Salt and Light

Salt and LightMessage for Epiphany 5 on Matthew 5:13-20 given on February 9, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

At Christmas time our favorite thing to eat after the Christmas Eve worship is Swedish Gravlax. It’s fresh, salt-cured salmon that my husband, Dan makes 48 hours before chow time. He takes 2 slabs of sushi-grade salmon and pours a full ¼ cup of sea salt on it, along with fresh dill and sugar and pepper. Then he presses the slabs together and puts a weight on it and every day he has turn it over, so the salt cures each half of salmon.

After church on Christmas Eve, he fills a plate with thin slices of the salmon. You take a piece rye bread, called Rubeschlager, spread on some mustard dill sauce, add some chopped white onion, put on your slice of gravlax and yum! You can’t believe how good it is. Then you swallow it down with Swedish Absolut Citroen, which is lemon vodka.
My dad raises his glass and says, “skal fer dagen” –“cheers to the day” and wow!—it’s a celebration that Jesus is born, and we are together, and life is very good.

And it’s all possible because of salt.

“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus. Does he just mean that his followers are simply the “Mrs. Dash” of creation—adding flavor to the good stuff God has made, but are not really essential to it? Today we think of salt mostly as flavoring—something for our popcorn and our French fries, but as our Gravlax tradition reminds us every year—salt meant so much more to the Swedes who first buried salted salmon in the sand, and also to Jesus’ first hearers.

Salt cures meat. And although we keep our Gravlax in the frig, in the ancient world, salt was the only food preservative they had—without salt, food would rot quickly and could not be saved or stored for leaner times. No one could travel very far without salt, because food would not last.

Historical records show salt was one of the first commodities traded. Salt represented power because explorers couldn’t set off for new lands without provisions of food, and armies could not advance without preserved food supplies. The expression that you must be “worth your salt”—that is, that you need to be deserving of the salary you are paid, comes from ancient Rome where soldiers were paid in salt. In fact, the word for “salary” comes from the Latin word, “salarium” which referred to a soldier’s allowance to purchase salt. The human body cannot function without salt—our muscles will not work, including our heart, without salt; our nerves cannot transmit electricity without salt.

The same is true for light—"you are the light of the light of the world,” says Jesus. Light is also essential for life—for photosynthesis and growth, for providing food and for warming up the planet so it is not an icy rock. Light is essential for living and working, for seeing clearly, for being productive, for us to see the path ahead. Without the sun, without light, life is not possible.

So when Jesus looks at his followers—not just the disciples, but the meek, the merciful, those who mourn, the persecuted, the peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ sake—all those Jesus just called “blessed” in the beatitudes—when he calls all of his followers the “salt of the earth” he is saying—you are essential to life, you preserve life, you enhance life, you enable life to grow—you are necessary for the life God desires for all of us.

Do you ever feel that way in your daily life? To your family? To your friends? To the people you encounter on a daily basis—be they work colleagues or neighbors or acquaintances, or the checkout person at the grocery store—do you feel that who you are and how you are and that you are there is necessary and essential to the life God wants for them?

Do you know deep down that for God, you are necessary for life?—Not because you are providing the paycheck or fixing the meals or any of the other dozens of things we do to keep a house and family going—but because of who you are? You are necessary for life because of your identity in Christ, your presence, your love, your forgiveness, your willingness to be forgiven, your help and your willingness to be helped, your existence as a child of God, because you are a dwelling place of God, and a vessel of the light of Christ?

“You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” It’s a statement of fact—it’s not up for debate, it’s not dependent on our feelings, our level of success, whether we deserve it, feel worthy, or say and do everything wrong or everything right today. You are the salt of the earth—it doesn’t matter if you feel more like a parsley flake. You are the light of the world—it doesn’t matter if feel more like a little black raincloud. God has made you to be salt and light. That is who you are. You cannot change that.

Salt itself (sodium chloride) is extremely stable and cannot lose its flavor—we can dilute it and mix it with other stuff or even try to dissolve it—but it does not change how God made us and who God calls us to be. We can hide our light under a bushel basket, but it does not change that we are still the bearers of Jesus’ love and light in the world.
The problem with denying who we are and minimizing our role as kingdom builders, is that we give a pass for negative forces and evil to take over. Jesus hearers knew that no one puts a basket over a lamp with a flame unless they want to burn the house down. No one dilutes the salt with other substances, or the food rots and people starve.

