The biblical prophets say God hates our religious festivals and observances (Isaiah 1, Amos 5) not because they are inherently bad, but because they can lose their meaning, their transforming and shaping power, and become hollow.  Even more, they can give you the illusion you have fulfilled your divine purpose in observing them.

          Rohr also says religion can be the best thing because it can also call us home precisely to our divine purpose.  That’s what prophets do.  That’s what good ritual, good teaching does.  They don’t berate us or scare us or bully us.  They call us home.  Come home to your creatureliness, your place in the divine creation.  Come home to your place in the community and help make it look and feel and actually be a little more beloved.  Come home to the one thing everyone has, a higher purpose.  Society is going to tell you only have purpose in proportion to what you can spend.  Here, we remind you that you have immeasurable purpose because you can love.  I don’t just mean love in the syrupy sense, though there’s a place for that, love that shapes the way we live together.

          A couple of weeks ago, I referenced an article by Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times in which he proclaims that despite all of people’s angst and concern division and derision by many global metrics such as extreme poverty, disease, access to clean water, and education 2019 was the best year ever.  Not long after someone said, Kristof and his spouse Sheryl WuDunn, who’ve just written a best-selling book, were coming to the Bay Area and would I like to meet them and go to a talk.  I had two thoughts:  1) Yes, of course!  And 2) I should start preaching on Steph Curry.

          Kristof and WuDunn spoke eloquently and lovingly about some of the people of our country who have felt left behind and how in our social policies of the last 40-50 years we have failed one another in significant ways.  We may have divergent views about certain policies, but my point here is about the orientation of our lives.  Our worship, our practice is for the purpose of being a meaningful presence in our world, of orienting ourselves toward the wellbeing of our neighbor and the good of the whole.  Jesus made it pretty simple:  Love God and love neighbor, and doing the second you might accomplish the first.  For him this wasn’t replacing religion; it was fulfilling it.

          (Do you know what the most important thing is we will do today?  We have a dentist here who is going to conduct a free exam for someone in need between services in one of the classrooms.  If you want to find Jesus this morning, he’s just as likely to be in that room as this one.  Hopefully this room inspires us to do more of that. Otherwise, it’s all just hollow.

          Because he loved us, Jesus was unafraid to call out hollowness, comparing in Matthew some self-proclaimed religions people as “whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.  So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness ” (Mt. 23:27-28).  Or in today’s reading simply saying, “You are the salt of the earth, but if the salt has lost its taste….it is no longer good for anything” (Mt. 5:13). I hope here part of what we do is help you get your saltiness back, but this salt is good for your heart.

          Matthew says, “You (plural) are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot (shall not) be hid” (5:14).  We have sadly often used this to display collective self-righteousness or somehow that we are chosen over and against others, rather than recognizing Jesus’ point that if we are truly filled with light, real light not just gloss and shine, the image of the divine presence, then we cannot be hid wherever we go. 

          Where can you go and have this light shine?  Where is the best place?  How about your job, where you work or volunteer?  Do those places not need divine presence?  School?  I hope so.  Are we so old that we’ve forgotten the cruelty of school hallways and playgrounds.  In polite company, in the midst of the conversational landmines, yes light would be good.  The soccer game sidelines could probably use a double dose.  And the ferry, yes, because sometimes we are so wounded we would consider jumping overboard than be met with reconciling, truth-telling, hope-filled love.  Afterall, we are all on the same boat.  Amen.