Texts: Is 58:1-9; Psalm 112:1-9; I Corinthians 2:1-12; Matthew 5:13-20
What does our action say?
My hunch is that we all recognize the little incongruities between what we profess and how we behave. How many ichthys (fish symbol) adorned bumpers have cut you off on the interstate? When have you heard a self-identified Christian spewing hatred toward their “cause” of the week? When have you seen a bedraggled homeless person turned away from the pristine front door of a million dollar church facility? When have I, or when do you, recognize the gap between what we say and what we do?
There are practical consequences to our incongruities. Non-Christians are smart and observant; they see these gaps of integrity, and rather than simply dismissing them as typically human, they readily deduce that this Christian calling is a farce. Thus, attempts to invite others into the Christian story (read “evangelize”) smack of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. While the claims of Jesus are appealing and compelling, Jesus’ representatives, you and me, sometimes get in the way of others actually meeting Jesus.
Beyond practical consequences, there are spiritual consequences as well. When our actions fail to represent the words we speak and the beliefs we profess, we lose our saltiness. Jesus’ familiar charge to be salt and light is often read as being about action, but it is even more about integrity. All four scripture texts this week are concerned about congruity between word and action, between what is known and what is seen, between what we believe and how we behave. Integrity is not a goal; it is a spiritual condition.
Works vs. faith dichotomies have been argued for centuries. The truth of the matter is that they are not a dichotomy. Faith and works are intertwined in such a way that they cannot be spoken of, nor can they be lived out, separately. Psalm 112 verse 4 says, “They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.” Notice that it does not say “they perform acts that look like graciousness, mercy and righteousness,” nor does it say “they reflect light.” No, the claims here are claims of being. You are gracious – you bear the graciousness of God AND you act graciously in the world. Same with mercy. So it is with righteousness.
My grandfather worked in the Johnstown, PA steel mills. He was a pleasant, strong, gentle man. I remember others describing his actions – kindness toward others, violinist and singer, faithfulness to his wife, dependable and hardworking, generous, churchman – and by his non-actions – no cursing, slow to anger, humble. What everyone knew about grandpa was that he was a Christian, not because of what he said, and not because of what he did, but because of who he was, because he had a unique kind of integrity.
Today’s texts are a call to live congruously by faith, in action, through God, with Jesus. In so doing we will be salt, we will be light.
“Jesus can be followed faithfully. His example can instruct us. His teaching can be practiced. Worship and discipleship can be integrated. Jesus can be the central reference point for all of life. And these convictions need not degenerate into legalism or moralism if we recognize him as the source of our life and as our friend as well as our Lord.” Stuart Murray in The Naked Anabaptist, p. 59.
Jesus, we want the world to know you.
Yet we, those who are privileged to know you already,
too often become an obstacle to others,
between you and those you seek.
Where our ability to live as people of absolute integrity falls short,
forgive us, and keep us accountable to your vision of grace-filled living.
We pray, God, that our saltiness be restored,
That we might flavor the earth with your goodness and love.
We long to be wholly gracious, merciful, and righteous,
Lights to the world, casting out darkness.
Make us a people of light, rather than a people of shadowed darkness.
In the name of Jesus Christ, light of the world, we pray. Amen.