Text: Matthew 5:13-20
Yesterday was an incredible day as I marched with many of you in the 2014 Moral Mass March on Raleigh—the Historic Thousands on Jones Street Peoples Assembly. All week, the weather reports predicted rain. Not one drop fell from the sky. Tens of thousands of people, mostly from North Carolina, gathered in the chill of winter under somewhat grey skies to march for economic justice, high quality education for all children, health care for all North Carolinians, justice in our criminal justice system, and the protection of voting rights for all our citizens. In short, we were marching for equal protection under the law for ALL people.
There were many moments that stand out to me from yesterday and there are a few that still this morning are stirring my soul. One is a picture that I will always carry in my mind of the three grand marshals of the March: Ms. Carolyn Coleman, Ms. Rosenell Eaton and Ms. Mary Perry—three black women who know all too well the realities of injustice and hate and inequality. Ms Coleman spoke of her experience of having to recite the preamble of the constitution in order to gain her right to vote. She spoke of others she knew who were made to guess how many bubbles there are in a bar of soap in order to gain their right to vote. She told of being at the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 when peaceful civil rights demonstrators were brutally attacked by armed officers as they tried to cross the bridge on their way to the state capital of Montgomery. She was there on that Bloody Sunday.
My spirit was lifted as I stood on the stage and looked down Fayetteville Street and saw the diversity of the marchers as they approached the Capitol. There were babies and bald-headed men; young girls and raging grannys; black, white, Latino, Native American, Asian; men and women holding hands, women and women holding hands, men and men holding hands; people from all faiths—Jews, Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and many others—and people who claim no faith but who believe in a moral universe. It’s the beauty of the movement I see each time I march. And I keep thinking in my mind that it has to be a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like.
The moment, however, that literally took my breath away was the moment at the very end, as Rev. Barber was giving his last words—not his speech—but his final words. And as I heard him say, “lock arms and let’s sing our civil rights anthem We Shall Overcome” I looked up and somewhat dramatically, at that very moment, the sun broke through the clouds and the light shined on the people. I couldn’t help myself. I turned and shouted to Rev. Barber and pointed to the sky and said, “Look, the light.” He saw it too and he began to speak the words that we have heard this morning from Isaiah 58, “Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly…your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday.” In that moment, those words became real. They were alive. The Bible became a living document.
Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.” YOU are the light of the world. WE are the light of the world. What does that mean? It means that when we seek God, when we seek justice, when we love with compassion, when we choose life over death, when we risk looking foolish for the welfare of others—the poor and the marginalized and oppressed, when we cry out with those whose bodies ache because they don’t have insurance and cannot go to the doctor, when we march and organize and mobilize for economic justice for ALL people we shine as brightly as that ray of light that broke through those clouds yesterday. For we are the light that breaks forth like the dawn. We are the light that rises in the darkness. You and me and all of us!
Along with being the light of the world, Jesus says, “We are the salt of the earth.” Have you ever wondered what was so special about salt for Jesus to say this? Here’s a bit of history about salt. As far back as 6050 BC, salt has been an important and integral part of the world’s history, as it has been interwoven into the daily lives of countless historic civilizations. Used as a part of Egyptian religious offerings and valuable trade between the Phoenicians and their Mediterranean empire, salt and history have been inextricably intertwined for millennia, with great importance placed on salt by many different races and cultures of people. Even today, the history of salt touches our daily lives. The word “salary” was derived from the word “salt.” Salt was highly valued and its production was legally restricted in ancient times, so it was historically used as a method of trade and currency. The word “salad” also originated from “salt,” and began with the early Romans salting their leafy greens and vegetables. Undeniably, the history of salt is both broad ranging and unique, leaving its indelible mark in cultures across the globe. Today, we pay less than $5 for a box of salt that will last us months. In ancient times salt was a precious commodity and Jesus knew its value and importance.
But Jesus doesn’t just stop with saying, “You are the salt of the earth.” He goes on to say, “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.”