Jesus is saying, “I need you, or ‘a’ll, y’all’ as we say in Texas, to be the salt and the light so that the kingdom values have more power and more presence in the world than evil does. You are the light-bringers, you are the life-preservers, you are the earthly vessels I have made and called to bring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness alive today—I am doing this through you!”

So, be who you are. God is using you in your daily life, so ask God in the morning to remind you of who you are and to help you be an available vehicle to preserve, enhance and enlighten someone else’s life for the kingdom. Accept who God made you to be and who Jesus sees you to be. When we accept that God calls us to be bearers of Christ’s love, bringing life and hope in every situation, every day, we also open ourselves to experiencing how God uses others to be salt and light for us. Kate gave a beautiful description of what she has learned from refugees—how they are salt and light for her teaching kindness, humility, gratitude and generosity.

During the Civil Rights movement, before a new march would start, the people—men and women, young and old—would gather in the churches. They would gather there not to gain strength but to be reminded of who they were. The fire house could not dilute their salt, the vicious dogs could not diminish their light. And even though they were scared, they poured out of those churches and singing, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine...”


Write comment (0 Comments)

Deepening Our Close Relationships

Deepening Our Close RelationshipsFor Valentine's Day! Deepening Our Close Relationships! Published in the February, 2020 Reporter newsletter of St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

February offers a good month to talk about how to deepen our relationships with the ones we love. Whether it’s with our intimate partner, our adult children, our best friend, or someone we would like to know better, it’s often hard to know how to talk about things that matter.

When Dan and I made the decision for me to stop working full-time and stay home while our children were small, we knew it would be a big change in our marriage, but we were not sure what would change or how. Daniel was three, Jacob and was one and Leah was just a twinkle in our eye when I resigned from my call in Kansas City. I had been ordained and serving congregations for eight years and we had already been married for seven. 

In order to navigate this big change and talk about the issues as they arose, we decided to seek the help of marriage counselor. After we talked about our life, relationship and family in our first session, the counselor looked at us and said, “Well, you are good work consultants.” It was a kind way of saying that we were lousy at emotional intimacy. Ouch. 

He gave us a question to ask each other regularly to remain more emotionally connected and sharing about things the mattered. He talked about how tempting it is at the end of the day to talk with our spouse or friends about the details of our life—what we did at work, who we talked to, where we went for lunch and what we ate. It seems like we are sharing ourselves, but these details really have nothing to do with who we are on the inside, how we feel or think, or what’s happening in and around us. 

So here it is, the magic question that has changed our marital conversation and the question we still ask each other 22 years later: “What is the impact of _____ on you?” For example: "What is the impact of that meeting on you and your work? What is the effect of our kid’s behavior (or choices, changes, growing up, getting taller than you, looking for colleges) on you? How is your parent’s visit impacting you? What is the impact of your dad’s illness on how you feel about yourself?" 

These kinds of questions help us reflect on our how daily experiences are changing us on the inside, and how those we love are changing and growing as well. Without these conversations, many married couples, best friends, siblings, parents and children arrive at a new stage of life, (like the empty nest or post-college relationships) and no longer know their spouse, child, or best friend like they used to or like they thought they did. 

This month we celebrate love—but what we really want to focus on is emotional intimacy if we want that love to last a lifetime. So try asking about the impact of events, changes, meetings, illnesses, and so on, to experience growth in emotional connection with those you love!


Write comment (0 Comments)

What The Lord Requires

What The Lord RequiresMessage for the 4th Sunday after Epiphany on Micah 6:1-8 and Matthew 5:1-12 given on February 2, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

When I was in late elementary school, I remember going through a time when I cried myself to sleep at night because I could not say the Lord’s Prayer perfectly. I had picture in my mind that went with each phrase of the prayer, and I would try as hard as I could to imagine each image as I said every petition of the prayer with no break in concentration and no distracting thoughts. Every time I got distracted or the pictures in my mind did not flow smoothly from one to the next, I would feel like a failure and start over and try again. I never did pray it perfectly.

