January 31, 2016 / BALANCE: GET OUT / Sara Wolbrecht / Luke 6:12-19, Matthew 5:13
We’ve set aside January with intention to set us up to have 2016 be the year of BALANCE. Doesn’t that sound delightful? Specifically, we’re looking at the balance of our relationships. We’re looking to Jesus’ example about how to balance the three great loves of our lives. (Triangle of relationships). Jesus is very intentional in how he spends his time in certain kinds of relationships. It’s the pattern of his whole life and ministry. Put another way: He had three great loves his entire life oriented around. And our lives, following Jesus’ pattern, at best, find a balance in these three great loves. We find a certain hum, rhythm, when we intentionally spending time nurturing all three of these relational dimensions. To glimpse that, we turn once again to one of the place where Jesus moves from his relationship UP, to IN, to OUT. In Luke 6.
Luke 6:12-19 (NIV)
One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
Jesus went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
Alright, a personal question I’d like to begin with: when it comes to the things you crave, are you a sweets person or a salty person? In our house, Jason is more of a salty person – if you are present when a rare bag of potato chips shows up: look out. And I however, as many of you know I am a sweets person – a bit of a chocoholic – as in I have chocolate everyday. Period. Our friend Will refers to a condition called “bendy elbow.” I wonder – what gives you bendy elbow? Salty? Sweets? Uh, BOTH??
Jesus talked about salt, didn’t he? Jesus had a way of using everyday things to make a point – the stuff that people of his time would see and experience every day. Like salt. To frame our conversation today, let’s also hear Matthew 5:13 from The Message paraphrase, as our lens for where we’re headed tonight. Jesus said: “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage…” Matthew 5:13 The Message
Even for me, as a sweet-lover, I still understand the imagery that Jesus is accessing here. What is it about salt? What does salt do?...
Salt can have incredible impact on our food, drawing out and deepening the flavors and the experience of what we eat.
So Jesus’ call to his disciples then and now is to be the salt of the earth. To have incredible impact on the flavors of life, drawing out and deepening the experience of the lives of others – specifically, the God-flavors, the beautiful, sacred, extraordinary, healing, compassionate flavors of God that are already there in the world. We get to draw them out. I love that language. A word from Jesus that had impact then, and we get the point now, too, because salt is still so tasty, useful, preserving and delicious today.
Jesus says: you are salt. This is who you are. Salt says something about who we are and how we are to be in this world, …including how we are to be in our relationships.
Which comes to play in how we live into balancing our three great loves. (Triangle of relationships). We have talked through two of these great loves so far – let’s review! First, what our own UP relationship looks like, we turned to John 15 where Jesus names that he is the vine and we are the branches, and connected to him is where we thrive in an intimate and organic relationship, there we ABIDE with God, hearing God’ voice of love, letting all the other voices and expectations that press in around us fade away – and that happens in times like worship, in prayer, in reading the Bible, in going for a hike or run or any of the many ways we attune to God.
And last week we unpacked our IN relationships – Jesus spent over 50% of his time with close friends, the disciples. We, too, need our own people who know us, who love us, whose love inspires us to want to be better people. We looked at the early church described in Acts 2, and like them, we look for ways to thrive in our relationships – do you remember, they devoted themselves to four things? Teaching (getting to know Jesus), life together, the breaking of the bread and prayer. And we named how our companions – which literally means “with bread” – that our companions are particularly important – those we eat with. And we each chose last week one area to grow in, to devote ourselves to. Up and In.
And in these relationships, yes, Jesus invites us to be salty people.
This, means, that when gather here together in worship: we are salty people all gathered together. This passage from Matthew 5, or course, if where Salt House draws its name from – that we want to be a place where anyone can come to hear this radical gospel of love and revolution and be invited and challenged to know who we are and to live more fully into the life of Jesus for the sake of ourselves and the sake of the world. Come, and be salt at Salt House.
And so we are gathered, God’s gathered people. Comin’ on in to be salty. The image that captures this is a salt block pic or salt lick.
Do you know what a salt block is? (Salt block)… Well, you can kind of tell from that picture. A salt block is used with animals – when I was gorwing up my family would spend a week each summer at Holden Village in the Cascade Mts, a retreat center. And on the edge of the village and the woods, was a salt block. And we would sit and watch for the deer to emerge from the forest to get a lick. (I know, the exciting times of my childhood vacations).
