Be Salt! A Sermon for Proper 21, Year B

September 16, 2012

As many of you know, Grace Church has embarked on a master planning process. Beginning today over the next several months various groups and constituencies will have the opportunity to weigh in about our spaces—what works, what doesn’t work, what needs renovation and enhancement, what should remain pretty much like it is today—All of you will have an opportunity in a few minutes to offer your wisdom and perspective. We hope that everyone here will fill out a survey, whether this is your first visit to Grace or whether you’ve been a member for sixty years.

Now, one could raise all sorts of questions about such a process, not least where will the money for renovations come. But no doubt there are other questions that might be running through your mind. Is such an effort appropriate in these tough economic times? Does God call us to expend our financial resources on bricks and mortar, carpet and paint, when there is so much need in the world? These are important questions that should help guide our conversations as we prayerfully reflect on God’s call to us.
But all of these questions, questions about renovations and resources, are secondary questions to the one central question: What is our mission as Grace Episcopal Church? How are we to make incarnate the Body of Christ on Madison’s Capitol Square? And frankly, part of that question has been answered for us already—by those who built, maintained, and preserved this building on this corner over the last 150 years. The question of our mission then becomes how can we adapt this building to the mission of being God’s people on Capitol Square in the next 20 or 30 or 50 years?
And there’s another question. The question of mission or call is not just about this congregation or community, it is also a question for each of us? Who is God calling me to be? What is God asking of me today, this year, the next five years, the rest of my life? To put it another way: what are you passionate about?
Today’s gospel confronts us with challenging, violent imagery. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. If your eye offends you, pluck it out. Can you imagine caring so passionately about something that you would hurt yourself in your attempt to achieve it? Well, think about it. Over the last months, we’ve seen marathoners and triathletes run past Grace Church in their effort to achieve their goals. What have they given up in their pursuit of their goals? How much effort have they expended in training, in equipment, and the like? Have they given up a foot or a hand, at least metaphorically?
So I ask again—what are you passionate about, so passionate that you would give up an arm or a leg? This question might seem to be about obsession, single-mindedness, and so it sometimes is. Watching the Olympics this past summer reminded us about the sort of focus and commitment that’s required to pursue that sort of dream. But this is not just about obsession. We can’t all be Olympic athletes. But we all have hopes and dreams, things we love. And the pursuit of passion is at least in part about becoming the kind of human being that God calls each of us to be, using our gifts and talents to live fully, deeply into the life God offers us.
Over the last months, I have preached repeatedly about abundant life. It’s a dominant image in John’s gospel, a term used to describe life lived fully, completely, in Christ. Abundance is a word we don’t often use anymore and in our current context of difficult economic times and worries about the future, to think about abundance seems unrealistic, misguided. The abundant life offered by Jesus Christ is not about the acquisition of wealth and possessions, it is about having a fully realized life experienced only in relationship with Jesus Christ. Such life is not only with Christ, the abundance pours out on others and on the world, like the water that Christ transformed into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. It is life lived fully and passionately, experiencing Christ’s love and sharing that love.
What has God given you? How have you experienced that abundance, the generosity, the creativity of God? How do you share those gifts? How do you share God’s abundance? How are you a steward of that abundance? How can you express and experience the passion God has given you by sharing it with others?

Today’s gospel invites us to think about salt. It’s a necessity for life although we have come to see it as dangerous. Some of us worry about our sodium intake. Still it is a necessity. Our bodies need it to survive. But more than that. A little salt can transform a meal, turning something bland into a culinary delight. Jesus tells his listeners to have salt in themselves; elsewhere, he tells them and us, “You are the salt of the earth.” To put it another way: we can be transformative just as salt is transformative.

But to do that we have to be bold, we have to share our passions and our gifts. We are in the midst of our stewardship campaign. Most of you have received letters inviting you to consider how you might contribute to Grace Church in the coming year. We tend to think of the annual stewardship campaign as being about the necessities of running the church, paying the bills, staff, taking care of repairs and maintenance. Of course it is about that. But it is also about being salt, being transformative.

We have experienced the rich, abundant life of relationship with Jesus Christ. We have experienced the miraculous joy of Christ’s love. How can we as a community share the abundance we have experienced with our community and with the world? How can we share our passion with our neighbors and the world?

We are asking you, as part of the master plan process, to dream, to imagine how we might make our passion for Jesus Christ alive and concrete in our neighborhood. As we think about stewardship for the coming year, as you pray about how you might contribute to Grace in the coming year, we are also asking you to wonder how we might make our passion for Jesus Christ alive and concrete in the next year.

Dream big! Be salt!

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