It has been said that preachers should preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. This Sunday, many Christian churches that preach from the lectionary (an assigned set of biblical texts for each Sunday of the church year) will be reading two Scripture texts that shout out their relevance to what is going on in our nation today.
In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus said that his followers are salt of the earth and light for the world:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? …You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In 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.
Those who follow Jesus flavor the world with love, truth, justice, and peace. If we neglect to be Jesus’ flavoring for the world — if we lose the purpose for which we are made — we are no longer “good for anything.” It’s at that point that others outside the church, including many young adults who ask if the church is relevant to the world, say that they won’t be bothered with it.
On the other hand, a church that is filled with Jesus’ flavor — and that shares the light of God’s love — can make a profound difference in the world. Pastors, church leaders, and many other loving Christians have been active in welcoming refugees and immigrants, standing up for their rights, contacting their leaders in Congress, protesting unjust policies, and saying clearly that hate has no place in this country.
The other Scripture reading that many churches will read this Sunday is Isaiah 58:1-12. This text is basically a conversation between God and the worshiping people. The people loved to worship and they wanted God to love their worship, too. In Isaiah 58, God says clearly that worship is pleasing when people go out from worship and “walk the talk” — when they live out their faith in their everyday lives by showing kindness and fairness, by doing justice, by welcoming those who are homeless and feeding the hungry.
The message in this text is that, when worship leads to justice, we are following God’s way:
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
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.
…You shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.” (Isaiah 9b-12)
The image of a garden is a wonderful one. God wants growth in us. That growth comes when we look beyond ourselves and our own interests to the needs of a hurting world around us. How does our worship lead us out to do satisfy the needs of the afflicted? As more and more people are hurt by government policies, we as people of faith are called to respond. The growth God desires will happen in our world and in us.
Our work for justice includes “bringing the homeless poor into our house” (Isaiah 12:7). In our current context, this includes bringing refugees and immigrants into the home that is our nation. When we do this, we will be called “repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.”
In many ways, we are seeing brokenness around us. God calls us to worship faithfully, and that means leaving our church buildings at the end of worship and working for the justice, peace, love, and truth that God desires for the world.
A Little Bit of Salt
LEONI 188.8.131.52 ("The God of Abraham Praise")
A little bit of salt will quickly show its worth;
A little bit of faithfulness will change the earth. God, make us worth our salt — a church that’s glad to be
The change that you desire in each community.
A lamp that’s in a house gives safety, warmth, and light;
It’s set upon a table where it shines so bright.
God, make your church a light that bravely takes a stand
To bring your love and justice into all the land.
A garden is a place where so much beauty grows,
Where flowers bloom and food is raised and water flows.
When worship leads us out to care for the oppressed,
O God, you say we’re like a garden at its best.
When worship leads us out to love and serve the poor,
To welcome in the immigrant* at our own door,
O God, then we’ll be called “repairers of the breach,”
And we your church will be “restorers of the streets.”
It’s tempting to remain well-hidden, quiet, bland —
Yet, God, you make us salt and light to change this land.
You send us out to love, to build and to repair,
Till peace and justice flourish here and everywhere.
* “refugee” can be used instead of “immigrant”
Biblical References: Matthew 5:13-16; 25:31-46; Isaiah 58:1-12
Tune: Traditional Hebrew melody ("The God of Abraham Praise”)
Text: Copyright © 2017 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Permission is given for free use of this hymn to churches that support Sojourners and are helping refugees and immigrants.