Animals need the salt block because it gives them the nutrients they need. Folks who care for horse, cattle, sheep have salt blocks. Animals self-monitor when they are low on sodium and other nutrients, and they will chomp on an salt block to get what they need.
Salt House – and every church that gathers for worship – I like to think of what we do here as a big old salt lick. We come to get what we need when our nutrients are low, to remember who we are – that connection time with God, UP, as well as with each other, IN – getting what we need. We are gathered here, as God’s people. And we say, “Y’all come! Everybody, come on in and get what you need!”
This is a vital piece of who we are, of who Jesus-followers are – that we gather at the salt block. And yet – it isn’t just about the salt block, right?
We also chose the name Salt House for who we are sent out to be in the world. There’s the salt block, and then there’s the saltshaker. (Saltshaker) They come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have one purpose – to get salt to the places that need salt.
We are also called to be the saltshaker. Because: there are people who will never come through the doors of a church – even a church like ours with super cool garage doors that open to our patio. They’ll never come to the salt block, even if here is where they would get just what they need, what they long for.
Having spoken with a lot of you and even having met some of your friends – this describes so many of who we know, who we work with, our friends. Especially living here in the Seattle area – we are living in a post-Christian culture in so many ways. The estimate is that only somewhere around 5% of people in Seattle are in church each week. This is the context we live in.
And so, my friends, as we consider what our OUT relationships are, we name that we are not only gathered people, but we are also scattered people. Scattered people, who are sent to be salt for the earth. And this has always been the life of those who follow Jesus – gathered and scattered.
Jesus GOT OUT. Jesus’ life embodied what it means to be scattered, to be sent, to be on the move for the sake of others and the sake of the Kingdom of God. And when we pay attention to WHO it is exactly, that Jesus reaches out to, who is it? What kinds of people? Tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, lepers, lame, blind, widows, children. The excluded. The outcasts. The outsiders.
As we’ve talked about before, there were strict religious purity laws that everyone knew and followed, and for those who missed the mark, they were outsiders. These outsiders knew they were not welcome to come to the synagogue or temple. Whether they had broken rules, or were too sick, or couldn’t afford pay the temple tax, or simply did not live up to the standards and expectations of the religious laws. They stayed away because they knew they were not welcome.
Oh, but this doesn’t happen today does it? Oh, how we wish it did not. Unfortunately, we know too well that it does – we know, too well, how people have been harmed by the church (many of us included), how the loudest Christian voices in the media are always the ones rooted in anger, exclusion, and judgment. Lines that are drawn between us and the various kinds of them who are excluded. Things that are explicitly stated and other subtle messages about who you have to be to come to church. Oh, they don’t make enough money, are homeless, struggle with addiction, they don’t have it all together, (I grieve the number of times I have heard someone say – oh, I didn’t come to church this week because I was afraid I might cry and lose it – if you can’t lose it here, what are we doing?), or people stay away because they have doubts and questions – when there is room for that here – because SURPRISE: we actually all don’t have it all together, either. Abigail Van Buren said it, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” We’re here as imperfect people who by the grace of God receive forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to be transformed and live and be differently in this world. That love and access to transformation is available for all people. Amen?
This is why Jesus GOT OUT. He lived a scattered life so that the outsiders could taste the life of God. He moved outside of his UP, and IN relationships, Jesus moved into the places where salt was needed, where the God-flavors needed to be drawn out, into the very places where the Kingdom of God was desperately needed. And he sends us OUT to be salty scattered people – and I’m sorry, friends, this is one of those things that the gospel is absolutely clear about. For as you may know, Jesus’ final word in Matthew’s gospel is the Great Commission – where he says, “Just stay here with each other, don’t talk to anyone else, and you’ll be just fine.” Right? NO! He says to his eleven disciples after his resurrection and before he takes off, PS, this is the final word: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20
Therefore GO. Scatter. Be salty. Love and heal and stand up against injustice and yes, teach and baptize and welcome to the table – live the things of the life of God.
This is the big, beautiful, transformational life Jesus calls us to, calling us OUT into the world. I love it! And I also name that it often feels quite terrifying. Anyone with me as we consider OUT? I think most of us struggle in our OUT relationships more than any other of the three areas. Not everyone by any means – some folks are beautifully designed to step OUT – into social justice, engaging the outcast – beautiful.
But for those (like me) who feel a bit overwhelmed by what being salty and scattered and sent can mean, we stop and name again this beautiful quote from Dallas Willard: “A disciple is who Jesus would be if he were you.” – Dallas Willard. You are called by God to be the you-version of Jesus. You. We increasingly pattern our lives after the life of Jesus. How does Jesus look with your job, your home, your friends, your health, your income, your challenges, your passions.
