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February 7th, 1999 (St. George's URC, Hartlepool)
Ordinary 5, year A

Revd. Phil Nevard
click here to view the readings:
Isaiah 58:1-9a

Psalm 112:1-9
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20

The God-Colours of the World

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste Godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bring out the God-colors in the world."  (Eugene H. Peterson, "The Message")

This is the calling of God for his disciples today - to bring out the God-flavours and the God-colours in peoples' flavourless, colourless lives - bringing them fulness of life in other words. People should be able to spot where Christians have been because of the trail of colour and light they leave behind.

I wrote this thought on an internet mailing list on Tuesday.  The idea of the list is that preachers post their thoughts about the readings for the coming week.  I had a thought-provoking response from a minister called Fred Kane of Hillsboro United Methodist Church, Oregon USA.  He reckoned that he would have to make it stronger, "it just doesn't sound quite radical enough for me," he said. "Bringing out the God-flavours just sounds too tame. If I said that to people on Sunday they would nod their heads and understand what I'm saying, but it would be a little too easy, too tame, and not nearly challenging enough."

If we were going to leave it at that, then I would have to agree.  Bringing out the God-colours and the God-flavours of the world is nice imagery and lovely poetry, and there is a danger that it might remain in our minds as just that.

But today we are not exploring that language in isolation, we are looking at what Jesus said in the light of what God said through the prophet Isaiah.  God is hardly ever more challenging than when he is speaking through Isaiah.  Let me remind you...  God tells Isaiah to "Shout the message! Don't hold back. Say to my people Israel:
Do you think the Lord wants you to give up eating and to act as humble as a bent-over bush? Or to dress in sackcloth and sit in ashes? Is this really what he wants on a day of worship? I'll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused! Share your food with everyone who is hungry; share your home with the poor and homeless. Give clothes to those in need; don't turn away your relatives. Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly be healed. Your honesty will protect you as you advance and the glory of the Lord will defend you from behind. When you beg the Lord for help, he will answer, "Here I am!" (CEV)

Then, only then, will your light shine like the dawning sun; then, only then, can you say that you are bring out the God-colours of the world; then, only then, can you say you are bringing out the God-flavours of he world.

The God-colours are Justice and Compassion.

The God-flavours are Love and Truth.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste Godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bring out the God-colors in the world."  (Eugene H. Peterson, "The Message")

How does it sound to you now?

What Jesus is saying is that if we as Christians lose our saltiness and hide away our light, then the world will be a dark and flavourless place.  If we Christians lose our saltiness and hide away our light, then the God-flavours (Love and Truth) and the God-colours (Justice and compassion) will fade away.  "We are to bring out the God-ness in creation and if we don't do it - it won't be done." (Fred Kane, P-RCL list)

Jesus and Isaiah are both being completely uncompromising, they are leaving us no room for doubt or manoeuvre.  Isaiah tells us that God is not interested in our worship unless our worship overflows into our lives; God won't bother to listen to our prayers unless our lives are a part of the fight against evil and injustice; God will run away from the sound of our hymns and songs unless we are also singing songs of love and compassion in our daily encounters with the wounded people of the world.  Our worship is worthless if it has no grounding in the way we live our lives.

Jesus is even blunter.  Jesus tells us not only that our worship is worthless, but that we are worthless if our Christian faith is nothing more than something we believe in our heads; we are of no use if our Christian faith is just words; we are wasting our time if our Christian faith is not leading us into acts of loving-kindness and a passion for justice, truth and righteousness.

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste Godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bring out the God-colors in the world."  (Eugene H. Peterson, "The Message")

How does it sound now?

God has told us what we are here for.  In the words of Isaiah and Jesus no punches have been pulled.  Now it's a hard message, a tough message, perhaps an unwelcome message.  We are called to account.

But don't let's leave it there, for there is more.

Have you all heard the story this week about the Russians putting a giant mirror into space?  The idea is that it will reflect sunlight into places that are dark for most of the day, or, when they have it up and running and finely-tuned, it would be programmable so that if there were a major disaster like and earthquake or a plane-crash, light could be reflected so that the rescue operation would never be impeded by nightfall.

This one is just a test-mirror, but work has already begun on a much bigger one.  Of course it will have to be huge and it then becomes very vulnerable to damage.  And this made me think.. The light we are called to shine into the darkness of the world is not our light, it is God's light. We are called to reflect God's light just like that space mirror has no light of its own, but is designed to reflect the light of the sun.  In trying to reflect God's light we might have to stretch ourselves wide open. Like that space-mirror; we might have to make ourselves vulnerable.

But in doing that, in opening ourselves up, in stretching ourselves, in making ourselves vulnerable, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus.  He opened himself to the world, he made himself vulnerable, he was stretched out on he cross so that he could say, "I am the light of the world."

Yes, we are called to account, and "yes" we fall short.  You and I often let our saltiness drain away; you and I often hide the light under a basket.  If we were salt, we would be thrown out. But we are not mere lumps of salt, we are God's children, God will never declare us worthless and useless, God will never wash his hands of us.

But all the same, God will not stop calling us to account.  God will not stop challenging us to live our lives as his people in the world.  God will not stop expecting us to walk in the footprints of Jesus.  God will not stop reminding us why we are are here:

"Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste Godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bring out the God-colors in the world."  (Eugene H. Peterson, "The Message")