It’s so easy to reduce our faith to trying to please a God who seeks perfection, unreasonable devotion, and only offers us a moral code of “Do’s and Don’ts.” God has a case against the people of Israel according to the prophet Micah and they too, assume God is looking for perfection. A perfect sacrifice, just the right kind of worship, the perfect prayers and rituals to appease and please God:

With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

How great and perfect does my offering and worship have to be? Micah describes a covenant lawsuit and calls the mountains and the foundation of the earth to witness the testimony. God asks, Why are you making me the bad guy? How have I worn you out with my demands? Let’s review what I have done for you—I liberated you from slavery in Egypt, I sent you brilliant leaders to help you through the wilderness, and I led you to the promised land. You were protected crossing over the Jordan—from Shittim in Moab to Gilgal near Jericho—and when the Moabite king planned to curse you, you were blessed instead. You can hear God saying, “and the problem is…?”

It’s almost like a parent having a rant at a kid who feels put upon: “I put a roof over your head, I feed you, do your laundry, drive you everywhere and pay for all of your activities, so please, put your phone away at the dinner table, and stop texting or playing video games when I am talking with you!”

Just like any other loving parent, God’s not asking for perfection—God asks for a relationship. God asks for conversation, for attention that arises from intention about what matters. What matters is not being perfect, not getting it all right, not worshipping in just the right way, not praying perfectly, not bringing the biggest offering, not being a flawless teen or adult—but rather a relationship with God is what matters most.

God liberated Israel from slavery to have a relationship with them, as individuals and as a nation. And when God’s people put relationship with God first, then all other relationships, and all of life fall into place after that. That’s why the first 3 Commandments of the 10 Commandments have to do with our relationship with God, (You shall have no other Gods before Me, Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, Honor the Sabbath day and keep it holy). Because when we give our first relationship with God focus—all other relationships follow, so the next 7 commandments are about our relationships with others: don’t steal, lie, cheat, murder, covet and so on.

God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

This isn’t a checklist that we can mark off at the end of the day. God wants a no-holds barred whole-soul, give him everything you’ve got, full-person relationship. God simply wants you—all of you.

To walk humbly with God is to live with an intentional relationship with God every single day—through prayer, through daily conversation—both speaking and quiet time to listen. People ask me how much time they should spend in prayer—but the issue with putting a time frame on it, is then we are back to counting and perfectionism. In order to give your relationship with God greater attention with intention, and you are like the teenager with laptop on and a cell phone in your hand, what do you think you need to do? Think about your best human relationship—how much time do you spend in daily conversation? I have never known a good marriage where someone said, “I talk to my spouse ten minutes a day, give them a gift twice a year, and we’re good!” During our midweek Lenten worship on Wednesdays, we will practice different types of prayer that open us up to grace and deepens our relationship with God.

The prophet then shows us that justice and loving kindness flow from our relationship with God. Micah pushes us away from the bean-counting faith of childhood that attempts perfect prayers and offerings, and opens us into a vision of communal wholeness that arises from receiving God’s liberating love that frees all who are oppressed—whether from systemic injustice or the prison of our own hearts and minds. A life that lives for justice, advocates for the immigrant, the widow and the orphan, and extends kindness to everyone regardless of who they are—comes from a heart that is rooted, connected, allied, and defined by a relationship with God.

Jesus embodies this same theme in his Sermon on the Mount. It’s a very jarring message. He lifts up the poor in spirit, those who are mourning, the meek, the merciful, the persecuted and the pure in heart as the ones receiving the blessings and fullness of the reign of God. Those who are down and out, suffering at the margins, on the bottom side of the social power balance are not only blessed, they are “enviable!” We are to admire and emulate and want to be like them. Why? Because they are so close in their relationship with God.

All the false notions of self-sufficiency and control and power and winning and being in charge have been stripped away. They cannot pretend any longer that they don’t need God, that a relationship with God doesn’t matter. The meek, the mourning, the persecuted, the poor in spirit know—they know the only way they will make it through today and on to tomorrow is because of their relationship with God. It’s so deep and rich, you can see it on their face even when they are suffering.

There is no illusion about from where their strength comes—it only comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. Their source of strength and peace is something to envy, admire, and seek after, calling us to spend time in whole-soul relationship with God making ourselves available for a relationship that transforms us from the inside out—that’s what it is to walk humbly, with intention, in a relationship with God on a daily basis.

Jesus’s vision for the kingdom echoes Micah’s. For when our life is defined and ordered according to our relationship with God and not according to the world’s values, then it becomes easier for us to live in the alternate vision of communal wholeness that arises from receiving God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ that frees all who are enslaved to sin. Then the Beatitudes become not just about who has a blessed relationship with God, but how Jesus calls us to live as disciples who are defined by the one true God who sent his Son to save and redeem us and the whole creation that witnesses our testimony.

God calls us forth from our deep relationship that defines and sustains us to be the peacemakers, to work for justice and righteousness for those who are oppressed, to comfort those who mourn, to stand with meek, to do the work of anti-racism in ourselves, in our church and in our society, and to be persecuted for the sake of doing right by those who are at the bottom. We do this work by building relationships the way God has done with us!

Rather than a burden or something we fear, living to make God’s kingdom a reality here on earth becomes exciting and energizing and hopeful because we are fed by a constant stream of steadfast love and forgiveness that flows from the cross of Christ to our very soul. And we know that when we are in the most need, the most pressed down, the most challenged, the most meek and poorest in spirit—that’s exactly where God does her best work by making us the most blessed, enviable people who bear God’s love in the world.

What does the Lord require of you? Not perfection, not the best or the biggest offering, just yourself—your whole self. The only perfect way to pray is to show up. God shows up for us every time and blesses us to show up for others so that the kingdom might be realized here and now.


Write comment (0 Comments)

All Are Welcome

Joseph RoweMessage for Epiphany 3 with Testimony from Joseph Rowe on Matthew 4:12-25 on January 26, 2020 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

Everybody was drawn to Jesus—everyone from the whole region came. Matthew’s Gospel is focused on conveying Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised Jewish Messiah—we hear that the quotation of the Isaiah.

But even so, Matthew also lets us know that it was not just the Jews who were immediately drawn to Jesus. All kinds of people came from everywhere—Gentiles, foreigners, people from the Decapolis which were the ten cities to the southeast of the Sea of Galilee. Everyone came—people who were paralyzed and disabled and suffering from all kinds of afflictions—people whom Jesus will call “blessed” in the next chapter in the Sermon on the Mount.

It was as if Jesus put out a banner and said, “All Are Welcome” to come and hear the good news of God’s love.

For several years—well before I became the pastor here—this congregation has worked at becoming inclusive and welcoming to everyone. Today at the Annual meeting, we are going to consider another small step forward in being even more clear about what we mean when we say, “All Are Welcome.”

All Are WelcomeWe started out the Epiphany season talking about the importance of testimony, so I have asked Joe Rowe to share some his story with us today. Joe has lot of experience of what it feels like to be both excluded and included.

Because of his experiences, he serves on the “All Are Welcome” Team to ensure others really do feel welcomed at St. Luke’s, and that we continue to do everything we can to ensure that people know our welcome includes them: 

I’ve been a member here for over a year. I’m going to tell you some things about my life because my experiences with exclusion have made me hate the idea of excluding anyone from anything. Bear with me. I’m not having a pity party. I’m a happy person, but I think my experiences with exclusion are relevant to our mission as the church. It really doesn’t matter why others exclude us, it hurts just the same.

I’m seventy-two years old. As a person who’s been physically disabled since I was five when I had polio, I know all about being excluded. I never physically attended school until I went to college. The doctors were afraid I’d catch something and the schools at that time were totally incapable of accepting someone like me. “Cripples” were expected to stay home out of site, and I did. My parents, however, wanted me to have the same opportunities as other kids. Some years, my mother taught me herself, some years, I was connected to a classroom by a newly invented speakerphone, and, some years, I had a homebound teacher who showed up an hour a week to give me assignments.

What I didn’t have was other children in my life. I never had a friend from school until I was in college. I never went to a prom or a pep rally. I never had a locker. It hurt. I was excluded. Sometimes for practical reasons, but more often because I just wouldn’t fit in. I loved science. I turned half our garage into a chemistry laboratory when I was eleven. When I was in high school in Dallas with a homebound teacher, the superintendent of schools ruled that I could not be allowed in a science lab because of the danger and that since science was a required subject, I would not be allowed to graduate. My parents uprooted my family, and we moved to Arlington where they had agreed to let me graduate.

I did graduate and decided to go to college at UT Arlington. I pretty much aced the SAT exams and qualified to skip the first semester of English and math. I selected physics as my major. Then, I was told there was a problem. Science was out of the question, and they weren’t sure they could admit me at all. I would have to convince a specially appointed panel of three deans to admit me. The inquisition was brutal. It was determined that I could be admitted conditionally only if I majored in business with my status to be reviewed every six months. I didn’t like the terms, but I accepted them. I eventually graduated as the first business student with a 4.0 grade point average and did the same when I earned my MBA. There had been many obstacles for disabled students at the University, so I helped lead student protests that resulted in positive changes. (To read how Joe helped make UT Arlington a barrier-free campus, please click here.)

When I finished my MBA, I thought I’d have the world on a string. The college had publicized my accomplishments, and I had a letter congratulating me from the President of the United States. The economy was booming. My classmates were getting multiple offers for jobs paying five thousand a month or more. I applied to over two hundred companies and was not given a single interview. 

My brother worked for Ross Perot’s company, EDS, and persuaded them to talk to me. They hired me at $850 a month. To make a long story short, I was no longer excluded, I finally “fit in.” I was judged by what I could do rather than what my limitations might be. I was surrounded by people who came from totally different backgrounds. Most of them were veterans recently returned from Vietnam. Somehow, though, they fully accepted this socially immature crippled egghead as one of them. We worked our butts off together, and we drank way too much together. For the first time in my life, I felt not just welcomed but invited and appreciated. I had a second home. I worked there for twenty-nine years until I took early retirement to stay home with my mother, who had developed Alzheimer’s and needed me. When she died, and EDS was failing, I began looking for a job elsewhere. I’m still looking. I’m excluded again.

I joined St. Luke’s because I felt truly welcomed, and because I felt this was a place committed to doing the same for every other human being that God has made. That is not the case with all ELCA churches. In the early eighties, I was a member of Christ Lutheran when they totally remodeled the sanctuary at great expense, only to find that they had not provided a single place for a person in a wheelchair. I left.

People who are different in obvious ways make all of us a bit uncomfortable. I led multiple local organizations working for the rights of people with disabilities in the seventies and eighties. I discovered, to my own dismay, that I was uncomfortable around people with disabilities different from my own. I was guilty of the very thing I was fighting, but I got past those feelings. Now, it is 2020. The Americans with Disabilities Act is thirty years old. Being excluded because of my disability ought to be over, but it is not. I love music. I was a season ticket holder of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and the Dallas Summer Musicals for decades. I’ve always had a ventilator on my chair. Three years ago, the symphony made it clear that they would prefer that I only attended certain concerts they would select because people were complaining about the noise of my ventilator. They were very nice and polite about it, knowing that they could not just exclude me because of the law. Early this year, the Dallas Summer Musicals did the same thing, relegating me to the lobby to watch on TV. In my younger days, I might have defied them, but at this point in my life, I never go anywhere I don’t feel fully welcomed.

There are words on the altar behind me that state, “All Are Welcome.” The word “all” doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. I am glad to be part of a church that is willing to let people know that the “All” includes me, and it includes them, no matter who they are. Jesus was not welcomed by the church and its leaders. He was so unwelcome that they had him killed. I also know that he defied the rules of his society to welcome the unwelcomed. Whether they were Samaritans, beggars, lepers or anything else, He invited them to join His kingdom and be his disciples who fish for people. I am glad to be a part of the church who does the same and makes sure everyone knows that “All” includes them.


Write comment (0 Comments)


Follow My Blog!

Enter your email address:

Welcome to my website!

linda anderson little 2020Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.