Called to be our unique God-created selves, we open ourselves to ask two questions (this is how we begin to name and understand our OUT): For whom am I to be salt? Who in my life has been excluded? (You have pens and some space on the back of your insert). Already. Do you have any friends, opportunities, connections to folks who are outcasts? Excluded by the church or even by our culture. Who in the circles you run in – work, school, other parents, neighbors, people who work in your grocery store, library, gym. Who are the outsiders in your life? THEY MIGHT BE YOUR OUT.
For me, I have many gay and lesbian friends, many of whom have felt excluded from Christianity and I consider myself as positioned to be salt for those folks – and oh my goodness do they need to hear a loving voice from the Christian church. Who has God positioned you to be present with? A particular friend or acquaintance who struggles in some way.
As you hold these questions prayerfully, let me offer some direction and encouragement. 1. Pay attention to loneliness. Sometimes an indicator of exclusion is loneliness (not always, by any means). Those who are excluded are often lonely. This includes those who are aging, ill, new to this country, who have mental illness, physical restrictions (can’t get around, out of house), financially struggling. Dallas Willard speaks to the prevalence of loneliness…
“Loneliness is loose upon the landscape. It haunts the penthouse and the barren apartment, the executive suite and the assembly line, the cocktail bar and the city streets. It is, as Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, the leprosy of the modern world. Lonely people live apart from God, “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12). Their experiences of alienation are rooted in alienation from God.” Hearing God, Dallas Willard. Loneliness is loose upon the landscape. Indeed. And how necessary is the presence of someone to be that salt, to make known the flavors of God, to make tangible the tastes of grace and mercy, acceptance and welcome.
Second and finally: 2. Get over feeling awkward. A mom of teenagers told me recently that she observes how teenagers’ primary motivation is avoiding their own AWKWARDNESS. They actually use that word and it is something that prevents them from taking action – I won’t go talk to them – that would be so awkward. And no matter what age we are, there is often that hesitancy to step into something potentially awkward, unknown, uncomfortable. Friends: here is the counter-intuitive gospel at work, because we should actually be looking for those places that feel awkward, uncomfortable. Let’s be crystal clear: our OUT relationships are called OUT because they are outside our comfort zone. Outside what we would probably naturally do. Outside of people who are “just like us.”
So as we prayerfully consider who to be salt for? Look for signs of loneliness, and get over feeling awkward.
As most of you know: the opportunity is coming for us here at Salt House to have an incredible OUT! By the fall 2016, our basement will be transformed into a day-shelter for homeless families, as we partner with Holy Family Catholic Church. And yet – even though it will be in our building: it could be easy for us to not be very involved. The shelter will be open during the day, not on Sundays (initially). How easy it would be for us to just let our basement be home for families – which is a beautiful thing, don’t get me wrong!
And yet, what might it look like for us to build relationship, to talk with, to know the moms, the young children who come in and out of our building. Who come here to get their mail, to shower, and cook a meal. Tired moms who find a place to sit and put their feet up while their child enjoys story time with one of the volunteers. Who can sit down with a cup of coffee at one of the computer stations and fill out job applications. Who can meet with social workers.
I’ll be honest about my own discomfort – let me just name that as I envision the hum of our building during the week once the shelter opens – our building, which is often quiet during the week, giving me space to work and pray and write when needed – that I could easily stay cloistered up and away in my office. Because: what about my to-do list? What about all the stuff I need to do? What about time with my family?
And yet – Jesus calls us UP, IN, AND OUT – out into relationship, relationship with those who thirst for the life of God. As you consider who your out relationships are now, is there room for you to consider how you might engage with the folks who find a home here at the shelter?
As Jesus-followers we don’t need to dump salt into places where there is already plenty of salt, right? We ask: who needs salt? Jesus sends us in his authority, and as we live Jesus’ life with others that saltiness creates something in those we encounter. What happens when we consume a lot of salt? (Every time I have Papa Murphy’s pizza). Thirsty. Our willingness to be salt of the earth will draw out a great thirst for God – even in those who have felt far-off for a long time. Stay salty, my friends. Amen? Amen.
We’re going to sing, asking God to lead us into greater things for God’s glory. And as we do feel free to learn and sing along, or take a few more moments of intentionally listening for God. Let’s pray: