Called to fear?

Sermon by the Reverend Christian Baron, 5 Epiphany, Feb. 5, 2017, Year A, Matthew 5:13-20

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?
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?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen

Good morning…

I used to have a job that I had to punch in and punch out… it was shift work… come in… stomp the snow off my boots… hang up my coat… say hello to my co-workers and then look at my tasks for the day. I’d complain to my friend who was working with me about my boss and about red-tape and administrative BS. It would go something like this… “THEY have no idea what our job is like… you think they know what we go through? No, they just come in… close their doors… send e-mails and complain about how we aren’t doing our work right… I’d like to see them do my job for 10 minutes… they could never do it…. Oh great… and first shift didn’t finish their work… now we have to do it… I should have called in sick…” Not every day started like that, but it happened more than I care to admit… But that was just a job… I was lucky to have it… It mostly paid our bills. It gave me and Jodi, and our children, health insurance… which was huge because babies are fragile… they get sick all the time and they can’t talk very well to explain what is going on. Even though I complained a lot, it was truly a blessing to have a job that paid me and gave me benefits…. And took care of my children’s needs. More about that in a bit…

The gospel for today is a good one eh? It gives us some perspicuous images to grab onto. Jesus says, “You are salt.” The salt image is especially vivid for those of us living in Northern Michigan. What is the purpose of salt? I wonder how many uses we can list for salt.

Food. Ice melt. Water softener. Etc.

It’s pretty great to have salt… Nice to be able to use it… It is useful to us. It has a mission and it accomplishes that mission until it no longer can. And I’m sure you’ve heard plenty sermons on salt and saltiness.. Right?
Well, I probably agree with most of those sermons.. Stay salty St. Philip’s. Do what you were meant to do… Don’t become useless…

But now what? What else is there to say?

Well… what about this?… When I think about salt, and truthfully, with most things, I start to think about the water. As a Michigander, I think about all of the problems that salt causes in the water. How many of you have swam in the ocean or in salt water? It gets in your nose… it gets in your eyes… you swallow some and it tastes terrible. We’re lucky to have the best beaches on the planet right down the street. The best swimming on the planet…

Besides that, it is hard on fishing boats… and fishing rods… salt is hard on all things mechanical… Being Salty makes… things… difficult…Being salty makes our lives difficult.

Most importantly, it makes the water undrinkable… I was researching a bit… and I know we have a bunch of medical folks here so tell me if I’m wrong, but if you drink saltwater, it really screws up the human body. It puts salt in your blood which overworks your kidneys and makes the body dehydrated. Eventually drinking salt water kills humans…

Lastly, saltwater carries danger… the creatures that live in the sea are killers. There are fish and mammals and snakes and all kinds of craziness to worry about. Jellyfish and manowar… barracudas and sharks… The ocean… saltwater is dangerous… Being salty makes things difficult and dangerous…

And the other image that this gospel text gives us is light. And you’ve heard this before too right? “You are the light of the world.” We should be light in dark times. We need to reflect the image of the God of light and clarity. The purpose of the candle is to offer light… It makes no sense to hide that light… to put it under a bucket… to block that light… That would keep us from our purpose… it would keep us from doing what we were created to do…

Because the darkness can be very scary can’t it. The unknown can be terrifying and difficult and dangerous…

So, that job that I had… the one that I complained about earlier. Well, the best part of my day was about 3:30pm every day when the vanload of young men rolled into the house I worked at. These young men from a variety of countries would walk in and smile at me… “Oh, Mr. Christian… how are you?” These refugees had been working all day at school to learn English. I would get to help them practice their “hellos.” The more advanced guys I could help with more sophisticated aspects of the language. And then, a few of them would get cooking… Man these guys from Myanmar and Central Africa… and Iraq and Iran… would make a giant feast. The Iraqis were by far… the worst cooks. Many of my Burmese friends had lived their entire lives in a refugee camp in Thailand or Malaysia. Their entire lives… And so they would go into the city to try to work in restaurants to make some money… all under the table… That money would allow them to bring extra things back to the Camp and offer something extra for the meal… They were legit restaurant trained cooks… and I have the extra pounds to prove it…

At least once a week one of the guys who could speak English would sit me down, “Mr. Christian… I need to get a job… my sister needs medicine Mr. Christian… My mother needs money because she is too sick to work Mr. Christian….” And this part I had down… “You know the rules… it is against the law for you to work right now… your job is to study and to rest… Then you can get a good job and send money back to your family.” It was brutal, but I had to remind them that they couldn’t work yet. They needed to complete their paperwork processed before they could work… It was very hard for them to be here… not working… while their families suffered across the ocean…

But let me tell you a story about my friend #@. He gave me permission to share his story… #@ is from Somalia. His family was targeted and great violence was enacted against them. And #@ was in great danger at the hands of Al-Shabab, a group of religious extremists. He had saved some money and so he and his mother decided he should leave before he was killed. But the only place he could get a visa to, was Brazil. So he flew to Brazil to escape certain death…

He spent the next several months walking

He spent months… walking.

to the United States to be safe and to try to make money to send home to his family.

It was a longshot for sure… #@ told me stories of poisonous jungle snakes and other dangerous animals…. But he said the two most dangerous parts of his journey were the other humans and the dark.

His guide would not slow down nor wait for any within the party. They would rest during the day so they wouldn’t be seen and then travel at night. But the night travels had to be in complete darkness so that they wouldn’t draw attention.

The drug cartels would surely do them harm if they found them… enslave them or kill them or worse… for trespassing or for fun… He described walking through the jungle in pitch black…. With his hands in front of him… having no idea what lay ahead of him. At least once a member of the party fell off a cliff to their death. The darkness was relentless and brutal… He was captured, extorted and exploited… and rescued… And after he was rescued he completed his journey to the United States…

He “safely” crossed the border, was detained by authorities and declared himself an asylee.

This is not the end of the story for #@, but the end of the story for today…

I tell you this story, because when I think about darkness and light… I think of #@… I think about our incredible role as Christians to shine light into the dark jungles of life.

And I think about how dangerous that light can be in a world where there are folks who are certainly out to harm us… Real people… who want to do real harm to us… real harm to those that we love. And if I’m honest, in my weakness, I’m more thankful than I let on about our government trying to keep us safe… to keep bad people out…

But good people of St. Philip’s, we as Christians… we are not called to live in fear of the other… we were not made to be salt and light to waste our purpose… to lose our saltiness or to hide our light under a bucket… we were called… to live lives of boldness… to be in the middle of darkness and danger… and to care about and protect the least because we hold power and privilege.

To stand up for the marginalized… to protect those in danger… to stand up to those who call for self protection over love…. Because we follow the life of a man… who modeled this exact scenario. A man who pushed against the authorities and refused self-protection… and who was killed for it…

That same man says to you today… “You are salt… and you are light…”
So St. Philip’s, may you… and may I… have the boldness to stand up and speak for those in this world that have no voice… to enhance and to flavor life… even if it is dangerous… to be light in the darkness… even though it is dangerous… So be strong… live boldly…

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Amen