That part of the text raised a question for me. “Has your salt lost its saltiness?” That’s the question that kept coming to my mind as I lived throughout the week with this text. It made me think of my grandmother. Some of you have heard me speak of her in other sermons. Growing up my paternal grandmother had a significant impact on my life. She was one of the most fun people I have ever known. She was funny, curious, a bit devious (in a good, fun way), adventurous, and at times downright silly. In everything, she was real—no pretense, no pretending about who she was and wasn’t. And one of her loves was salt. After every meal, I can remember her saying, “I need just a little taste of something sweet.” And as soon as she ate a “little something sweet” she would say, “Now I need a little something salty.” I can remember as children, my sister and I would sit at our grandmother’s kitchen table with our hands outstretched and palms up waiting on her to put salt in our hands. Then we would lick our finger, touch the salt in the palm of our hand and place it on our tongues. This was a ritual we shared almost daily with our grandmother. She loved salt, literally. But more important, she was a woman who never lost her saltiness of spirit and character. To the end she remained that funny, curious, adventurous and even courageous woman who taught me something about being a real human being—no pretense, no pretending to be somebody you’re not.
So, what does it mean to be “the salt of the earth?” And what is at stake in losing our saltiness? Here’s what I think it means to be the “salt of the earth.” It means the same as what it means to be the “light of the world.” It means that when we seek God, when we seek justice, when we love with compassion, when we choose life over death, when we risk looking foolish for the welfare of others, when we cry out with those whose bodies ache because they don’t have insurance and cannot go to the doctor, when we march and organize and mobilize for economic justice for ALL people, when we work to make sure that all our children have the same access to high-quality education we ARE being salt on this earth. It means that when we do these things we are creating an economy in which all people are salt—all lives that are precious and valuable.
And what is at stake if we lose our saltines? A widening gap between the rich and the poor. High poverty schools. Prisons filled with a disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics. Inequality when it comes to economic justice, marriage equality, and access to health care. Laws that suppress voter rights among the most vulnerable in our state and nation. A natural world devastated by humanity’s greed and domination. Children being ripped from their parents arms because we refuse to welcome the stranger and insist on immigration reform. These realities are the result of a nation and a state and a humanity that is losing its saltiness.
But yesterday, I witnessed tens of thousands of salty people. People whose legs were old and tired and have had to march and march and march for their rights and they are still having to march in 2014. People of all ages who are finding their voice and having the courage to speak truth to power—doctors, educators, undocumented youth, union workers, women’s rights advocates, LGBT advocates and those fighting for the rights of those who have been incarcerated and who are trying to begin again in an unforgiving society. I feel so blessed to know so many salty people from all across this state and especially all the salty people in this congregation.
Today, I want to tell you why your light as Pullen Memorial Baptist Church broke forth like the dawn on the 2014 Mass Moral March on Raleigh—the HKonJ Peoples Assembly; and why your saltiness was tasted by so many. As I looked out across that sea of people yesterday, there were hundreds of signs bearing witness to equality for LGBT persons. The executive director of Equality NC and the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality spoke at the opening gathering. Time and time again as Rev. Barber spoke he courageously and graciously included in the list of those for whom we march “our LGBT brothers and sisters.” The inclusion of the LGBT community is now a justice issue of the People’s Assembly in North Carolina. That is your light Pullen, shining on HKonJ. That is your salt being tasted by the People’s Assembly. It’s only one example of your light in the world. Don’t ever underestimate your light in this world and your saltiness on this earth. Don’t ever forget how you bless others and yourself when you take, what may look like a foolish risk to some, a risk to shine your light!
This afternoon we are going to discuss and vote on a vision plan for our church. It is intended to give us direction and guidance for the next three to five years. It is not my vision. It is not the deacons’ vision. It is not any one person’s vision. It is a shared vision of this community. It’s not perfect. Nor is it intended to confine us or to box us into something. It is not offered as a requirement or a commandant to follow. Rather, like these statements from Jesus about being the light of the world and the salt of the earth, it is intended to be a commissioning and a blessing.
Jesus doesn’t say, “If you want to become salt and light, do this….“ Or, “before I’ll call you salt and light, I’ll need to see this from you….” Rather, he says both simply and directly, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It is, as with the Beatitudes, sheer blessing, affirmation, and commissioning. And if we let our vision plan do its work in guiding us, it will bless us into places that we, today, can’t even begin to imagine. Just like those Pullenites who were simply being light and salt in 1992 when they voted to bless same-gender covenants and be a welcoming and affirming congregation to the LGBT community could have never imagined the blessings that would come from that risk to be light and salt in the world.
I come to you today to simple say to each of us and to all of us: may we continue being light in the world and salt on the earth. Too much is at stake for us to lose our saltiness!